It’s been interesting to watch the Cascade Avenue bike lanes war meander along, especially as the battle lines seem so clear. It’s Millennials versus Boomers, cyclists versus giant SUVs and monster pickups, urban tanks versus two-wheeled lane snatchers, liberal snowflakes versus conservative realists, deep state schemers versus plain folks who drive to work — choose your side!
This isn’t the first time bicycles have been part of the evolution of transportation in the Pikes Peak region.
In the early 1880s, cycling was popular in Colorado Springs, Colorado City and Manitou Springs. Then, as now, bikes were inexpensive, easy to use and far less trouble to own than the leading alternative mode of private transportation — horses, at the time.
Horses had to be fed, watered, shod, stabled and otherwise cared for. They could be difficult to control in an urban setting, prone to rear or bolt if surprised. Colorado City resident John O’Byrne (better known as Prairie Dog) trained a pair of elk to harness in 1891, and described the experience in his lively 1922 memoir.
“In old town I cut quite a dash; I took many pains to spend all my cash and I drove through the streets with Laura Bell at my side — a span of elk, how fine we did ride,” O’Byrne wrote, but the elk created havoc elsewhere.
“The society people had many fine turn-outs with blooded horses, and they took many a fast ride away when their horses would get a smell of my elk,” he continued gleefully. “I have seen as many as three runaways at one time, women screaming at the top of their voices and the driver hanging on for dear life.”
Bicycles were the first easily affordable personal mechanical transportation devices. By the mid-1890s, there were multiple bike shops in the three little towns, and bike clubs that lobbied city governments for paved streets.
But then came W.S. Stratton’s extensive electric street railway system, then the private automobile, urban traffic jams, national road networks, interstate highways and suburbanization.
So here we are, 60 years after I-25 linked Colorado Springs to Eisenhower’s vast national transportation project. I’d gotten my driver’s license in 1956, and the uncrowded highways symbolized freedom, opportunity and prosperity. Gas was cheap; jobs were abundant, so why not hit the open road, as Jack Kerouac had? Time to load up the 1950 Mercury, split for the coast and make a new life near the uncrowded beaches of Southern California — it was a long time ago.
But just as bikes were the first wave of the 20th century transportation tsunami, today’s bike lane wars may foreshadow the disruptive changes of the 21st.
My spouse and I live like unreconstructed Boomers — fairly big house, lots of stuff (Marie Kondo would run screaming from the place, just like those blooded horses bolting from the elk team), two cars and a two-car garage. The cars are paid for, but do we really need them? They’re expensive to maintain, insure and operate, driving to Denver is hell on wheels, but we can’t quite figure out how to do without them.
If we were just starting out we’d live differently. We’d have a much smaller place and rely on delivery services, bikes and Uber. We’d avoid accumulating stuff, save money and reduce our carbon footprint. Our dream house, as Allison Arieff pointed out in The New York Times last Sunday, would be an airy, urban 1,600-square-foot condo, not the 11,000-square-foot pseudo-Tuscan McMansion the National Association of Home Builders designated as its vision of the New American Home in 2018. Eight bathrooms, two elevators (one for cars) — who needs it? Such isolated and self-contained energy hogs may not be the beau ideal of today’s young strivers, who may cheerfully discard the status symbols of yesterday’s middle-aged showoffs.
Just as Uber’s Chinese counterpart has been blamed for sharply reduced auto sales in that country, autonomous vehicles may redefine auto ownership in the U.S.
Imagine Briargate in 2070. Orderly throngs of autonomous vehicles pick up and drop off residents, wide bike lanes beckon and many more people live in this historic, still-verdant suburb. And where do the newcomers live? In medium-rise, highly energy-efficient condos or rentals? Sure, but thousands of homeowners will have long since converted their useless attached garages into residential units.
There may still be a few garages left, where elderly sentimentalists store Grandpa’s once-precious collectible car. That cherry 1958 triple black Impala convertible that he so treasured? Poor old fool — he should’ve sold it in 2020.