LJWorld.com weblogs Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country
Texting while biking
Bicyclists are everywhere – on the streets, on the sidewalks, even in the bike lanes. They have their own traffic lights. Heidelbergers are so adept at getting around on two wheels that you often see them biking with their hands in their pockets, with a cup of coffee, or while talking on the phone. And yes, I have seen people texting while biking. I can’t imagine anyone trying this more than once as the walkways on campus teem with other cyclists and pedestrians. Of course I can count on one hand the number of helmets I’ve seen. Because I live on a University campus you might think that students pedal all these bicycles, but I have seen plenty of professionals cycling past. Have an important meeting during the day? – Don your high heels and hose and hop on the bike. Got kids to get to school before work? – Put them in the bike seat or trailer and you are good to go. Which brings me to the bicycles themselves and the contraptions attached to them.
Aside from a few foldable bicycles, most bikes we see are beater bikes. If you are not familiar with this term, think Schwinn, around 1970. These bikes look and sound like they’ve been ridden for a couple of decades across many a cobblestone street. A cheery little bell usually enhances the rattle and creak coming up behind you and take the edge off what is really a command to “get out of the way!” The reason for all the beater bikes is simple – nice bikes don’t stand a chance and will likely disappear entirely or be reduced to those sad skeletal remains you see locked to posts or bike racks. In addition to a bell, everyone sports some kind of basket on the bike. If you’ve got kids to haul around, bicycles become veritable station wagons. The other day I saw a woman picking up her kids at school, or more precisely, hauling her kids home from school. She had one little one happily buckled into a seat attached to the front handlebars and another kid sitting in a somewhat larger seat perched above the rear tire. Attached to the bike was a trailer filled with backpacks, coats, and general kid detritus. Good thing the average number of kids per woman in Germany is only 1.35.
It’s easier, however, to get more than two kids around town by bike than it is to put them in one of those Smart cars. For children who can’t walk yet there are bike seats and trailers, but if a kid can walk, a kid can bike. I have seen the littlest kids tooling around on bicycles, even the binky sucking set. I’ve taken to calling the tiny bicycles I see at the school “binky bikes”. Now, I won’t send my nine-year old out on the neighborhood streets of Lawrence so the ease with which German parents abandon their cars is a source of endless fascination and envy for me. Of course it is easy to see how and why parents opt out of car-centered lives. First, the school is on the edge of a dense residential neighborhood and has approximately eight dedicated parking spots. Second, paths dedicated to walking and biking infiltrate the surrounding neighborhood (unlike at home, my daughter and I never have to walk in the street to get to school). Third, two streetcars stop at the school, every ten minutes. I have to admit, aside from hauling the pumpkin home in my backpack, I really like the freedom of not having to own a car.