by Marshall Pearson
When I was much younger, I would ride my bicycle everywhere.
Nearly every day, I'd zip around Huntington Woods, Mich., on a little black BMX
model, going to the community center, a friend's house, the pool, the library,
or often just for a joyride. Back then, I felt like there was no place my bike couldn't
As I got older and moved away, I relied on a bicycle less
and less. Riding in the street felt more dangerous. Going to the mall seemed impossible.
I couldn't impress any girls with a bike, so it stayed in my garage.
In college, however, my life changed yet again, and I found
enough space for a bicycle. Going places on two wheels became both practical
and enjoyable. I attended Ohio University in Athens,
Ohio, for four years, and the
Hockhocking Adena Bikeway (a rail-with-trail) allowed me to pedal to the
farmers' market for groceries. I would use the path for late-night excursions
with friends to the abandoned boxcars dormant along one section of the path, or
cycle the 33-mile roundtrip to Nelsonville on a lazy Saturday. Frankly, I owe my
relative sanity to that bicycle, both for the functional and exhilarating role
it played in my life.
Later, as I observed the larger context surrounding the bikeway
and bicycle culture in Athens,
I realized I wasn't the only person relying on it. Local residents living
outside the city still had access to the trail, and many would use it to get to
their jobs at local businesses or the university. Athens
is squarely in the middle of Appalachia, and many
of its citizens face poverty every day. Some residents cannot afford vehicles,
but the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway helps them access jobs,
food and other necessary services.
saw the broad effect a simple path could have on my community, I began to see
my hobby in a different light. Not only was bicycle commuting possible in
larger cities, but it was possible anywhere. I soon became interested in
changing how cycling is viewed, and how it can be used in an entirely new model
of sustainable transportation. That led me to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
(RTC), where I have worked as a communications intern since early September.
Working at RTC has taught me a great deal about how policy
influences bicycling, but it has also shown me that the bicycle is only one part
of the non-motorized future of transportation. I have learned that the
thinking, as well as the infrastructure, of transportation must be re-evaluated
and reformed in order to make walking and bicycling regular--and safe--options to
For even the shortest of trips, many Americans do not have
an accessible route to walk, ride a bike or take public transportation. Massive
amounts of federal, state and local funds are allocated to maintaining highways
every year, but a vastly disproportionate amount is being set aside for
I believe we need a sea change in our perception of
transportation. That is why RTC is important to me--it's an organization that
understands the consequences of embracing what author Daniel Sperling refers to
as a "car-centric monoculture." The people here work tirelessly to promote
alternatives to automobiles and congested roadways. Whether they are negotiating trail-friendly policies with politicians or in the courts, or working with local entities to bring rail-trails to
fruition, the employees of RTC are endeavoring to change the public view of the
trails, walking and bicycling movement.
I don't have that black BMX model anymore, but I have thankfully
rediscovered the joy I first felt when riding it. For me, biking will always be
far more than just a hobby. The more I learn about cycling's vibrant culture, the more I
realize its potential. A bicycle can't take you everywhere, but I hope our
country learns to give cycling, as well as other non-motorized options, a chance to
Photo of Marshall Pearson courtesy of Marshall Pearson; photo of Hockhocking Adena Bikeway through Ohio University's campus by Will Elder.