Philadelphia’s bike infrastructure is not age friendly. Biking in traffic, controlling your lane, moving with cars, and weaving around vehicles parked in the bike lane take physical strength and mental acuity. You have to be alert to what his happening around you in every direction and be able to react quickly. Philadelphia’s biking infrastructure is made for healthy young people on fast bikes. It’s not made for kids, older adults, or those with health issues that make them less alert or physically weaker. I got to experience this first hand last year.
As I turned 40, I felt like my life was in a great place: husband, kids, and job were all great. I thought I was the healthiest I had ever been. My 40th birthday gift was a brand new bike. A gorgeous Civia Twin City step-through.
A month later, Dena Driscoll, Kidical Mass Philly founder and host of this blog post, and Jon Geeting (Plan Philly) connected us to Streetfilms to film our family’s school commute for a film about biking in Philly. After we dropped off the boys, Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms asked me a few questions, something along the lines about why I like biking, and I gave him a couple of reasons – one of which was how strong it made me. Later, I thought, “That was kind of a stupid reason, but whatever. He can edit it out.”
|4:45 AM riding to the hospital for surgery|
Three weeks later I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 2b breast cancer. The night before my surgery, we were trying to figure out how to get to the hospital for my 5 AM check in. Of course, we rode bikes. I rode a bike to my double mastectomy surgery! It felt like a ‘in your face, cancer’ moment.
The surgery and chemotherapy treatment over the next few months took all of my strength. I kept coming back to my comment to Clarence about biking making me strong. It did not feel like a stupid comment anymore. Because of my weakened immune system, my doctors did not want me to take public transportation or cabs. They did want me to exercise because it helps with managing chemo side effects. This would make biking the perfect option, if not for our lacking infrastructure.
I had to give up biking because I was not strong enough to move fast enough to ride safely in the street with cars. Chemo also dulled my senses and reaction time, so it was hard to pay attention to all the things I needed to in traffic. If there were bike lanes with no cars parked in them – in other words, protected bike lanes from neighborhoods to/through Center City – I could have biked to my numerous doctor appointments. In a protected bike lane, I could bike slowly and would not have to think about 2-ton + vehicles until I reached an intersection. In a protected bike lane, my mind and attention would not need to be on a frantic 360-degree swivel.
|Healthy again and biking with the kids|
I am well now. The cancer is gone and it’s been 9 months since the end of chemo and a year out from surgery. I am back riding either my beautiful Civia or my big ol’ bakfiets with the boys. I am regaining my strength, which I truly value. And I am teaching my 7-year old how to ride alongside me in the street on his own bike.
Having experienced this illness, I caught a glimpse of what it will be like as I age and reach a point where I am no longer as strong or fast. Or even now, there are days where I want to bike at a leisurely pace. I want my son, on his small single-speed bike to feel safe and that he can move at a speed comfortable for him and not feel pressure from a driver behind him wanting him out of the way. We should be building infrastructure in Philadelphia for all ages and abilities. I want to bike in this city well into old age. I want my kids to be able to bike with me on their own bikes. Seriously, they are heavy, and I can’t keep carting them around in my bakfiets forever! We need to protect the most vulnerable and create a safe space in the road for riders of all ages, abilities, and strengths.
Guest Blog Post by Kate Mundie. Kate Mundie rides a bakfiets Dutch cargo bike with her two sons and a Civia Twin Cities stepthrough by herself. She provides marketing services at a large transportation engineering firm in the city; She is also an artist. Follow her on twitter @katebikemom