Parker and Katie Thompson aren’t sure what people think about the sight of them -- and their two young sons -- pedaling around Elgin, to the grocery store, to work, to the library, all on their bicycles. As they’ve transitioned to life in the suburbs without a car, they realize it’s not a lifestyle everyone can understand.
“They may question my sanity,” Katie said. “For some people, driving is how they live, and it’s difficult to imagine something else.”
Leading by example, the couple are encouraging more people around the region to try active modes of transportation for functional trips. At first using just two wheels to navigate infrastructure built primarily for cars was a bit like speaking a secret language, Parker said. He wondered: Where is it safe to ride? Where are there connections and bike lanes? How long will it take to get where I need to go? Will I be able to park my bike when I get there?
But the transition from driving to biking has proven beneficial for their wallets, health, and happiness, while also making them feel more connected to their neighbors.
“There’s social cohesion that happens when people don’t have this steel barrier between them and the rest of the world,” Parker said.
In terms of safety, people walking and biking are the most vulnerable users of the transportation network. It’s something the Thompsons keep in mind as they ride with their five- and three-year-old boys in the back of the family’s long-tail cargo bike.
“There’s a street culture right now that doesn’t always take into account other users that aren’t in a car,” Parker said, advocating a safer, multimodal future.
As a pastor in her community, Katie works with people from all walks of life. She sees how transportation disparities can limit access to opportunity and make life more difficult for some.
“It’s about equal access to transportation,” she said. “I believe a bicycle is a vehicle for social change and tool for economic empowerment.”
And it’s teaching the Thompsons’ children valuable lessons as well. “They are part of the team,” Katie said. “They know where they live and how to get there, even at such a young age.”
By 2050 the boys will be grown. The Thompsons envision a region where, if ON TO 2050’s recommendations for travel safety and non-motorized transportation are implemented, their sons will be able to travel by any mode they choose.