Monday, August 5, 2019

Lessons from Boomertopia: Lakeside, Ohio

Some months ago, it was decided the annual family reunion would take place in a town called Lakeside - where my aunt and uncle have a vacation house. 

This meant Family Weekend would not be in my hometown-with-an-asterisk Mystic, Connecticut. I liked the idea of trying the Ohio town and I liked the idea of the whole family getting together even more. 

Since I was (and still am) busy through the year, I didn't have the time I wanted to have to research the town. In rumor I had heard it was like the camp in Dirty Dancing - only with more shuffleboard and fewer illegal abortions. My mother - who would occasionally ask my opinion of family meal plans months in advance even though I usually don't know what I'm having for the meal ahead of me and have difficulty recalling the meal behind - kept me apprised of the goings on and what I needed to know about Lakeside - one of which was a "visitors pass" that I'd need to enter and leave the area.

Unsure if I was visiting a quarantine zone like in 'Outbreak' or the Acadia planned community from the X-Files episode of the same name, we set down at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio to begin our journey by rental car to Lakeside. I unfortunately didn't have a chance to ride a bike in the Alfa Romeo of cycling cities* but I did get have just enough time to stop by the new location of Joy Machines - a shop I visited several times. Now I have so many cycling T-shirts I long ago put a moratorium on getting new ones...until I visited Joy Machines in Cleveland the day before Independence Day.

With a new T-shirt in my vacation wear clothing rotation, we made it to Lakeside, and we showed our passes at the gate. On narrow streets we drove to the rental home my parents were staying at. When we parked the car in a designated spot, we didn't move it again until we drove back to the airport three days later. We then watched the Fourth of July Parade - I was most impressed with the bike part - and if I had gotten there a little sooner I would have unpacked my bike Friday and joined them. 

When the parade was over I began to notice the traffic in Lakeside: it was mostly golf carts. 

There were also plenty of bicycles to be found - and I didn't see a single lock among them. The morning of July 5, I walked past bikes that were parked, on kickstands, overnight and nobody stole them. 

A couple of blocks from this location I found a three bedroom house for sale for $191,000. In the Bay Area it would easily be five to fifteen times that amount.

There was also a coffee shop that opened early - like, almost-when-I-get-up early. I wasn't sure if I had found utopia or was living the first fifteen minutes of the movie "Get Out."

The most uncomfortable I ever felt was when I'd have to enter or leave the premises. I did it twice on the Bike Friday - they scanned my pass on the way out and scanned it again in on the way back in. 

Outside of the gate, I could open the throttle and take quick rides before breakfast - and before it got too hot. I had derisively referred to Lake Erie as "Hasbro Water" since it just wasn't the East Coast, but it still had its moments where it looked like a real body of water and everything - look at the lighthouse:

When you bike or walk around Lakeside you'll see a lot of gray haired men and women driving around their grandkids in golf carts. That was when I realized I was in Boomertopia. A generation who worshipped cars actually built a place they would have hated to have lived in if they had jobs to commute to ever day. 

The golf cart thing is the nicotine gum equivalent of cars: yeah, I'm trying to wean off the hard stuff - I just need a little hint of speed.

And I do mean little. I Stravaed** the golf cart I drove my family with - all six of us - and kept the phone attached to the center of the steering wheel with the little clippy-thing used to hold golf scores. It topped out at 15 miles an hour. What's more, since these are slow, quiet and open - If you see your Phoenix cousin and your Los Angeles cousin as they approach and accompany them on a trip to get some ice.

There are other Lakeside quirks that aren't travel related - for instance several homes have an assortment of tiny miniature fairy lands set up somewhere on their property. 

That is just incredibly weird - but I suppose my sister and I taking Yoda action figures and adding them to the scene at the AirBnB may fall into the same category.

But to get back to the design lessons of Lakeside: It is accepted that a motorized vehicle should be governed to 15 miles an hour. Since the golf carts are small and not Hummer H2 sized, the streets are safer for walking and biking. Since they have tiny motors they are quiet, and that makes it easy to carry on a conversation with your dad on the front porch of an AirBnB during rush hour. Since it is widely known bikes and slow carts are on the streets at all times, the few cars that are in town drive slower. 

Since parking lots aren't needed the buildings can be closer together - which makes things more walkable/bikeable. It also means more buildings - which means less land wasted on temporary motor vehicle storage.

It isn't lost on me the retirees who inhabit Lakeside now probably would hated to have lived there when they were younger and had to drive everyday to get to work. It wouldn't fit in with the narrative of automotive contradictions we all hear (or make) every day. Wanting a house you can drive to quickly...but on a quiet and safe street. Wanting your grandkids to have a safe place to bike...but you show up at town hall meetings railing against adding bike lanes. Wanting less traffic...but you don't support affordable housing built near train stations and getting people ways other than a car to get around. 

The point is, when we talk about how we want cities to look, let's remind the naysayers again and again that some places have already gone or our going that route - and those places are safer for their kids and grandkids to play in. Sure, you get around slower but there are more important things than speed - like trying to try every ice cream place before your vacation ends. 

Let's not stop advocating, working, and making arguments for the kind of world we want. If we do that, we'll eventually, given enough time, be in charge. The history of the automobile may have mostly been written by our elders, but the future of our towns and cities will be written by cyclists. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*This turn-of-phrase is mine, but it was inspired by Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear who complained about different aspects of Alfa Romeo's but said they still had an 'Alfa magic' that made the cars like no other. I'm always going to have a strange, can't-put-my-finger-on-why affection for Cleveland even though other cities have better bike infrastructure, better bike acceptance, better weather...but it still has an indescribable something that makes it better. Visit Cleveland.  

** Strava is an app for jock people to help themselves reach new peaks of excellence and then brag to their friends about it. I just used it as a verb - past-tense. I need a shower.