Trailnet Champion Harold Karabell
For ten years, Harold Karabell has led bicycle tours that highlight St. Louis’ unique neighborhoods and interesting inhabitants, both living and deceased. Riders on his tours have pedaled their way through Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries, LaSalle Park and Soulard, Old North and “North of Old North” (Hyde Park, College Hill, and O’Fallon Park), exploring the history and architecture of these fascinating parts of St. Louis. He recently led Trailnet’s Literary Tour, winding through the Central West End, Academy, and Fountain Park neighborhoods, regaling riders with the life stories of local writers such as Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Kate Chopin while reading selections from their works. Of all of the tours that he leads, Harold lists the cemetery and literary tours as the most popular, though he himself plays no favorites.
“People seem truly fascinated by well-known authors and tombstones,” Harold says.
Harold is also a dedicated bike commuter, using his bicycle as his principal mode of transportation, a lifestyle that he concedes is a relatively new phenomenon.
“Forty-five years ago, I didn’t know a single adult bicycle commuter,” Harold says. “You would see children on bikes using them for fun and recreation, but seeing an adult bike commuter was even more unusual than dining with a vegan. My wife and I used our bikes much of the time when we became parents and were able to serve as a model of alternative transportation for the next generation. Now bikes are accepted as a legitimate and even preferred form of transportation for increasing numbers of people. We’re not marginal any longer, we’re almost mainstream.”
Harold believes that this shift came about in part because of people’s concerns about our energy dependence and related environmental issues, such as global warming.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by some of the big environmental problems that we face. Riding a bicycle is the single most important thing that an individual can do to make a real contribution and feel good about yourself.”
A long-time resident of the Central West End, Harold feels fortunate to live in a “self-sufficient and sustainable neighborhood.” He describes St. Louis City as “a bike commuter’s paradise – it’s very easy for an educated cyclist to get anywhere they need to go in the city.”
Harold also sees Trailnet as an important agent for change in transportation habits.
“As the pre-eminent bicycle enthusiasm organization in the region, Trailnet builds a constituency of bicyclists and pedestrians and helps move alternative forms of transportation from the margins to the mainstream,” he says.
Going forward, Harold believes Trailnet’s most important focus should be education.
“One can learn, as I have, to ride safely and successfully anywhere in the absence of separate infrastructure, simply by taking one’s place on the road as part of the normal flow of traffic,” Harold said. “Nonetheless, we’re seeing more and better infrastructure each year. The best local example is the City’s protected bike lane on Chestnut Street, a considerable step forward compared to St. Louis’ older door-zone bike lanes. But even the best-designed infrastructure contains not-so-obvious dangers and won’t automatically prevent conflicts between bicyclists and other users of the road. Cyclists need to educate ourselves not to run red lights, not to ride in the door zone, not to be victims of the ‘right hook’ at an intersection, not to be nighttime ninjas, and not to ignore the risks inherent in riding even in state-of-the-art separate facilities.”
Whether commuters or recreational riders, people have many reasons for riding a bike – they might do so to lose weight, to save money at the gas pump, or to do their part for the environment. Harold agrees with his long-time friend Paul McFarlane from the former St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation (which became part of Trailnet in 2011), who sums it up this way: “The bicycle is the answer to every question.”
For Harold, the most important motivation for riding a bicycle is that it’s simply the most pleasurable way to travel.
“If it weren’t just joyful to get on a bike, most of us wouldn’t do it in the first place,” he says. “Being on a bike opens up the sights and sounds of the city in a way that no other vehicle can. Not being confined inside a car allows you to see your neighborhood in a new and exciting way, to hear the birds, to discover that very large part of the world that remains unknown and unknowable when speeding along in a car.”
In that spirit, Harold says, “Nothing makes me happier than to be on my bike heading toward a dinner date with a good veggie burger. Forty-five years ago, who would have imagined that such a thing would be possible for so many of us on an everyday basis?”