Monday, May 12, 2014

I Think We Need Some Space

I am an urban cyclist.

To some, that's like totally whatever don't care. But to many, it makes me a friend, and a colleague of sorts. To others, I'm devil-may-care adrenaline junkie who must have knocked something loose that made me want to ride a bike on city streets.

To other others, I'm just a menace- a smug, entitled jerk with an "I am biker, hear me roar" attitude, who thinks himself above the law, and that people should bow down in reverence of his low carbon footprint. And to other other others, I'm simply not there at all. Which is almost worse.

But I am here. We all are. Cyclists and drivers and pedestrians and bus takers, we're all trying to get somewhere, without dying or killing anyone. And, for the moment at least, we've all got to do that using the same space.

So allow me to clear up a few things, because sometimes it feels like fellow road/path users are getting the wrong impression. Many have done this before me, and many will again, but I think this stuff bears repeating, so here goes.

1.  I don't think I'm above the law.
If I roll past a stop sign or push through a red light, it's not because I'm reckless or I don't care. I'm making a calculated decision based on the burden of complying with the law vs. the potential cost if I don't. Drivers do this all the time. Speeding, illegal u-turns, double-parking, and turning right on red when there's a sign saying "don't."

Because cars and bikes use the road in different ways, our rule-bending (or breaking) is of course going to look different. The more different it looks, the more dangerous it looks. But looks can be deceiving.

A driver doesn't have as clear a view of an intersection as a cyclist does, due to both sitting slightly lower and, you know, being in a glass and metal box. But we can easily scan an intersection and detect oncoming traffic. If we mess up and there's a car coming, we can stop or correct much more quickly. If not, we clear the intersection early and escape the rush on the green, making your life easier and ours less scary. Yes, it could be dangerous. Yes, it's against the law. But think about the last time you topped out at 65mph on the highway because that's what the sign said.

2. I don't want to be Lance Armstrong.
No one does. Seriously. Maybe not even Lance Armstrong. It's time to retire "Lycra-clad Lance Armstrong wannabe" and similar derisive labels. For one thing, the guy hasn't even been a real presence in professional cycling for years. If you insist on having a name, maybe use "Bradley Wiggins" or "Marcel Kittlel" or "Cadel Evans," or someone recent. For another, a lot of cyclists don't follow professional cycling like, at all, and don't have a desire to be any of them. But most of us would probably be OK being this guy. I could listen to him giving commands to his limbs all day.

For real. Dude has a posse.
For yet another thing, many cyclists in the city don't wear that lycra kit all, or even most, of the time they spend riding. Hell, that lycra may even turn out to be wool when you look at it closely. Yeah, wool activewear is a thing. Longer, sweatier rides, and even commutes in the summertime, beg clothing that's going to deal well with moisture and not flap about in the breeze. Despite the fact that the garment looks like a uniform for the Tour de France, I'm wearing it because it's functional, not because I'm trying to do a time trial on Pennsylvania Avenue or something.

I don't call someone driving a car kinda fast a "steel-encased Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wannabe" (is that reference dated enough?) even though the outward appearance might be a little similar. So maybe I'm just a guy doing something I enjoy in clothes designed for it, OK?

3. Sometimes the bike lane isn't the best lane. 
I get it. It's there, and it keeps me out of your way, so I oughta use it. Most of the time, bike lanes are great. But would you drive exclusively in a lane that has a tendency to be blocked as often as not, by taxis, buses, paratransit vans, trucks making deliveries, and double-parked churchgoers? No, you'd use another lane.

Please understand that sometime's it's safest for all of us if I do the same, even though I'm grateful for the infrastructure. I'm not doing it for the sake of inconveniencing you.

4. "On your left!"
This one's for joggers. People walking with young kids or dogs, too, but mainly joggers.

 Ladies, gentlemen, I love you all and respect you deeply for your choice of activity- I've tried several times to be a jogger and it JUST doesn't work for me. But I'm glad it does for you. So when we're sharing a trail or road space and I call out "on your left," please understand I'm not yelling for you to get out of my way. I'll move around you when it's safe to do so without inconveniencing you. As the faster/heavier party, that's my responsibility. All I'd ask is that, if you're wearing headphones and not likely to hear me call out, look behind you before changing directions. Pulling a crazy Ivan (at 1:10) works for outrunning reavers, not so much for sharing a trail with other users.

5. I don't think I'm a better human being than you.
Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But I can't make that assessment based solely on your chosen mode of transport. Do I believe the USA relies too much on cars? Yes. Do I think our urban planners and policymakers have historically encouraged driving to the exclusion of more sustainable options? ABSOLUTELY. But driving makes the most sense for a lot of people in a lot of situations; I'm not about to condemn someone for using the system we've developed, even if I do think it's a little broken.

If I'm weirdly happy it's not because I'm smug, it's probably because I'm exercising outdoors and, you know, endorphins and stuff. And if I yell, it's usually so that you can hear me. If I yell really loud, think of it as my equivalent of using a horn, which of course I don't have.

6. Buses.
Buses, buses, buses. I'm really glad we have you. You're an indispensable part of our city's transportation infrastructure, and roughly equivalent to bicycling in person to road space ratio.
From Mikael at Copenhagenize.

Your drivers are doing a tough job under equally tough circumstances. You should really have your own lanes. Unfortunately, you don't yet, and that seems to put you and me in conflict a lot of the time. For the most part, we manage and are pleasant to one another. But when you blow by me in the lane only to screech to a stop (diagonally blocking the bike lane) to pick up a passenger half a block away, it puts me on edge.

And sometimes, my only option if I ever want to get where I'm going is to scoot by you while you're stopped, since you're going to pull over in front of me in one more block anyway. Please understand I'm doing this as carefully as possible, and do not wish to scare you or your passengers, or make your day any harder. We're both more sustainable than single-occupancy cars, and provide access to transportation that wouldn't otherwise exist for the economically or geographically disadvantaged, so let's be allies whenever possible, deal?

7. Look for me, and I'll look for you. 
I'm going to specify taxi drivers here, because I receive less consideration from them than from any other road user. But really it goes for everyone. Let's watch out for each other. I'll wear light colors whenever it's practical, and use lights always. You check the bike lane before you careen through it to pick up a fare or make a u-turn, and I won't cut you off making a right turn into your lane.

These are all things I would communicate to other road users, if I could. On the mean streets, tension is often too high to have a reasoned conversation, so maybe someone will read this. Stranger things have happened.


...there's little here to miss, bring back 1996.

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