Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rants and Raves: bikes and cars

This summer, my bike commute to work has undergone some changes. I'm still working at the same place, still taking the same route, but those around me, both cyclists and cars, have changed their behaviors which affects everyone: cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.

Generally speaking, it is great to see more cyclists on the road; it's a positive step in getting healthier, building community, freeing ourselves from cars and all of their trappings (gas, parking, maintenance fees) and having more fun. However, just like when driving a car, there are rules of the road and etiquette that make the bicycle and rider more viable as a form of transportation, as well as safe. My rant has to do with the many cyclists who are now riding to downtown and are not aware of these rules. They block traffic, pass other cyclists unsafely and run lights, among other infractions.

They can't be described as one particular "type" because they can be male or female, racer- or messenger-types, young or older (haven't seen anyone "old" out there, to be honest). After a guy passed me on the right without even calling out "on your right" while going up Fremont Ave, I caught up to him at the light and asked him why he passed on the right. He replied, "I didn't want to get clipped by a car". So he basically was willing to endanger me (or himself if I had moved right) rather than to look left for cars and wait until it was safe to pass me.

Yesterday, after being passed twice on the right, I arrived home to find a mailing from the League of American Bicyclists that addressed such a problem and offered a solution: rider education. They offer training to instructors and supply educational materials that address the problems that a new rider encounters when cycling in traffic. The letter explained that many people are riding for the first time since they were kids, when it was either accepted or they were taught to ride on sidewalks, ride against the flow of traffic, carry shopping bags on their handlebars (that reminds me- I saw a guy crash last month doing just that; the bags were caught by a gust of wind and he slammed down on the pavement, but was luckily unhurt). The tricky part in this education element is getting the information to the riders who need it most.

Now for the rave: believe it or not, the raves go to the cars! In the past few months, I have had drivers roll down their window to let me know they would be turning right so I wouldn't get squished between them and the curb. I attribute that to the article in the local paper for drawing awareness to that problem. Last night, a big-wheeled pickup truck rolled up next to me in the right lane, as I was waiting to turn left. I happened to glance up at the driver, sure I would find an abrasive, red-neck type who would be looking down upon me, and not just literally. To my surprise, he asked if I would be turning right and I replied I was going the other way. Then I flirted with his dog in the back seat, who was either going to lick me or bark at me, I couldn't tell which. The owner implied it would be death by licking, that he was a total softie.

Maybe all this will be nothing more than a fleeting memory once the summer ends and it is dark and rainy, when windows are usually rolled up and the many cyclists will be scaled back to the hearty few who ride all year. But I like the potential results that I am imagining: more people getting out of their cars and onto their bikes with drivers treating them with respect as a viable form of transportation. Peace, love and happiness to all as you ride, walk or drive this summer!

Some local links to rider education:
Bicycle Alliance of WA
Bicycle Driver Training Institute

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