Thanks to Jim for sending along the NYT story about the escalating war — not in the northern Caucasus, but perhaps right outside your window. It’s the one between cyclists and motorists, and since it’s obviously only going to get worse, I might as well state my manifesto and start the shooting war.
The story starts with the customary oh-my-god anecdote:
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Save gas money, be environmentally correct, lose weight — just by biking to work. And so after two decades, Dan Cooley, 41, saddled up a silver 21-speed Raleigh in April to make the daily two-mile commute to his nursing job at a senior citizen center in Louisville, Ky. In four months, he lost 15 pounds. Way to go, Dan!
Friday morning, July 25, around 6:50 a.m., he was pedaling on a residential street, wearing his green hospital scrubs, when a Volkswagen roared out of a driveway in front of him. Swerving to avoid the car, Mr. Cooley cursed loudly and rode on.
The driver and his passenger cursed back. As Mr. Cooley pulled over to the sidewalk, the car turned onto a driveway, knocking him off his bike. In Mr. Cooley’s narrative, the passenger, swearing, jumped out and pummeled him. Then he got back into the car, which zoomed away. Mr. Cooley lay prostrate on the sidewalk, bloodied, with a concussion and a torn ligament.
It’s never gotten that far with me, knock wood, although I’ve had that
exact same experience — the sudden swerve to avoid a car — approximately a thousand times. Usually I don’t swear. I say STOP STOP STOP LOOK OUT CAN’T YOU SEE ME and maybe that’s why no one has felt the need to pull over and kick my ass, but there’s always tomorrow.
Here are my baseline beliefs when I roll out of my driveway on two wheels:
1) I want to avoid cars in every way possible.
2) In nearly all car/bike collisions, the bike loses.
3) Bikes don’t need to follow every rule of the road that cars do, at least not all the time, especially if a little law-breaking accomplishes objective No. 1, above.
Let’s start with the first two, because they govern the rest of it. If you’re a motorist, I’m going to avoid all contact with you. That means I will choose a quiet residential street over a main artery. If a main artery is unavoidable, I’ll ride on the sidewalk. Of course I go slower when I do. Of course I’m mindful of pedestrians. And yes, I know it’s illegal, but I’ll take the risk of a ticket over an accident every day, because see No. 2, above. I don’t want to die, or spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, or even a few weeks in a cast. If I always ride in a way that puts self-preservation uppermost in mind.
I also run stop signs now and then. Some of them, anyway. I have my reasons. Rules of the road were overwhelmingly written with cars in mind. Cars are big, heavy and deadly. Cars can’t stop as fast as I can. Drivers can’t see what I can. Even with an iPod, I can hear more. On my residential street grid, I frequently roll up on four-way stops. If I can see deserted roadway in three directions, I run the stop. What is the point of stopping? The intersection is empty. There’s rarely even a pedestrian around. Who can I hurt? What’s the harm? If a car is closer than half a block, I slow down and look for a visual cue from the driver to go ahead, and I usually get it. But trust me on this: I am never going to put myself at serious risk of injury if I can help it. See #2.
Sometimes a motorist is behind me when I run those stop signs, and sometimes I get a glare when they catch up and pass. Damn bicycles! Sometimes the glare comes when the motorist is talking on the phone, which is sort of a hoot, speaking of safe driving hint hint. It’s times like this I recall that while nearly all cyclists are motorists, most motorists aren’t cyclists and just don’t get it. It is to the motorist’s advantage to have nimble, two-wheeled me moving on ahead, rather than stopping for nothing and then starting up, wobbly, right in front of their car. I’m at my most unstable when starting from a dead stop, and neither one of us benefits from my instability. I wish more drivers understood this.
(And yes, I know it’s wrong, but as I said, I only do it when I’m alone on the road. I think of myself as a libertarian whenever I do so.)
I always obey rules of the road in traffic, however. I signal my turns, even, which is more than I can say for most drivers. I don’t text or talk on the phone, either. Here’s something else I do: If I come up to a red light, sometimes I’ll swoop up on the sidewalk and cross at the crosswalk as though I were a pedestrian. Drivers bitch about this, too, but again: I never do this if there are actual bipedal beings on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk nor in anything heavier than light traffic. I only do it if it’s clear, and I only do it to keep myself moving and in better control around cars. I don’t do it to thumb my nose at motorists, who are all less sweaty, better dressed, more comfortable and getting to their destinations faster than I am. The last time this happened, I did it after stopping the way I am supposed to. The last vehicle in line was a garbage truck, with a side-emitting exhaust and a diesel engine. Thought I was going to die. It felt entirely justified.
Also: Sometimes, if there’s a Supremes song on the iPod, I’ll sit up straight and ride no-handed for a hundred yards or so, the better to do the hand motions to “I Hear a Symphony.”
Speaking of music, I’m mindful of the iPod. A comfortable volume still lets in most traffic noise, which is important. But I remember something my friend Borden pointed out about radios, about how often they survive the worst crashes and continue to play. “There’s something so awful about bombing along, grooving to your favorite song, then crashing and having it be the first thing you hear after the glass stops falling. Your favorite song, forever associated with this lousy memory. Mocking you.” So true. If I check out in a bicycle crash, I hope the last thing in my ear isn’t Cheap Trick. This encourages me to keep the volume low.
So that’s me. If you see me out there, you might call me a scofflaw or a problem cyclist, but just know that I have my reasons for everything I do, and I’m not being an asshole on purpose. For what it’s worth, I’ve never ridden up beside anyone and slapped them on the fanny, the way a motorist did with me once. I never drove a golf cart on a bike path, the way golfers constantly do when they play on adjacent courses (hello, Foster Park). And I never was such a crappy golfer that my drive off the tee went wildly awry and came thisclose to hitting a certain middle-aged female cyclist who shall remain nameless.
I wish there were more bike paths and lanes. In Ann Arbor (of course), most of the major arteries that can accommodate one have a designated bike lane, and oh my god is that a wonderful thing. Of course, it wouldn’t help these people:
Will the Hatfields and the McCoys ever be able to coexist? Ground zero for such tensions may be Woodside, Calif. (population 5,600, 14 square miles), on the San Francisco peninsula, tucked in forested mountains. Its famous switchbacks are so narrow they are often unmarked by white stripes.
Woodside is host to hundreds of recreational cyclists on weekends. And on many weekdays, a peloton known as “the noon riders” — as many as 100 cyclists from Silicon Valley businesses riding during lunch break — blasts through.
“Mention the noon riders to anyone in town and you’ll see the blood pressure go up,” said Susan George, Woodside’s town manager. One day, she said, she rounded a bend and came upon them: “I slammed on the brakes and they swarmed around me, screaming and yelling obscenities. My heart was pounding. It was very scary.”
See, that’s just stupid. And wrong. And probably way too fast for me.
So let’s start the battle, eh? Take your shots.
A little bloggage: Laura Lippman will have the Sunday serial in the New York Times Sunday magazine, starting September 7, and boy are we thrilled for her. Also, for fans of her series, because “The Girl in the Green Raincoat” is a Tess Monaghan story, and? And she’s pregnant, Laura reports. That should be fun. Congratulations.
Jon Carroll, with an amusing story about bean burritos and the Perseid meteor shower. A column about farting that never uses the word, but still satisfies. Like a good fart.
This is old, but it’s amusing and has pictures of a lovely actress, so what the hell: Anne Hathaway’s Chic Revenge. (I’ve been looking for some version of that black coatdress my whole life. I guess it helps to have a stylist and a bottomless bank account, not to mention a slender form, long legs and…never mind.
And, of course, what we’ve been putting off reading all weekend: The world edges closer to chaos by the minute. Do your duty.