Saturday, July 19, 2008

For Jenny and Phantom: The Bicycle Rant: A Politically Incorrect Post

To begin with, I'm not a bicycle person. I biked as a kid, even biked to high school in East Coast Big City, which involved busy streets and a crowded bike path--and once being hit by a car at one of the busiest intersections in City (one you probably crossed daily for about four years, Jenny and Phantom), though I did get right back on. But then in college my bike was stolen, and though I got a new bike in California, the hills were big, and I had no interest in going up them. By that point, too, traffic scared me, and I was, recreationally, a runner, and, basically, I'm fine with a nice pedal on the bike path, but that's about it. (I'm also faintly scornful of the general gear-tech-loud-tight-shirt cultism of bicycle fanatics, but then again I'm sure I have my own cultish tendencies in my own areas of interest, which is why this is a parenthesis, not a sentence.)

So, basically, I'm biased. But when it comes to bicycles on the street, I get kind of rabid. See, I'm a big walker, and then I'm a driver. Sidewalks for people. Streets for cars. No? (Yeah, yeah, I know the bicycles are...oh god, do I even have to do the counterargument and show my awareness? I mean, this is a rant. So yeah, I know how the bicycles are good for the planet, and I know the bicyclists are discriminated against, and...whatever.)

What makes me really crazy is entitled bicyclists in the streets. You know, the ones who, on narrow country roads bike two abreast? And in crowded city streets bike four feet into the lane? So the cars have to crawl along behind them? Just makes my blood boil to think about it.

But I haven't thought about it lately, because lately I've been all about the walking and the public transportation and the car mainly on freeways (not because of gas, but because that's my life and how I prefer it--I must confess that the gas situation has not affected me that much, which makes me realize that I really do not drive that much--I fill my tank maybe every two weeks when I'm home, and most of my journeys take a little less than a tank, so I fill before I go, fill on my way back, and then don't have to fill again for another week, which means I'm spending maybe ten dollars more a week, though I am appalled in the abstract).

At any rate, the other day was kind of complicated: I had to water my mother's garden in the morning before work, and we were leaving for the country as soon as I was done with work, and basically what made sense was to drive the car to my mother's house, park it there, water the garden, and then take my usual public transportation to work, and get the car on the way home to get to the country more quickly, which is what had me driving from Town to City during rush hour for the first time since I can remember.

Now, the route I take from Town to City probably has the highest number of vegans per square foot in the country, not to mention yoga studios. And you know where this is going: yes, commuting bicyclists. In the middle of the damn road.

So I'm driving along, vaguely simmering, but trying not to get annoyed, because what could I do, and who wants to start the day annoyed. But then comes the piece de resistance (I wish I had the capacity to insert a drawing into this blog post, but that would involve first the capacity to draw, so given the all-round lack of capacity, you're going to have to visualize off the words).

I'm at another intersection of Jenny and Phantom's past, though this is one they probably rarely crossed, as it's at the edge of their past. I'm driving toward a green light, minding my own business, going the speed limit (more about that later), etc. Perpendicular to me, ON THE SIDEWALK of the cross street, heading for a RED LIGHT, speeds a bicyclist (with no helmet, not that I really care, but it adds to the offensiveness), who CROSSES THE STREET on the crosswalk, not twenty feet in front of me, against the light, and then turns right, directly into my turning-left path, with not a care in the world. Am I communicating effectively how totally outrageous this is? But wait, there's more.

So I, being a bit annoyed, but also a bit frightened, honk. And she, this jaywalking, helmet-less cyclist, yells "What the fuck is your problem?!" Uh, my problem might be that you are a dangerous law-breaking psycho bitch who symbolizes all that is wrong with the entitlement of the be-bicycled class. But I don't say that. I say--ok, I yell--"Choose the sidewalk or the street!" and drive off into the sunshine.

By then I was irate, but, you know, I was a little comforted in my iration by the idea that she was probably totally irate, in that way where you feel self-righteously indignant but also know in your heart of hearts that you were kind of wrong, so it makes you even more indignant, but also a little sick? What? You don't know that feeling? OK...moving right along...

Anyway, I did get over it fairly quickly, and decided not to blog about it, so as not to reinflame my ire, but then, well, if you have a small audience, you better keep them happy, so, Phantom and Jenny, this was for you.


Jenny Davidson said...

Thank you! Actually on my long list of things that could be different & would make me happier about cycling, one of the high-up ones is the way that so many cyclists utterly ignore traffic lights. I really feel as though other cyclists are actually LAUGHING at me if I stop at a light, particularly at those "bike lights" in the park which are clearly viewed as optional by them! But it would be much safer if it really were more like an Amsterdam-type situation where it is just as much illegal for cyclists to go through red lights as for cars! I agree with you that the strangest part is how heedless the cyclists often are of their own safety - you cannot just shoot out into traffic in a place where a driver might rightly have expected only a slower-moving pedestrian...

Kelly said...

dang skippy.

i'm actually terrified to ride my bike out in traffic because it all seems so cutthroat and Mad Max anymore. I will tho, once I get this whole commute to a job outside of the home thing put to bed. I'll be one of those crazy ladies in a skirt and converse with a crazy DIY cart attached to the back of my 20 year-old multi-track Trek, pulling groceries and library books and plants.

I do wish the road rules applied to cyclists the way they do to motorists. It would make things so much more clear and well, as we know, harder consequences do make for mostly better decision-making.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Oh my god, can I share my City Bicyclist Trauma story with you? (And, before I start, I should say that the only serious biking I ever did was during those four years you mentioned previously in said City, because, dammit, I grew up in hill country, and bicycles were in that place primarily an instrument of torture.)

So I was at a major intersection in the City, in my little blue hatchback, and I was stopped at a red light, but I needed to make the right turn on the red light (because I was, you know, late for work and stuff), but I could not make the turn because a cyclist (who was going straight) was blocking my way. I had my signal on, but the guy refused to move over even a little bit -- which seemed terribly inconsiderate, other motorists almost always get out of the way to let someone make a right on red if they can -- and I was *really late* so I tried carefully inching around him and (oh my god) hit the jersey barrier that was marking construction at the intersection.

I massively late for work, had to pay car repair bill for my damaged bumper, etc. etc., but the part that made me murderous with rage is that the cyclist LAUGHED AT ME as he pedaled off.

It was almost 15 years ago now, but to this day I still would feel that it was perfectly just desserts if that guy ended up smushed by a city bus. Creep.

Elizabeth said...

There are certainly some idiots on bikes out there, but probably a lower ratio than the idiots in cars. But you're used to the idiots in cars, and so the idiots in bikes stand out more.

I'm actually pretty sympathetic to the bikers riding way out in the lane -- because otherwise they're likely to get doored, or for drivers to think they can squeeze by. When they're in the middle of the lane, as a driver you know you need to wait until the other side is clear to pass, just like you would to pass a car.

And it's great to "see" you Phantom!! I miss hearing from you.

Katie said...

As a daily bicyclist commuter in a big East Coast city, I can feel both sides of this issue. One, there are a lot of morons on bikes and at both extremes. Bike messenger jerks who think their speed will get them out of every sticky situation, traffic jam, and through every red light...there are also bicyclists who are more like pedestrians on wheels, who have no concept of traveling to a destination efficiently on a bicycle. (From you post, it seems like the girl you encountered was in this group, hence the sidewalk hopping.)

Somewhere in the middle is the daily rider who just wants to get where he/she's going safely, quickly, and efficiently. I coast through clear stop signs and red lights for the same reason (Phantom) makes a right on red.

Bike in the bike lane when there's one, sometimes I take the lane on a narrow one way street because it's actually safer. I've been trailed by buses and cars and other bikers alike. And I use the turning lane to make a left like any other car would.

But please, YIELD to moving vehicles going straight when you're turning. It's the law. We're on the right side because that's the law too.