Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Get a bike. Then, you'll understand...

I cannot remember a time, the graying blogger wrote, brushing bits of pipe tobacco from the front of his plaid sweater-vest, when bike riders have talked so much about their lives in traffic.

Bob Mionske's weekly legal column in Velo-News has focused on strife between motorists and cyclists issue after issue. Bloggers post their opinions many times each day. Newspapers that used to give bike riders a good leaving-alone, now lavish column-inches on us, especially those of us who are undergoing drastic behavior modification to escape Shell and Chevron.

High gas prices must help explain to non-cyclists why ostensibly sane folks would commute on two wheels. Can't be fun...and it's so dangerous.

About that danger: Many of us yearn to understand why our neighbors, friendly over the back fence, turn hostile behind the wheel. We're your friends, we think to ourselves; we're teachers and pharmacists and PTA members and full-fledged human beings. We may vote for the same people you do. We're nice people. And we're not One More Car.

Why do you treat us (and everyone else) with such cavalier disregard? We're you, just on a bike.

Maybe gas prices will provoke our neighbors to curtail their driving. Maybe they'll buy motor scooters or ride public transportation. Gotta wait six months for a Prius, I hear.

Maybe some will drag old bicycles, bought on impulse one fat-feeling Saturday a decade ago, down from their garage rafters. Maybe they'll take it to their local bike shop for a tune-up and new tires and tubes. Maybe they'll buy lights and a tire pump.

Maybe they'll actually try to ride to work. If they do, and let's hope they do, they will sense what we sense when we ride. What a shock it'll be - when their whitebread suburban neighbors invite them into the roadside ditch instead of over for the backyard barbecue.

What an eye-opener it'll be. I wonder how many trips to work and back our neighbors will attempt. The ones who stick will have endured a brutal consciousness-raising, huh? They'll have walked a mile in our Sidis.

Without realizing it, they've been able to travel without concentrating on what they're doing. They've been visible and armored. They've driven distracted and emotionally upset and in a senseless hurry, and they've been defensive and righteous about it all. You got a problem, buddy?

A few commutes will reveal to them that if they ride at the same level of diligence that they drove, they won't make it home. Distracted? Pissed-off? Cowboy up. You have to pay attention for you - and for them. They're distracted, pissed-off and in a hurry. Can't depend on them.

I remember a friend of a friend who would say calmly to offending motorists: Get a bike. Then, you'll understand.

Maybe thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans will get bikes. Maybe, then, they'll understand.

I hope it happens, but if I had a ranch, I'd bet it on something else. Something with better odds. Hillary for president, maybe.


Khal said...

Maynard, I'm hoping "they" understand. There is hope. I offered a League of American Bicyclists Road I course this coming friday and its almost fully subscribed (co-instructor Neale and I don't want to have more folks in the course than we can keep track of on the road).

These students are, you might say, "non-cyclists", i.e., not the spandex and lycra crowd, but the "gee, I should drag this bike out of the garage and ride it more often" crowd. One just called to apologize that her bike is so neglected that it will spend the week in the shop before being rideable--she will take the class later this summer.

What I hope is that these folks will not only be on the road being visible examples of alternative transportation, but will start mentioning to their friends and neighbors "hey, fellaz, those are us on those bikes--be careful out there".

Its only when more of "them" become more of "us" that we can hope to get control over the operating conditions on our streets. Before the recent spike in gas prices, it was a few lunatics in the wilderness asking for safe streets (as part of the 2006 Pro-Bike/Pro-Walk "Traffic Justice Project", I was one of those sackcloth and ashes lunatics). And, I hope that it will not only be cyclists, but those folks in newly purchased Civics, Corollas, and scoots who will start demanding better treatment from those white folk next door.

Khal Spencer
Bomb Town, New Mexico

Richmond Roadie said...

I wish more people would commute, there bodies and minds would be in better shape. However, the reality is the vast majority won't even consider it. Gas would have to be $10.00 a gallon to get folks to carpool or take the bus. Who knows what it would take to get someone on a bike?

On top of that, most communities are not cycling friendly, and many people work so far from home that a commute would not seem feasible to them.

It's a cultural thing.