Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gimme Me Three Feet, Mister (with apology to Lynyrd Skynyrd)

I had an enlightening conversation with a friend a few evenings ago. She is adamant that bike lanes are a waste of money because most people do not ride bikes and those who do should not inconvenience those who don’t. She asserts that bikes should stay out of the lanes of travel because they are designated for cars. My response to that was agreement because it’s a helluva lot safer if I don’t have to compete with cars, but where there are not bike lanes, then what? Ride on the sidewalk!

There is a sense of disconnection between drivers and riders. We seem to slip into crevices of reasoning that narrow our focus and make it difficult to see beyond our self interest. Sometimes during rush hours when I have to cross the northbound access from westbound Archer Road I count the drivers who fail to use turn signals, because if I could count on valid signals I could cross much more safely. The number is always less than fifty percent. If you make that same turn everyday at about the same time I guess you begin to feel like everyone knows it. Or maybe it’s because of cell phone usage? Or maybe reading the recent text? Basically, it’s about complacency, isn’t it?

I become frustrated at intersections when I come to a stop while maintaining my balance and not dropping a toe to the road (a brief track stand) while waiting for the car that is there and has the right-of-way to proceed . . . but it doesn’t. Go, damn it! Instead, he or she gestures that I should go, assuming the windows’ glass isn’t too dark. So I go because maybe the driver is accustomed to riders ignoring stop signs. Maybe the driver thinks it’s courteous? Maybe I should just smile, make an appreciative gesture and hope that together we spread goodwill.

I told my friend that I commonly ride the sidewalk from Fred Baer Road until I reach Old Archer Road Trail west of 34th Street. I also told her that it is among the more demanding places I ride because drivers seldom check the sidewalk before turning onto Archer Road meaning that I have to anticipate the actions of the cars approaching Archer from Chick-fil-a, Wells Fargo, Starbuck’s and every other establishment along that lengthy stretch of sidewalk because I know I am invisible to a lot of drivers. It comes down to a toss-up between posing a perceived challenge to drivers on Archer Road or those some who are distracted and unaware.

All I want is three feet. I can make do with that amount of space. It’s not ideal, but it’ll do. Look back on my postings here about passing through South Carolina last August and you’ll understand why three feet seems adequate. More than once on the Palmetto State’s rural roads I delayed drivers until I could manage to give them room or there was no oncoming traffic. Not once did I have a close call or even a horn sounded in anger. Maybe it was the loaded bike that made the difference. Maybe it wasn’t.

No one has the single solution, but there’s little doubt that the best answer involves compromise on all sides. I have no suggestions beyond my personal desire for three feet. If I have that I’ll work diligently to stay out of the way of drivers and with a little good fortune they will not mistake me for a target.

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