Sunday, February 19, 2023

Bike Zoos

 Once again, the chat filtering in from the sales floor is about abandoning the road and only riding in car-free spaces.

How does one get to these car-free spaces? Mostly by driving, but partly by scurrying anxiously along the shortest possible route on public streets before diving into the perceived safety of the bike preserve. These habitat parks will be the last home of the vanishing cyclist.

It tolls ominously for me, one of the last remaining free-range riders looking forward -- somewhat -- to the return of transportation cycling season. I say somewhat, because I acknowledge, as I always have, that interacting with motorists exposes a rider to a certain amount of danger. Today's visitors, chatting with upper management while I did my best to be unnoticed, recounted how their son had gotten peened twice in Boston. 

Statistics may favor the survival of the vast majority of riders on the road, but that does not make any specific individual invulnerable. Someone is getting hit out there to keep our average from being 100 percent good. It could be any of us on any ride. Good habits, training, and experience improve your odds, but someone else is driving the bigger, more dangerous vehicles. 

I still wonder how much these refugees from road riding think about how bloody it would be if all of the other drivers out there jousting with them on the two-lane, and flying in formation with them on multi-lane roads were really as bad as they describe. There are places I wouldn't like to ride, and places I would consciously avoid, but the choice is guided by a lot of factors, not simply the number of drivers or an untested hypothesis about their collective lack of skill. Neither overestimate nor underestimate your counterparts on the road. I have been extremely impressed by the reflexes and alertness of many drivers over the years. Generally, if someone encroached on me it was because I had neglected to control the space properly. My major reason to suspend the commute when I can't do it in daylight is because I can't control the space when drivers have trouble discerning me in the glary environment created by multiple floodlit vehicles converging in an area we're all trying to fit through.

Because humans have not abandoned the concept of ubiquitous personal motor vehicle ownership, we can look forward to a future of continued sprawl, traffic, and parking problems, even when the vehicles are powered by electric motors instead of dead dinosaurs prehistoric oceanic plant life. If you look at the evolution of the bicycle itself, the most popular form is the one that has mutated into a motor vehicle: the smokeless moped. Simplicity and durability are so last century.

You make your own choices. Having done so, you then try to figure out if you can even operate in proximity to the choices that others have made. If not, you have to devise a path through the landscape and the shifting contours of popular culture to go where you want to go and avoid encountering the incompatible rhythms and speeds of other users. I refer not so much to the age-old problem of mixing human powered vehicles with motorized ones on public rights-of-way, but to navigating among the other purely muscle powered and hybrid cyborgs in the car-free spaces as well as in the general public traffic mix.


Jay said...

I have become increasingly frustrated and scared by the motor traffic in Bergen County, NJ. I am not sure if the post pandemic drivers have become more aggressive, less attentive, or are now enjoying the non-medical marijuana allowed in our state (nothing wrong with that by the way,except when a driver is stoned and operating a 2 ton vehicle in traffic); maybe it is all three situations at once. In the last 2 months, I have had a driver make a left into me, and two drivers do "the right cross" where they speed up to pass me on the right only to make a right turn into me. (Fortunately, I have the sense to know what they are doing and been able to stop in time from collision; I know...I can take the lane and stop the right cross from happening, but read 1, 2, 3 above. I would hate to end up on someone's hood as they plowed into me from behind)

I refuse to give up the road. So when I feel an intersection is too dangerous, or a stretch of road is too dangerous, I get off my bike and walk. I use this as a compromise. I do admit, I just purchased my first "gravel" bike so I can enjoy the woods and car-free paths. While the odds favor most riders getting home safely, it is the thought of what happens when things go wrong. The laws of physics dictate a 0.1 ton rider and bike will not fair well versus a 2 ton (plus) vehicle. Even more frightening in the US is the lack of punishment for drivers that hit cyclists. "I didn't see them." "I lost control." "My gas pedal stuck"

For now, I will walk through bad intersections. I will enjoy my gravel bike as well.
Kind regards,
Bergen County, NJ

Rob in VA said...

I agree with Jay's comment regarding lack of punishment for careless drivers. A couple years ago, here in southwest VA, a careless driver who was allegedly distracted by her children riding in the back seat killed an experienced cyclist who was riding on the shoulder of a relatively lightly traveled 4-lane highway. To my knowledge, the driver got some 'demerit' points on her license. Might as well make it a non-offense, if the punishment is meaningless.

cafiend said...

Killing a cyclist is basically a freebie in this country, and in the UK, according to stuff I see online. It's depressing, but I try not to let it be discouraging. We have to keep harping on the preventability of injury and death among vulnerable road users, directing the attention toward the practical problems rather than feeding the impression that road riding is simply a dangerous activity that someone would only do if they were crazy or destitute. Then again, I'm both of those. But even when I was a little better off financially I liked transportation cycling for its many other benefits both personal and societal.

I definitely consider traffic conditions when choosing a route. I've also been fortunate to live in a rural area without a lot of hectic intersections. Wolfeboro manages to produce a few city riding situations, but I don't have to deal with the relentless concentration of them that I would face in sprawling urban and suburban multilane hell. You definitely get more bogies from more angles in that environment.

The speeds at which motorists are allowed and encouraged to drive make the sensory deprivation tanks that pass for vehicles even more challenging to operate. The one I inherited has various beepers and flashing lights to tell me that I might be about to hit something, but the driver still has to interpret the signal and respond quickly and appropriately. And if the sensors quit working, the driver has no analog equivalent to overcome the blind spots inherent in the way the bodywork was made.

Through all of this, we have to keep riding, or the rest of society will happily conclude that no one wanted to be out there anyway, so let's save the money and make a nice multilane arterial to the park where the last bike riders on earth can circle happily for hours in an attractively landscaped course around acres of parking lots.

Jay said...

"Through all of this, we have to keep riding, or the rest of society will happily conclude that no one wanted to be out there anyway, so let's save the money and make a nice multilane arterial to the park where the last bike riders on earth can circle happily for hours in an attractively landscaped course around acres of parking lots."

Agreed...I may still walk through a tough intersection...but I won't yet give up the road. Interestingly enough, when I commute back and forth to work Mon to Friday, I tend to see the drivers are more attentive. The two "right hook" incidents were on a Saturday in broad daylight, but still on a Sat, and the left hook incident was on a week day, but at 7:30 PM (at night). I do have a good front light and reflective vest, reflective ankle bands and reflectors on my bike. Perhaps the combination of off hours and not expecting a cyclist and to the point on your blog...difficulty in making out lights in the sea of darkness. Thanks for the excellent post.