Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Musing about wheeled pedestrians

The wheeled pedestrian definition of a cyclist is as an exclusively recreational rider. I get the sense this is viewed with contempt and perhaps even alarm as the recreational cyclists generate all the negative effects suffered by bike riders, while the virtuous, hard-working non-cyclist riders toil in obscurity, waiting for the motoring public to see that there has never been anything to fear.

The term "wheeled pedestrian" must be a calculated contradiction to the concept of vehicular cyclist. But for me it conjures up uncomfortable visions of riders on sidewalks, threading among the real pedestrians like a motorcycle on a bike path. Can you imagine if frightened motorcyclists lobbied successfully to be allowed to ride on bike paths because they were afraid to mix it up with the other vehicle traffic on the street?

Many times over the years in print columns and on line I have made the point that a bicyclist is NOT a pedestrian on wheels. A rider on the sidewalk demonstrates contempt for the people walking there. A rider going against the flow of vehicular traffic, as a pedestrian is required to do, shows contempt for the lawful road users and puts them all at risk. Ride at a walking pace if you like. It's great. But you're not a pedestrian. You're a bike rider. You're riding a bike. You might hop on it in a fashionable outfit that blends perfectly with everyone else's everyday clothes. You might stop frequently to run errands or simply to enjoy the space through which you are passing. But you rode a bike to get there. You are not a pedestrian. Maybe, just maybe, if you take the pedals off and scooter that thing along like a Laufmaschine you can lay partial claim to being a wheeled pedestrian. Even then you will be taking up more space among the actual pedestrians and inconveniencing them at least as much as they inconvenience you.

I like segregated bike routes as long as they go where I need to go. It's nice to get away from motor vehicles for a while. The Cotton Valley Trail is a multi use path that the rail car people think of as a rail line, the walkers think of as a walking path and the bicyclists call a bike path. You can see the territorial emanations from each kind of user when different user types meet. The rail cars are worse than motor vehicles on the road, because they can't deviate from their course. The bike riders have to ride responsibly around the pedestrians, though some riders seem to blast past as callously as heedless motorists blast past cyclists out in traffic. Not too many bike riders on the path would consider themselves wheeled pedestrians, and certainly the pedestrians would not acknowledge them as such.

You want to be a pedestrian? Walk.

I actually prefer to walk rather than ride a bike in some places. Even if the distance would go more quickly on a bike, other conditions might override mere speed and ease. Just as short trips in a car become a yank with starting, stopping, traffic and parking, so are some trips not worth doing by bike.

As for the garb, when I ride out to the nearest grocery store it's a seven-mile round trip. I finally got some regular clothing that fits well for that kind of ride, so I can show up looking pretty normal. I still haven't kicked the helmet habit, but once I hang that on the bike and walk into the store no one would know I'm a freak unless they took a close look at my Diadora touring shoes. Those are a model no longer made, with a nice stiff sole for pedaling, but no aggressive tread or wide rand to snag going in and out of toeclips. I have nothing against street clothes. When my commutes were short enough I wore whatever I was going to wear to work. When I refused to give up bike commuting no matter how far I ended up living from work, I had to adapt to a commute that was more of a bike ride.

I am a bicycle rider. I am not a wheeled pedestrian. I dress and ride appropriately for whatever conditions I need to face. I'm not averse to cutting across a lawn or through a field, down an alley or along a path. I'll even make a quick, stealthy connection on a short stretch of sidewalk (sshhhhh!). At all those times, if I'm on a bike I am a cyclist, with all the rights and responsibilities thereto appertaining.

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