Monday, April 4

Monday Propaganda: Vehicular Cycling for Dummies

I came to a fork in the trail this morning. Usually I've already decided whether I will strike off the shortest route through suburbs and across the dreaded Denver West Parkway to get to work with ten extra minutes to spare, or to plod on due west between the mesas along the CCT and into downtown Golden for a climb up through Mines campus and then along highway 6. My decision is usually based on surface conditions, the current temporal proximity to my start time at work and my mood.

This morning my brain was still in standby mode and no route analysis had been performed. I say that as if there is some conscious process to it, usually there is not, but this morning I was faced with smoking wires, grinding gears and blank screens. I was almost to the split and no decision had been made.

And of course as I tried repeatedly to fire up the backup generators my thoughts wandered to an analysis of my current views on vehicular cycling and my experience with John Forester's philosophy.

When I first discovered Forester I was enthralled. Vehicular cycling just made sense. Back East, trammeling the crumbling edge of narrow ribbons of asphalt I had ALWAYS been following Forester's mantra: Be Traffic! But I had always known from my stints living, working and bike commuting in big cities that there was another way. Of course there had been times in the cities when I had embedded myself in the thickest of urban traffic streams so I knew there were degrees of traffic participation for cyclists.

So while I had been living Forester's vehicular cycling from time to time, it wasn't until 2008 or 2009 that I could mentally articulate what I had been practicing. We lived in Denver at the time, Wash Park in particular, and my commutes and our recreational rides carried me on paths, bike lanes, in shared lanes and to places where no cycling infrastructure exists. I was comfortable in all of those situation, though admittedly I preferred the routes that involved fewer cars, whether that meant less because of a decreased presence in the automobile's own habitat, or less because I went places they could not.

But I slowly drifted from orthodox vehicular cycling. While there is a devious part of me that would love to obstruct as many motor vehicles as possible each day out of pure spite, I truly do not relish the idea of fighting for space in narrow, high speed lanes with people who do not have any human consideration for cyclists and who pilot vehicles that are absurdly huge.

So when a wide shoulder opens up to my right, or I see bike lanes up ahead as I pedal along I relax a little bit, ease over and get out of the way. If I can avoid antagonizing moto-fascists I figure its less stress-related weight gain for me.

That's not to say that at times I still don't fully take the lane even when I know its going to piss off the funeral procession that builds up behind me. Sometimes that's just the way its gotta be. Sometimes the only way to ensure my own safety it to totally command the space around me and sometimes that means prohibiting ANY cars from passing. I see that as a method of last resort these days though, and not the norm. While I believe in being visible, to show a cycling presence as much as possible, I don't feel the need to ride in the road for the sake of riding in the road. I will take the shoulder, or a good bike lane, any day.

A previous (warmer) commute

These things were bouncing around in my head as I rolled up to the split. Left would take me through Applewood and into Denver West. Traffic is light these days since I've been going in earlier, but spring break is over and the school traffic would have been back in full force this morning. I pass three schools if I go southeast around the mesa. To the right, continuing on the CCT into Golden I avoid the worst traffic and can sneak through Mines early before traffic gets heavy.

I didn’t slow, but the decision was made as I cruised right and rolled alone into No Man's Land and on toward Golden around the north side of the mesa. The quiet and solitude of a crisp, snowy morning was enjoyable.

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