Friday, September 2

The Path Less Traveled

Okay, so a lot of moto-fascists argue that cyclists cause delays on the roads and create traffic snarls. Without lashing out at the lack of intelligence those statements betray I will argue the point from a practicality standpoint and explain why bikes are not the cause of traffic.

First, and most obvious is this: smart and considerate cyclists tend to avoid the more congested roadways in favor of the less busy and less dangerous side streets and routes when possible.

I've groaned over the argument that from a vehicular cycling stance that there should be no distinction and that cyclists should not avoid higher traffic roadways. And while I think a visual presence is important, that cyclists should show their numbers, I don't think putting yourself into harm's way to make the statement that "bikes belong" is really the best use of your energy.

When I plan my routes I choose the most direct path that I can with as little vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian traffic that I can manage. I do this for two reasons, one is out of consideration for my fellow travelers. I try not to contribute to traffic and congestion because I know it adds stress to everyone's day. The second reason is because I try to avoid congestion myself. That said, if I have to use a certain busy roadway I hold my ground and ride in such a way that maximizes my own safety, even if that does cause some minor traffic problems. Its the reality we face as cyclists. Given the choice, I will take the route that first and foremost causes ME the least stress and personal danger and my secondary criteria is that I don't cause grief for my fellow travelers.

The second practical argument is this: Motor vehicles comprise the overwhelming bulk of traffic, not bicycles. The time lost by motorists because of the presence of bicycles is negligible. The time lost by motorists because of the presence of OTHER MOTORISTS is immense. Even when bicycles are present on high volume roadways they do not cause as much congestion as a slow moving car, delivery truck or service vehicle. Traffic lights, stop signs, and great numbers of other motor vehicles are the true bane of motorists.

Motorists could always pass cyclists safely if there were no other cars on the road. Its the oncoming traffic that prevents passing, not the cyclist riding with traffic.

Of course those who are afflicted by traffic and congestion need someone to vent their frustrations upon. Cyclists make good moving targets because they typically can't retaliate to some self-righteous road rage. At least moto-fascists can outrun cyclists (most of the time) so the threat is minimized.

And of course when we cyclists do catch up to rude motorists who have just endangered our lives or exhibited bad commuting manners they typically will not accept responsibility for their actions.

Of late I have noticed that when confronted at intersections most rude motorists will either scream and yell at the cyclists or will try to explain how what they did was actually in the cyclists favor and imply that the offended cyclists should be happy the motorist behaved as they did. I've had a handful of motorists that I've accused of cutting me off or not giving me enough room on the road that have argued that they gave me plenty of space and were doing more than what was expected of them on the roadway.

Now, in my defense, I choose my battles. I don't yell at and chase down every person who gets too close. I usually reserve my verbal accusations to those who have acted in some absurd fashion and that I also have the good fortune to catch very soon afterward. So if I yell at someone or point out their rude and dangerous behavior, trust me, they've got it coming. And yet, most have tried to argue that they were doing me a favor.

Obviously their perception of the space between us is vastly different than my perception. My view is not obscured by a windshield, blind spot or in-cab distractions. I can see the rust molecules as the hoopty careens past. I know they weren't trying to give me enough room. To give moto-facsists the slightest benefit of the doubt, unless you've ridden a bike in traffic its probably hard to imagine how threatening it feels to have some jackass in a behemoth nearly clip you or run you over. But it doesn't excuse the reckless behavior...

It amazes me that when I catch someone: I'm out of breath, red-faced in anger and screaming accusations of attempted murder, that once confronted the motorists can't take a second and examine their actions and concede that they might have done something not so smart. Its always a defense, either angry or condescending. If I'm screaming at you (motorist) there might just be a problem in which you owe some responsibility.

I know my attacks are not the most productive means, but its hard to ignore being nearly killed. I think its normal human behavior to want to call someone out when they put your life in danger without so much as an "I'm sorry."

And like I said, I do try to stay out of the way as much as possible. Unfortunately there's not an elevated, dedicated bikeway between my roof and the third floor of the building where I work. I wish there were. And in biketopia that is exactly what you'd see.

I tried a new commute this morning. Instead of sticking to the paved bike path and low traffic frontage road I climbed up through neighborhoods to 32nd at Crown Hill and turned the Cannonball west. 32nd widens and has nice bike lanes west of Kipling and I was hoping it would offer a better commuting experience. It did not.

Firstly, there is a huge climb up to 32nd from Clear Creek which I avoid by skirting the ridge to the west. And then there are so many side streets and driveways directly off of 32nd that the feeling of danger of being right-clipped or left-hooked is significant. There are also a handful of traffic lights where my normal commute has none. And then there was the 32nd, Youngfield, I-70 snarl I had to get through at rush hour...never again.

My normal commute is shorter with a fraction of the traffic. So I'll make fewer people angry and generate less stress-related weight gain for myself.

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