Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't Share the Road

Pardon the awkward selfie from my last long bike ride, especially because it doesn't really match my rant. On this ride, I ran out of sidewalk, so I rode the grass, not the asphalt. Wanna know why?

Bikes aren't cars.

I know the hard core types, especially in South Austin like to ride in the middle of the street, back peddling to stay upright at red lights with their little bubble helmets (if any) but bikes just aren't cars. Here's my list of complaints about why it's not reasonable to suggest that bikes just act like any other motorized vehicle.

1- We can't accelerate as fast as cars, which means that at traffic lights it might take us a little while to get up to the speeds that the people behind us are itching for.

2- We get tired. Sometimes this getting tired will mean that we can't go as fast, or accelerate, up hills, on tricky terrain. That's bad, but it's also bad because when people get tired, they get a little stupid. Getting tired when I'm biking along a river path means I end up skinned-kneed and wet. Getting tired around a bunch of cars going 35 mph means I could get killed.

3- Traffic laws aren't built with us in mind. Sure I know that we should come to a complete stop at stop signs, but it's hard to curb your momentum that much and it's hard to get started once you do. I know that's no excuse, but it makes me less inclined to keep those traffic laws, and then I'm putting myself in danger.

4- The dangers are more dangerous with us, because everyone else is in a steel cage while we are sitting atop little spidery things that go crunch. But it's hard for everyone on the road, bicyclists and drivers both, to realize that the risks that are slightly risky in a car (talking via bluetooth, running a yellow light, listening to loud music) are way, way, way more risky for us.

5-Cars are more annoying to us than to other motorists. Everyone else might be in little air-conditioned pods with noise-cancelling interiors and light background music, but bicyclists are fully exposed to the pollution, noise, heat and smell of traffic. This doesn't just make us sick, it makes us irritated and can impair our judgment as we navigate tricky traffic situations.

So before you think I just hate bicycling commuting (a lie) or think that bicyclists should ride the sidewalks like eight-year-olds (an embarrassing truth), I think the best solution is to treat bicycle like bicycles not cars. This means dedicated bike lanes in the very least, but ideally, bike paths that aren't even connected with the road at all, with a nice swatch of green between us for safety and to decrease the amount of fumes that bicyclists have to suck on our way. At the very least, consider redesigning bike lanes in a way that discourages cars from parking in them or driving through them. Check out how Denmark arraigns their streets.
Isn't this clever? It goes bikes, parked cars, driving cars. This way the parked cars provide a safety (as well as noise and exhaust) buffer for the cyclists.

And here's the cool thing: if we redesign bike commuting options so that they are safer and more enjoyable, more people will choose to bike. Biking won't be a poor substitute for driving, but a viable transportation option with benefits, conditions and rhythms that reflect the nature of biking itself.

And biking is pretty darn fun.