You have to love summer. Lots of amazing weather conducive to car free living. I’ve clocked over 500 miles on my bike since April, and it’s mostly 5 miles here, 5 miles there, running errands around town and the children to and fro. Having my little odometer on the bike has made me much more aware of how things around town are mostly closer than you think and very doable by bike with a little planning. On the other hand, by the end of the day, just the rounds of the post office, the pool, a dentist appointment and nipping down to get milk can add up to ten to fifteen miles in 2 mile increments, the worst possible kind of driving from an efficiency standpoint. So knowing I’ve done it by bike not car is a pretty good feeling for lots of reasons – health, use of time, financial, environmental.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Why is it that biking as TRANSPORTATION is such a problem in this area? I can’t speak for other areas, but I am still constantly surprised at the hostility I encounter as a cyclist. And as it’s summer, instead of just a honked horn or an unnecessarily revved engine, today I actually got to hear the kvetching about bikes thanks to an open car window. As I sat at a RED light ahead of some hulking SUV (sorry, not trying to pick on them, but it was), I heard the driver say, sotto voce, why can’t you just ride on the sidewalk? Well, hulking SUV driver, I often do, when I am riding at 8 miles per hour and with my kids, in no particular hurry. But today, I was on my own, running an errand, and in rather a hurry. So I felt I wanted to ride at my usual 15 to 20 mph in order to get where I needed to be before next Tuesday. It is in fact legal to ride on sidewalks outside of urban districts in Massachusetts, but with the caveat, rightfully so, that pedestrians have right of way. I tend to use the sidewalk sparingly for just this reason (we have a lot of dog walkers and parents with strollers) and because, honestly, the sidewalks often aren’t really that suitable for bikes. They tend to have a fair amount of debris from lawn mowing and trees that doesn’t get cleared which slows you down and can be unpleasant to ride on. I suppose I could badger the town to do more sidewalk cleaning and improvement so they’d be more suitable for bikes, but I suspect said SUV driver would not vote for the tax burden to do so.
So you see, cyclists are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Pedestrians are wary of us because they are afraid we will run them down on the sidewalk and many motorists don’t like us, I assume because they feel that we are slowing down traffic and are unpredictable. I get this. I drive too and hold my head and groan when I see cyclists doing stupid or illegal things. In fact, there are good bike laws out there that most people are unaware of, (see http://www.massbike.org/resourcesnew/bike-law/bike-law-update/) and a fairly recent update to those laws to increase safety for both drivers and cyclists. This is good news and a step in the right direction. But until there’s some sort of major readjustment of attitude towards biking where the general public recognize that bikes can be transportation as well as recreation, it’s going to be a continuing battle of animosity between cars and bikes where some drivers continue with the attitude that we should get off the road and go play somewhere else.
P.S. I did a little back of the envelope calculation, just for fun. I figure in our town, the speed limit is usually about 35 mph. At this speed, a half a mile takes you about 52 seconds. When you are stuck behind me on my bike at 15 mph, that same half a mile would take you about 2 minutes. So, if it were to take you half a mile to get past me, we’re talking about adding an extra 68 seconds to your journey. That’s just over a minute people. Is the hostility really worth a minute, or can we just live and let live?