Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Approach to Bike Advocacy

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about Cyclist and Driver - The Conflict I ended that post by posing the question, "What are we as cyclists going to do to shift this paradigm?"

For me, my bike is becoming more and more a viable mode of transportation. Oh don't get me wrong, I still ride for fitness, sport and recreation.

Yet now, I find myself reaching for my bike to get to:
- work
- the store
- the gym
- church
- the list is growing all the time.

Riding my bike in my community is NOT convenient. Newport News, VA is no where near being labeled a "Bicycle Friendly City". Bike lanes are next to non-existent. The roads are crowded and dangerous. There are more than an insignificant number of drivers who hold to the opinion that bicycles do not belong on the road. Hardly a week goes by that I don't have to take evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit by a careless, distracted and/or inconsiderate driver.

The whole thing becomes frustrating at times. Turning the tide of public opinion and influencing city planners and officials is a daunting task to say the least. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I have not actively participated in championing the cause of bicycles in my community. I have taken a more passive approach to bicycle advocacy:

First - I stay off the main roads to the maximum extent practicable. I plan my routes so that they take me on the side streets and through the neighborhoods. Of course, this results in longer routes, but I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing. I like riding. When I'm on my bike, I'm in no particular hurry to get where I'm going. I realize that by not taking the main roads that I am essentially giving motorists what they want and risking further feeding the sentiment that cyclist don't belong. That may be so and while I recognize that I have every bit a right to take those roads as all those motorists do, I am also a realist. Those roads are dangerous, the motorists are at best insensitive and oblivious to cyclists and while physics was not my strong suit in school, I did take enough away to understand that in an accident, an automobile will come out on top every single time.

Secondly - I use bike paths if they are available. The bike paths in this city are next to non-existent and the few that do exist are a joke and further underline just how clueless city officials are with respect to cycling infrastructure. The paths are separate from the road and are essentially widened sidewalks. Therefore, they cross every side street and driveway without being painted or no signs of any sort. Cars invariably pull up and stop right in the way of the bike path. Cars are constantly turning into and out of these side streets. The city seems oblivious to concept of sweeping and therefore the the bike paths are usually littered with debris. Then there are the pedestrians who invariably walk two or three abreast and don't even get me started on those who walk their dogs on leashes with the dreaded telescoping cord. All that being said, if there is a bike path, I ride on it.

Third - I obey ALL traffic regulations (kinda:-). I ride on the right side of the road, I signal my intentions and I stop at traffic lights and stop signs, etc. My motivation here is to send a message to motorists that not all cyclists are reckless, inconsiderate rebels that thumb their nose at the law. The "kinda" is thrown in there because I have been known to ride through a traffic light occasionally, when after one cycle, my piddly amount of metal is unable to signal the light to change. In those cases I look both ways to make sure it is clear and slowly cross the intersection. Furthermore, I am also consistently guilty of rolling stops to avoid unclipping.

Finally - I wave to motorist. When a motorist exiting a sidestreet or driveway allows me to go by instead of pulling out in front of me - I wave. When a motorist making a left turn, waits until I pass instead of turning into me - I wave. When a motorist passes me on my left and gives me ample room instead of crowding or honking at me - I wave. Are these motorist doing anything special? No - they are simply obeying the law. However, I wave - I smile - I mouth the words "thank you" all the same. It's my little way of letting drivers know that I appreciate them noticing me, being considerate of my well being and sharing the road. I'd like to think I'm changing the way motorist view cyclists - one wave at a time!

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