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Life in the Bike Lane

Posted on 10 January 2012

snow bike

In a recent issue of the Prince George Free Press, columnist Delynda Pilon writes a piece entitled “Snow Covered Roads No Place for Bikes.” I can’t link directly to the article, but it’s on page seven of this issue. The column title is “Life in the Fat Lane.”

Here is what I think is a fair summary of what she writes:

“I am thinking of leaving a note on a certain vehicle that I seem to pass each morning…

It would go something like this.

‘Dear bicycle-driving person. Please stop driving that bicycle all over the place during the winter time. You are scaring me. I almost ran over you several times.’

I am not sure who this crazy guy is, driving his blessed bike around Prince George in January, but he seems to be breeding. Yesterday I saw three more of his like while I was bumping over ruts onto Victoria Street, then when I was sliding through a yellow light on 15th Avenue. And I just don’t get it. There I am, waiting for the heater to defrost the paintings Jack Frost rippled all over my windows, and along comes a fellow wrapped head to heel in cushiony comfort seated pedal bike, eking his way downtown…

…getting run over is not a fun experience, and I am trying to avoid being the one to traumatize you by crushing you in the middle of the street, little bicycle man.”

Two disclaimers.

First, assuming her statements are correct, this is not me. She says the guy has winter boots on but not winter tires. I actually have winter bike tires and tend to wear sneakers. Also, she makes reference to riding around in January. Personally, I hadn’t ridden my bike in January until yesterday (the column is from January 4, today is the 10th). And, if we’re keeping count, I didn’t ride it in most of December, either.

Second, I will give her some fair points. He should have winter tires, for his own safety and those of others. She also references his tendency to “ignore all traffic as you bump and bumble along, taking up the middle of the street… You skitter over the ice, swerve for potholes, and generally ignore everyone.” Generally not good practice.

But.

As a bike rider, this column is all sorts of infuriating. I think I know what she’s trying to do here. I think she’s trying to be folksy, relatable, sharing her little annoyances in a humourous way. But as a bike rider, in winter and summer, I find very little funny about the callousness with which Ms. Pilon overlooks her shortcomings and attempts to blame the bike riders of the world for causing her problems.

Let’s take a few of her points step by step.

“Dear bicycle-driving person. Please stop driving that bicycle all over the place during the winter time. You are scaring me. I almost ran over you several times.”

Dear Ms. Pilon,

I am sorry I and my fellow bike-riders are scaring you. I can certainly relate to how frightening it must be to almost crush us to death. Awfully inconsiderate of us.

“Yesterday I saw three more of his like while I was bumping over ruts onto Victoria Street, then when I was sliding through a yellow light on 15th Avenue.”

Wait, what? Are you seriously complaining about bike riders while you are sliding through a yellow light? Put on your brakes, woman! Compensate for the slipperiness, drive slow, and stop early. I mean, good god, you’re sliding through a yellow light and you’re upset at someone on a bike!?

“There I am, waiting for the heater to defrost the paintings Jack Frost rippled all over my windows, and along comes a fellow wrapped head to heel in cushiony comfort seated pedal bike, eking his way downtown…”

Good lord, I hope that you are waiting for your car to defrost WHILE IN A PARKED POSITION. I really don’t know though, because you’re already talking about driving. So just to be sure, since we’re trading advice here: wait until AFTER you can see out the windshield to start driving.

“Finally, do you know how hard it is for motorized vehicles to stop this time of year? Especially those driven by cranky blondes?”

I can’t speak for you cranky blondes but, yes, I do have an idea of how hard it is for motorized vehicles to stop. That’s why, when I’m driving, I tend to go slow and stop early. Instead of, you know… sliding through yellow lights.

Let’s move on.

It’s telling that Ms. Pilon decides to lay all her blame on the people biking in winter. As a group, they are not well-treated in our society.

Let me make something clear. I do not ride my bike to work for political reasons. I started doing it to save money and get exercise. As time went on, I realized its practicality. I am not trying to be an activist.

Another disclaimer. Most of the drivers I encounter are great. They give me room. They slow down. A lot of time, they’ll stop to let me cross at an intersection even when they have right-of-way.

But as Ms. Pilon has reminded me, there is nothing neutral about riding your bike in most North American cities.

Bike riders challenge things simply by existing. I want to go to from point A to point B. For much of this route, there is a bike lane. But there are a couple of sections where that bike lane disappears, and I am suddenly at the mercy of Ms. Pilon. I have to hope that she’s paying sufficient attention to the road in front of her that she notices me, off to the side, often on a layer of gravel or mud or ice that has been swept there or ignored by the street cleaners.

I’m not allowed on the sidewalk, that much is clear. The rules are bikes are to be treated as vehicles. So there I am, maxing out at maybe 15 km/h while giant hunks of metal speed by at 50 or 60 or more. Hoping.

Like I said, most drivers are fine. But every once in a while you get that person who honks at you simply for existing, yells at you to get off the road even while you’re in your designated spot, narrowly avoids hitting you despite the clearly marked lanes. And you’re reminded that this is not your place. Even with all the courteous drivers, most North American roads are truly not the ideal location for a bike to be, little white line bike lane or no.

Ms. Pilon could direct her irk elsewhere. She could ask the city to change the rules, allowing bikes on the sidewalk when safety demands it. Or to clear the lanes in winter a little more so bikes have the room to ride in their spots. Or even create TRUE dedicated bike lanes, ones that would ACTUALLY separate the cyclists from the vehicles so that she would never have to worry about Mr. Bike Rider again, and he would not have to worry about her.

There’s reasons to encourage biking. Obesity and a lack of exercise are among the top public health concerns. Bikes reduce wear on roads. Bikes are less likely to kill someone if they get into an accident. Biking reduces pollution.

And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet, bike-riders continue to be treated as an irritant. An inconvenience. A special interest group. Whenever governments or businesses announce some “green” initiative, they measure it by saying how many cars it’s equivalent to taking off the road.

Guess what? Every time you ride a bike, you ACTUALLY take a car off the road. And every time you fail to make bike riding a safe experience for people, you put one more car back on.

But despite all this, we are still treated to newspaper columnist writing light-heartedly about how inconvenient it would be for her to run over someone on a bike and destroy their life. This in the same newspaper with an article about a driver hitting a teen pedestrian, yelling at him to get out of the way or he’d do it again, and then driving off. Seriously. Page 5.

Cars have made my life imminently easier. I’ve used one for the majority of my adult life, and I completely understand why the most of my fellow citizens choose them over bikes, especially in the winter.

But can we, as a society, get over the idea that anyone on a bike is just asking for trouble? The idea that they should get behind a wheel and a motor where they belong or else they deserve whatever’s coming to them? Because that is exactly the attitude Ms. Pilon is exuding in her column.

And then she has the audacity to suggest this person cab, bus, or walk.

Guess what, Ms. Pilon? You sliding through a yellow light is going to cause problems regardless of what you hit. Whether I’m in a bus, or a cab, or (especially) a pedestrian, you failing to stop at the designated time and sliding through a yellow light as your heater slowly removes the frost off of your windows– well, that’s causing an accident, possibly fatal.

And it’s your fault. Not mine.

So thank you for your note.

Thank you to the comments left by some Facebook friends where I originally posted Ms. Pilon’s article. Some of your points were used in this post. Photo by ohsweetie on Flickr.

 

 

Filed under: Best Of, bikes

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