Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bike Commuting Thoughts

In honor of Bike to Work Week, here are a few random thoughts from a commute home recently. I had most of these thoughts in a very short stretch of road as I climbed Indian Canyon Drive. This is a climb (I suppose it is only a climb one direction, but I only recall going down it once on a bike and I have gone up it closer to 100 times on a bike) from Government Way up to the Sunset Highway along the edge of the Indian Canyon Golf Course. It is a very pretty stretch of road if you don't mind going uphill.

About a third of the way up the hill last week I encountered what I believe was someone's Verizon bill, which had been very deliberately into squares that were approximately 3/4" x 3/4". I don't know why, but my guess is that someone was unhappy with the bill and wanted the satisfaction of tearing it up and throwing it out the window. I wish they hadn't. I was tempted to pick up enough pieces to figure out who it was and then call the litter police, but that didn't seem like a good use of time for the hour it would take, but I was amazed at what people think is a good idea. Being on a bike makes you much more aware of what the ground looks like.

Within a few hundred yards of this littering, I had some of the best and worst of car behavior with regard to cyclists. As I came up a steep bend, a car had the choice of going around me or waiting. As any of you commuter/riders know, 99% of the time drivers will zoom past without regard to whether that is safe or not. If they can't see oncoming traffic, they will just move over and if someone comes, they feel free to cut you off or run you off the road. In this instance, amazingly, the driver just waited behind me. I kept pedaling up the hill and around the blind corner and waived them around as soon as I could see. This was also about the time they could see, since they were closer to the center-line and the whole thing was very pleasant. My guess is that I delayed this driver for a maximum of 20-30 seconds, but it was probably closer to 15-20 seconds. Whether this caused the driver's total trip to be 30 seconds longer is very unlikely, but it is remarkable what people will do to avoid these few seconds of delay. In this case, I was not surprised to see a bike rack on the back of the Subaru that went around me. It takes one to respect one, maybe.

Not long after this experience, while I was onto a straight section of road, I had another encounter with a Subaru. In this case, the driver had a clear view of the road, but for some reason decided to either shift down a gear or speed up and cut next to and in front of me as fast and close as possible, as if I was a pylon on a stunt-driving course. I take most things in stride out cycling, having ridden enough miles to have encountered it all many times, but this was genuinely upsetting. I was being toyed with like an inanimate object and it is not a good feeling. It is hard to understand how you can have so little regard for a fellow human being. On "The Office" this past week, Ed Helms' character took Steve Carell's character to meet the husband of the wife with whom he was having an affair. They did it in their usual zany, wacky way, but the point was to not ignore the human behind the actions. I would like to introduce myself to the Subaru driver treating me like a pylon and suggest that he would be unhappy with any of the negative outcomes from his behavior. His few seconds of mirth would hardly be worth the tragedy or ticket or whatever might happen.

This experience made me think of a great police operation/sting. Have a "commuter" who was actually a police officer ride along any arterial or non-arterial with a police cruiser down the road. The biking officer could radio the cruiser all of the idiotic, unsafe, unnecessary, unreasonable, illegal and ticketable offenses. Even if most drivers just got pulled over for a discussion, I think most would have second thoughts the next time they went around a cyclist. Think we will see that in Spokane? No, I think not either. Our community may have some progressive ideas, but our police force doesn't appear to.

Lower on the hill, I had another experience that makes me ponder human behavior. A Harley motorcycle was coming down the hill going to fast for the archaic technology or the driver's ability or both, but he crossed the center-line and then scrapped a foot peg or platform trying to correct to get back. It scared me to have a hulking piece of idiocy coming at me, but I'll bet it scared the motorcycle driver worse. I hope he will consider that it was embarrassing and maybe scary with a cyclist in the other lane, but it would have been a funeral if it had been a pick-up truck or school bus.

On a lighter note, a couple of years ago I had a set-up at work where I could take a week or so of clothing to work and then I was daily hauling back and forth just my "work" for the day in a messenger bag. It was convenient and it enabled me to ride a lighter bike. This year I am hauling panniers on a heavy bike but carrying the day's clothes back and forth. I haven't decided which is better.

Last thought. It is really a treat to ride my bike to work and home. Last week I had one day where I was working later than I wanted and it was stressing me a bit to know that it was going to take longer to get home than it would if I had had my car. Thankfully, as soon as I hit the street to ride home that feeling melted away. Instead of taking a "training" ride home, I just went directly home. It took a very few minutes longer to get there and it is a mind-cleansing way to travel.

If you bike to work, you know what I mean. If you don't, you should give it a try - despite the occasional idiots out there "sharing" the road.
Commuter Three

1 comment:

  1. A typical urban trip distance is no more than 2-3 miles. Take the example of 3.4 miles measured from the Riverpoint Campus to the Nordstrom Rack at Northtown (gosh, now what made me pick THAT destination?).

    For a driver who passes a cyclist when conditions are unsafe for both, the time savings is literally too small to be measured--especially if we compare it to the time it will take the driver to explain the whole thing to the officer in uniform after a disaster takes place.

    Many thanks to the drivers who get it and treat us courteously. May their numbers increase.