Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Less Than Human

I love riding bikes. I always have, as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is getting my bike with training wheels, then that night begging my dad to have them off. The next morning I found them removed and off I went! I have been riding ever since, to elementary, middle, and high school, to friends houses and jobs, to the park and the store. In those two wheels, be they on that kid bike, a mountain bike, a BMX bike, a box store bike, road bike, or commuter bike, I found freedom and independence. I also discovered the axiom that cycling is cheaper than therapy. (Though, that depends on if you're opting for entry level quality or high grade Bianchi.) The elements, whether sun, rain, sub-freezing temperatures, or snow rarely deterred me.

This passion for cycling manifested in different ways. At one point I attempted to raise funds for a better bike and entry fees so I could start training to professionally race. Unfortunately that was a glorious flop, much to my dismay. Then I felt close to self-actualization as a bike taxi operator in Seattle. I was getting paid to bike all day! If only tourism was a year round guarantee, we may have stayed with how lucrative the job could be. Here in St. Louis, I have returned to a call center, where my daily commute often is my source of sanity and stress relief. Again, as I mentioned on my minimum wage post, I am thankful for my job. However, if anyone working at a call center as a representative tells you it's a bed of roses, they're either lying or allergic to roses.

Aside from the stress of the customers, as I mentioned, the commute is “often” the source of my sanity. Now, in Seattle I may have been able to say “always” or “almost always.” In St. Louis, and the central USA in general, as I also experienced riding in Joplin, this is not the case. Often is because at least once a week I face harassment at the hands of the driver of a two ton hunk of metal barreling down the road. Though I am within my legal right to use the full lane and have more than my fair share of lighting, I am treated with disdain. I do try to give drivers the benefit of the doubt, that they don't wish to run me over or even that they are unaware of sharing the road (despite street signs advising to do so). Unfortunately, I have been on the receiving end of too many verbal attacks, near misses, and other aggressive behaviors to be at no less than full awareness regarding the location of all vehicles near me.

To illustrate, three times out of about twenty came to mind since starting my commutes in St. Louis. (This is within 550 logged miles of commuting since mid-November.) The first week of March, I was being tailed by a car. I heard the engine grow louder, until I looked again over my shoulder, right as it passed so close I could touch the car with my hand. (Again, legally, I am supposed to have “safe distance,” normally recognized as no less than three feet.) The driver honked his horn at me as he passed, as if I was the one committing the crime. About a week before that, a man screamed at me to get off the effing road. He got stopped at the light, so I caught up to him and took a picture of his license plate. I asked him to not harass cyclists, to which he yelled at me he didn't care if I got hit by him or anyone else. Then, a few more weeks before that, as I rode home, I thought I was all alone on the road. While crossing over a bridge, I heard a car fast approaching but had no time to react before they slammed on their brakes. Thankfully they were able to swerve around me. It was a cab driver who felt he could stop at a gas station. As I got his information, his excuse was he has poor eyesight.

These situations remind me of a few facts about USAmerican views on cyclists: 1. We're seen as nuisances. 2. We're seen as a waste of the road. 3. We're seen as less than human. For #1 and #2, my response is simple. Bikes have every legal right to the road as a car, we cause less damage to roads than cars (thus less upkeep money), and we actually utilize a fraction of the space of cars. For #3, my inconveniencing you with a slower rate of travel is absolutely no excuse to cause or even threaten to cause me bodily harm. If you hurt me, you also render my wife a widow, my son becomes fatherless, my parents lose a son, my brothers their sibling, and so on. And if that doesn't give you pause, then consider the guilt you are left with once the adrenaline from your misaligned anger dies down. You killed someone just trying to make it in this world.

Now, what can be done? Well, I highly doubt we will become a cycling paradise like Amsterdam any time soon. However, the cost of a bike lane is minimal compared to the cost of automobile lane repairs. Even if it is not a barrier protected bike lane, a line with a bike symbol is better than nothing. No, I will not use the shoulder. 1. They are not always existent. 2. Cars park there. 3. Glass, debris, drains and grates, and other dangerous objects occupy that space. I also will not utilize sidewalks. 1. They are for walkers not cyclists. 2. Cars pay less attention to sidewalks and are more prone to hit pedestrians as they turn. If not bike lanes, then increased penalty for threatening or harming cyclists. Various police departments across the country have told me unless they witness it, they will not act, even with photographs of the license plate. (I have been told they will consider video evidence.) This is unacceptable. Too many drivers are getting off for harm they caused from not paying attention or from tailing too closely.

I have asked this before. If you care for me or any other cyclists, please vote for bike infrastructure when it is on the ballot. Talk to local, county, and state leadership. Support the League of American Bicyclists, People for Bikes, MO Bike Federation, or any other bike advocacy group. Most importantly though, for my sake, my family's sake, and the cycling community's sake, do not be apathetic.


Christie said...

I think this makes Grammie so proud!

Karl said...

I hope so!