Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Above all, be safe out there."

Those were the final words by Charles Pelkey on VeloNews in The Explainer - We just wanna ride: in his October 21st entry. From where ever our departure point is at the end of a ride I generally say to the guys I ride with, "Be safe." I truly mean it. There is nothing casual or habitual about that pair of words. I mean it each ride more than the previous. Despite more of us out there, or because of it, the conflicts are increasing.

Over the past weekend I was finishing up a ride with Alex and we were only blocks from my house when the road offers a right turn to bikes and pedestrians only - a large right arrow with red circle and slash through it as well as verbiage saying no right turn emphasize the point. In the past year the entire road crossing has been redesigned to include a concrete road island, flashing lights, a speed register unit advising to slow to 15 mph. The effort has worked, most of the time. The biggest problem is a few drivers want the right turn, they just can't give it up. The issue is vehicle rights (as in turns) threaten cyclists and pedestrians.

Each of the past two weekends as we finished a ride a vehicle in front of us has turned right where it clearly says, in sign language, "no right turn - Except Bicycles". Dropping Alex for the moment I sprinted ahead to catch the vehicle and let the driver know the error. I think each time my demeanor has been informative and purposefully not accusatory and not angry. The result - two VERY different responses. The first, a woman, apologetic, the second, a 30-something man, belligerent, denial, finally caustic, profane, and it nearly erupted in him getting out of the car (I think he realized there were two of us [thanks Alex], much fitter, and that it was stupid, or else his wife tapped him on the leg as if saying - don't been more stupid than you have been.)

My solution if he had stepped from the car was going to be simple - my cell phone, a call to the police, a picture of him out of his car and one of his license plate/with car - and if required ride away from his rage. I'm not fighting anyone - period. But the real question is HOW do we move forward on the issue of sharing the roads in a culture that is so car dominant with an attitude of car/driver-entitlement? How do we have encounters that don't end in road rage? I know I have had more than one middle-finger pointed at me in anger
, usually accompanied by a couple of F-bombs, for something another person on a bike (not always a cyclist) did. That residual anger get's people - cyclists - hurt. So how? How do we start to turn things around? I think the only solution is we ALL get involved.

In a Charles Pelkey article “Whose bike path is it anyway?” two weeks ago the discussion has often turned to how to deal with problems. That's what we need to figure out, before more people get killed and badly injured ("at a time when a doctor (of all people) is on trial, facing charges of trying to assault – some might argue that he was trying to kill – two cyclists on a narrow canyon road near Los Angeles.")
The long-term solution of course is changing the car/driver-entitlement mentality, but that will start with early eductation in elementary schools and take a couple decades minumum, but a great place for all of us to get involved. In the interim what? Timely question here in Portland as the city is in the process of evaluating its 20-year draft Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 (see Portland Cyclists - share your voice - please!).

With that in mind Pelkey's final comments in the Oct. 21st Explainer are even more purposeful:

"I’ve mentioned before and I insist on mentioning again, that cyclists and other non-motorized travelers need to make sure their voices are heard. We ride and we vote. Whether it’s a question of access or holding public officials accountable and supporting those who pursue cases.

Perhaps the first step is to work with advocacy groups either locally or those, like Bikes Belong, [in Portland we have BTA and reporting tools like B-SMaRT on] which operate on a national level and lobby Congress on critical access and funding issues.

It's important to get involved and stay involved. I realize that activism related to the one thing that brings you a bit of peace, some relaxation and a whole lot of contentment can be a real pain in the ass at times. Riding should be fun. It shouldn't require going to meetings, writing letters and dishing out dough to organizations. Unfortunately, it does."

(Portland is definitely trying and my kudos to everyone working so hard from the Mayor's office to PBOT: The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is moving full steam ahead on their first 15 miles of new bicycle boulevards that were promised by Mayor Sam Adams when he took office in January. See all the details on

Last Sunday's driver encounter was a shitty way to end a lovely fall ride, and while the driver probably will be aware of that corner in the future, he likely hates cyclists (all of us - because after all, we are like eggs and all look alike) even that little bit more now. But I think of the morning when I approached that corner and three little kids were on their bikes, crossed what they thought would be a safe section of road, to reach the crosswalk for an even safer crossing of the street - had either of those two vehicles rounded the No Turn Right - Except Bicycles at that moment little bodies would have scattered like bowling pins, certainly injured probably worse - so if it takes occasionally ending a lovely fall ride with an encounter so be it. I would rather my voice be heard than the screams of an injured cyclist or child.

Locally how you can get involved resource links:
Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA)
Bike Safety Monitoring and Reporting Tool (B-SMaRT)
BTA Bike Safety and Education Programs
RideSmart Program (Cascade Bicycle Club)

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