Friday, August 6, 2010

Seeing Cycles

If you want to court paranoia, ride a motorcycle on the highway. If you want to guarantee it, ride a bicycle on city streets.
Now, in my experience of riding motorcycles since the 1980's, motorcycles seem to have become a lot more an accepted part of traffic. There are many reasons for this, I think.  The State of Texas mandates safe riding training for all new motorcyclist licenses. Also, more and more auto drivers I talk to have ridden in the past or know someone who does, therefore general awareness is simply up as well. That doesn't mean you won't get run over, but I feel like things are looking up.
Now for the bicycle part. I am hugely in favor of bicycle riding. Other than walking, there is no other form of transportation that I know of that is as energy efficient, healthy, or ecologically friendly as bicycling. I fully applaud those who embrace cycling as their transportation of choice. I feel very good when I see the pedi-cabs plying downtown Austin. (I admit, I'm a bit in awe of the operators who haul around three people at once!) It always reminds me of a documentary I saw on China, showing a pedi cab taking several people from a small village in China on a pretty long trip into the city. There were at least three people on back, the road out of the village was very muddy, and uphill! The man peddling must have had thighs of steel!
Schwinn Typhoon
I still own a bicycle, I've been riding since I was about 7, and I still do sometimes. My first bike was a much too large, and hugely hard to pedal Schwinn. (Fondly known as the Iron Monster! I had to prop it against a tree, climb on, and start downhill with it to keep going. I pretty much had to fall off to stop!) It wasn't the bike, and I've certainly got nothing against Schwinn. My all time favorite was a red 26 inch Schwinn Typhoon cruiser I got when I was 10. I put a lot of miles on that bike. The styling and engineering were perfect for me at the time, considering it was a single speed. I've actually owned two of those over the years. I don't think there is a better cruiser style bicycle made.

In the 1970's I got a used Raleigh 10-speed. I got all my exercise on that, often riding miles after work, even riding in a couple of 20 mile benefit rides. At that time I lived in Austin and then Round Rock, Texas, riding suburban streets. Good place for a light ten-speed like that. When I moved back out to a farm in Liberty Hill, it didn't work so well on gravel roads.
Raleigh Gran Prix: Mine was White!

I still don't live on city streets, and I'm not sure if I'd have the courage it takes to ride there, even with the wonderful new dedicated bike lanes. I live out in the country near McDade, Tx now, my bike is an old, but solid, Murray 18 speed mountain bike. The last few years I've been a bit distracted by other things, including my  Honda Shadow. But, the weather is cooling a bit, and I'll get the old Murray tuned and going again soon.
I'm constantly seeing reports of car/bicycle accidents in the city. I've even had good friends injured in those accidents. (Are you out there, Pam?) I'm sure many of those were cyclists who followed the rules. I wonder about the rest.
Bicyclists (and Motorcyclists) are required by law to follow basically the same rules as motorists. Sure, it makes things flow better when the bicyclists have their own lane, owing to the speed differences, but the rules are still the same for all who share the roadway.
It worries me, though.
These days, every time I venture downtown in Austin, I witness multiple episodes of bicyclists running red lights, turning onto busy streets without stopping, weaving in and out of traffic, and on and on. I don't want to hit any of these riders. Also, I'm very much afraid of what happens when they become another statistic. It seems likely that when they do ultimately get run over by someone, it will be seen by many as just another case of innocent cyclist getting injured by big bad motorists. 
Come on, guys! Most of us motorists are doing our part, following the rules, and watching out for you. How about you doing your part as well and not expecting us to also make allowances for your suicidal behavior! Deal?

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