Wednesday, August 25, 2010

" Passing on your left." Don't hit the old lady on the bike.

"Passing on your left." I say this all the time after ringing a very pleasant little bell. "Ding."  Sounds like a toy Green Line Trolley bell. People jump and others scowl and all I want to do is let them to know where I am. Which is too damn close without giving some warning.

An Urban AdvenTours group makes its way into Kenmore Square. (Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe)
I love to ride my bike to work. I have ridden the streets of Boston for nearly 40 years now. But my ride is feeling more and more dangerous. As a freelance performer in schools,  I travel all over Greater Boston and I am happiest when I can do that on a bike. I pass over the BU Bridge ( currently or should we admit that it is chronically?  under repair - but crossing  the BU Bridge on a bike is whole horror story unto itself ) through Central Square and onto Harvard Square or, Porter or Davis or  Union Square. Sometimes I ride all the way to Hyde Park South Boston, Winthrop, East Boston, Mattapan and Dorchester.These are all bumpy, pockmarked, truck filled, hazardous and typical Greater Boston bike rides. People in cars scream, flip me off and trucks and buses squeeze me out and over. Glass, gravel, sand and yawning potholes as wide as my tires are round, litter the road surface. Not pretty sometimes. Lots of hostility. I could also go on about the beauty, the glory of traveling this way, but that is a different story...

This story is about the thing that scares me witless and nearly kills me daily - my fellow cyclists.

A dozen times in a ride, cyclists on busy streets whizz pass me with no warning. They should signal. It should be a no brainer. No new equipment or batteries necessary. Maybe, it is a no brainer? As in brains not engaged? Except for a Prius, I usually know when a car is near.  I do not listen to head phones and ride. I never talk on my cell and ride. I am listening.  Despite my intense listening,  cyclists slide silently by me all the time, right and left, without so much as a "hey! " And then they zip in front of me and are gone. Fine. I know you need to pass me. I am an old lady and I do not speed along. And I typically have 30 – 40 pounds of equipment on board.

I want to sit these cyclists down for a harangue - a little chat with 'moms', as it were...
Race in Allston,MA 2008

" Dude!" I want to say, because it is typically a gonads on the outside cyclist who rides so silent and so deeply unaware. " Check it out, bro'. The laws of physics always apply! 24/7.  Meaning, two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time.  No matter how cool your single gear bike, nor how tight your spandex, nor how zippered and sleek your gear. Physics is fashion blind. Listen. We are sharing the same streets and conditions. We are rolling around on a method of non-polluting transport and therefore we are quiet. Very quiet. And we are surrounded by infernal combustion engines and they are noisy. Damn noisy. 
These roads are unpredictably bad. If I swerve to the left to avoid a pot hole or some broken glass and you are behind me, zooming along at top passing speed, slithering up to pass without so much as a hiss- how am I to know you are in my space ? When it isn't stolen,  I use a left side view mirror. BUT,  I intentionally keep my eyes front looking for disaster. I will not hear you. I do not hear you. I will not see you. I cannot see you. And if I swerve to avoid something ahead and we tangle ? We'd both be in a world of pain. Both of us could never ride again."

And bro' here's an achingly simple solution. When you are one to two bike lengths away,  say
" Passing on your left."

" Passing on your left." Or right.  Behind you! See? How hard was that? You will be every bit as banged up as I if we collide. A little common sense mixed with common courtesy is all it takes.  Let's do it. I have to get to work. You do too. I usually have 100s of kids waiting for me. Let's get there and not make our next ride a white bike, okay?"

Enhanced by Zemanta


Anonymous said...

So last week I’ma walking me dog on the gravel path that we dog walkers, and joggers and little old ladies out for a stroll and the occasional kindergarten or junior high i-poddle, share with an increasing number of commuting, as well as recreational, cyclists. Me dog hunches up for to take a crap. What can he do? --- he’s a dog. On a leash.

I haunch down to do my good doo-bee thing and pick it up in the old CVS bag I’ve brought along for just this purpose. I’ve remembered the bag this time, and I’m feeling virtuous. Me dog smells a forcefully good smell on the other side of the path. He edges over toward it, thus spanning the path, him on one end of the leash, me on the other. I’m juggling dogshit, trying to get it slid past the tipping point and safely bagged. You can see where this is going.

Sid Spandex comes tearing down the straightaway, briefcase stowed behind, a virtuous commuter if ever there was one. Jingles his bell, but does not slow. I jump up, but am not quick enough to rein in the errant hound. Sid brakes, dramatically avoiding a collision. I start to apologize, but Sid is on a roll and lets me in on his extremely low opinion of people who let dogs with too-long leashes span paths.

I revert to type and get shirty, reminding Sid of the basic yielding hierarchy which exists among travelers, viz: motorists >> bicyclists >> those of us a piedi schnooks who include grandmothers and toddlers and leashed dogs and groups of oblivious teenagers, especially on what is primarily an (unpaved) footpath. He remains unconvinced and (increasingly, righteously) pissed.

When I bike in a zone I share with pedestrians I now slow to a near crawl as I approach them from behind. I say “Excuse me” as gently and politely as possible, rather than dinging, as I myself am unusually startled by even the sweetest ding, maybe because I perceive that the ding, being a mechanically-produced signal, requires some sort of instantaneous mechanical-ish reaction which I am getting too brain-sluggish to reliably perform. Or maybe because I’m just such a ditz. I also make as wide a pass as possible with my bike.

I love and honor (and fear for) those who commute regularly by bike. They are, however, most moving at speeds much faster than the average pedestrian; thus the time that elapses between even a prudent, early ding or an “On the left!” (Left? Left? Damn: I used to know my left. Or is it your left? Are they the same? Let’s see: today is Tuesday, so . . .) and the passing of a speeding cyclist is too short for many of us Old Folks to react safely.

Connecting Stories said...

Great reply Sheila!

Josna said...

I love this, Norah. "No matter how tight your spandex" you still need to observe some simple cyclists' rules of the road. It strikes me that unlike prospective automobile drivers, prospective bicycle rides don't have to pass a written or a road test; why not? Is there a booklet with the cyclist's rules of the road that could be given out in schools by the police department to every kid who has a bike?

I also had no idea how much and how far you ride a bicycle, and to gigs, no less. You continue to amaze me.

Connecting Stories said...

Not so good as all that! I ride when the weather is just right. And if the equipment or materials fit in my waterproof, fancy German, snap on panniers. The rain scares me - Boston drivers just do not LOOK where they are driving, under the best conditions. So if I know there is or will be rain, I do not ride.

And will NOT ride when there is any ice, at all, anywhere! I do have some good gloves, a balaclava kind of hat and now ride when it is colder.