commuter rant

As a long-time bike commuter, I have always prided myself on my ability to keep all senses on high alert while traveling between home, work, and anywhere else I choose to ride.  My 360° awareness and accompanying quick response time are what keep me relatively safe on the streets.  But now I am weary.  I am weary of asinine drivers.  I am weary of ignorant pedestrians.  I am weary of the need for this constant vigilance.  Take this morning, for example.  I approach a red traffic light.  A car waits at the light across the intersection.  The driver does not have her turn signal on.  I am headed straight.  The light turns green almost immediately, and so I push off into the intersection.  At the same time, still without signaling, the driver turns left into my path.  I dodge to the right in order to avoid being hit, yelling out in frustration.  As she completes her turn, the driver reacts in outrage, yelling at me, “What the fuck?!”

So, let’s review.  We are facing each other at an intersection.  Neither of us is indicating an intended turn, which means that we would both have the right-of-way to proceed straight without pausing.  Now, if she intended to turn she should: (a) indicate her intention with her turn signal, and (b) wait for me to pass through the intersection before executing her turn, as I have the right-of-way.  The fact that I am on a bike is irrelevant to the traffic law.  A bicycle is a moving vehicle equivalent to a car in this state and thus should be yielded to in the same way that other cars are yielded to when they have the right-of-way.

If I had to guess, I would say that if I had been driving a car, this driver would have yielded to me, because if she hadn’t, she would quite likely have been hit, especially considering that she didn’t have her signal on.  But because I was on a bike, I was, what, a non-entity, not a physical threat to her car, and therefore not worth yielding to?  She had to have seen me.  My body language indicated that I was going straight through the intersection.  But instead she chose to ignore me, and then reacted with hostility toward me when I was merely exercising my right-of-way.  What’s more is that her hostility seemed so genuine.  How can I expect to survive on the streets when drivers believe their horrible driving practices to be right and true?

The bottom line is that I’m tired of deconstructing incidents like this.  They didn’t used to bother me as much.  But I don’t feel like it’s getting better out there.  You would think more cyclists on the road would mean more awareness among drivers.  But that awareness is either not coming, or it’s approaching with the speed of cold molasses.  A common argument stated by the trolls who post comments on bike safety articles online is that cyclists shouldn’t get treated like regular traffic until they start obeying all the rules (stopping at every stop sign, etc.).  To that I say, why would I wait at a stop sign (or red light) if I can proceed safely through it ahead of other traffic?  Is it better for me to wait there with the automotive traffic, and then risk being hit by a driver eager to cut me off?  I have to think about what’s safest for me because I’m not surrounded by two tons of steel.  And from my observations over the years, I’ve determined that the safest thing for me is to stay ahead of traffic whenever possible.  It’s quite obvious to me that most, if not all, drivers do not want me in their way.

Basically, I feel invisible on my bike.  And it’s not just the drivers ignoring me.  Pedestrians don’t hear I’m coming, and they never look before crossing the street, anyway.  Maybe they would look if they heard something…I don’t really know.  I see them walk out in front of cars without looking, too…I guess maybe they just have a death wish.  And even if they do look at me, they still walk out in front of me half the time.  I don’t know what it is.  Do they misjudge how fast a bike can travel?  Do they not realize that getting hit by a bike hurts?  Maybe they wouldn’t die or be paralyzed, but I guarantee they’d suffer some injuries.

Bike commuting used to be fun.  My trips to work and back were usually the highlights of my day, times when I felt truly alive.  Now, I am more likely to dread those trips.  The city streets are alive with danger.  If it’s not a car hitting you, it will be a roving band of teenagers attacking you and stealing your bike, or just practicing some act of random violence upon you.  For the first time, I’m starting to really wonder if it’s worth it.  How can I just enjoy riding my bike if I think everyone is out to get me?  If it were just my imagination maybe I could learn to fight it.  But the proof continues to manifest itself all around me, and I can’t just turn away.

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