Tag Archives: bicycle

Staying on the Road, or Moral Superiority

Here is something I’ve been struggling with as of late: our damned car.

I bought the car almost a year ago, and since then, there have been many, many times that I have been incredibly grateful for it. See: the time Daphne got suddenly sick and we had to rush her to the hospital, or the time my dad ended up in the hospital and we wanted to be able to visit him without having to reserve a car for certain hours. See also: all the times that we were able to spontaneously go up to Camp for a weekend or even just take Daph for an off-leash romp in the woods in the next town over (off-leash is illegal in my town).  Not to mention the fact that owning a car has made possible the majority of the petsitting that I do…

car for to has driving all the dogs around! ALL THE DOGS.

But I have major car-owning guilt.  We lived car-free for almost two years; Turtle has been car-free for 15 years.  I was always so proud to be the one bicycling everywhere, and was also a fan of the occasional feeling of superiority it gave me (“Yes, you are a good environmentalist, but you drive the 1.5 miles to work, and I bike.  VICTORY IS MINE.”).  I recognize that a feeling of superiority in this context is sort of ridiculous, but I’m trying to be honest here.

Now, though, it’s January in Boston, and it is cold.  It’s cold and my car is warm.  My car can hep me run lots of errands at the same time without having to put on eighteen layers.  And I think it’s reasonable to drive five miles to do something… but that doesn’t really help my guilt.  Because, you guys, it’s also reasonable to bicycle five miles to do something, and afterwards, you feel good, you haven’t spent any money on gas, and, most importantly, you are morally superior to everyone else.

I was sort of joking about that last part.

I just keep considering whether I should be bicycling everywhere, and articles about awesome winter bicyclists do nothing to appease my driver guilt.  Even when I’m not afraid of the cold, though, I am nervous about the ice and the narrower roads and the fact that drivers just don’t expect to see bicyclists out in this weather.  Where is the line between personal comfort and environmental responsibility?  I sometimes wish we had never bought the car so that I wouldn’t have the option of doing anything other than walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation, but we did, and I do.  Where do you draw your lines?

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Battling Boston on Bicycle

I love riding my bicycle like whoa.  I love being out in the world, and feeling like I have really been everywhere I travel.  You know, when you fly and there’s a layover in Chicago, even if you spend an hour there, you haven’t been to Chicago.  That’s what driving is like.  Just because you drive through Porter Square every day doesn’t mean you’ve been to Porter Square.  But do it by bike? You’ve been there! You can slow down, walk, window shop.  You feel the Porter Square breeze in breeze.  You can really be there.

Besides that, gas is apparently over $3 right now, and since I got my tires changed my mileage is decreasing rapidly.  I am not willing to drive around when 1. it’s just me in the car; 2. it’s still light out; and 3. exercise still provides endorphins.  With all the holiday petsitting I have going on this week, I not only have the opportunity to make a little more income, but also to gain about a million endorphins.  If you could count them, which I have decided you can.  Please don’t correct me.

me, on endorphins. (I hope you all appreciate how willing I am to post embarrassing pictures of myself.)

So here are some tales from the 12+ miles I rode today:

  1. I stopped at a light on my way out of Cambridge.  There was a bicycle coming up behind me; I had seen his lights approaching when I had turned onto Mass Ave.  I braced myself as I stopped at the light, and decided not to yell at him.  Today, be nice! was my thought.  Well! He never whizzed by me – he just stopped behind me, and when they light changed to green, we both continued on our way.  I wanted to thank him, but that’s always awkward; let it be known that I flung grateful endorphins at him, at least in my mind.
  2. It was getting dark out, and I was well-lit (of course, because I’m amazing like that.  And also I don’t want to die because a car didn’t see me.). I was taking a right on a green light, and there was a bicycle riding along the sidewalk… who rode right off the sidewalk and almost into me! Luckily, I was in a good mood, so I responded by calling (not yelling), “Hey, please watch out for other bicycles!”  To which the lovely gentleman – who, by the way, did not have ANY lights – responded, “Ehhhh, shaddup!”  Um, to which I responded, “No, you shut up!” and then rode away as fast as I could.  He wasn’t moving very fast, but I was taking no chances with an angry Bostonian.
  3. I stopped at a light at a very busy intersection near our house and waiting for my green light.  There was an older woman walking along the sidewalk.  And then! Out of nowhere, a bicyclist on a very fancy bike in very fancy spandex FLEW THROUGH THE INTERSECTION. He did not even hesitate, or look both ways, or anything!  And in my shock, I yelled (yes, this time I yelled), “It’s a red light!” He sort of waved over his shoulder, but was already gone.  And before I could consider whether I was being a jerk by yelling after him, the little woman said, “Good for you, honey!”
  4. Lastly, I was riding along the road in the bike lane when a truck pulled out and nearly cut me off.  He stopped and as I rode by, navigating around him, I said, “Thank you.” You know, for not killing me, but also for watching out and seeing me and stopping for me.  And he said, “You’re welcome,” and we both meant it, and it was nice to be friendly.

I used to say that riding a bicycle in Boston was sort of like falling in love: you keep your eyes open, hold on tight, and hope you don’t get hurt.  It’s not all up to you.  You try to make good decisions and be smart, but you also count on other people to, you know, not slam into you with their thousands-of-pounds-of-metal-on-wheels.

an accurate depiction of how bicycling in Boston often makes me feel.

Do you ride?  If so, how do you deal with the rules (stop or don’t stop?), the people who interpret them differently than you (a la “the red light is just a suggestion for bicycles”), and the people traveling differently (walking, driving, skateboarding, etc.)?  If you’re not riding yet, what is keeping you off the roads?

PS A few of you might have been expecting an early morning post; sorry for the delay! It had a lot to do with my inability to see the screen, but guess what! Problem solved!  Here is photographic evidence, taking with the assistance of my lovely wife (featured behind my head. Thanks, wife.):

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I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like

Dear everyone –

I’m sorry I have disappeared. I think that moving is a mild, mild insight into what it must be like to have a baby: it’s your one priority, you lose track of what day it is, and you don’t call your friends except to say, “Come see my new ____,” (fill in “baby” or “house”) or “Can you come over and help with ______?” (fill in “holding the baby so I can shower,” or “holding up this fixture so I can repair the shower”). Anyway, the rest of the world has pretty much disappeared since my vision has narrowed and all I can see is our apartment and all of the boxes.

As you might imagine, wedding stuff and/or planning anything that doesn’t involved cleaning, painting, or sorting boxes feels quite overwhelming, so I will deviate from my usual wedding discussion and talk about something else I feel very passionately about:

Bicycles.

Here are two recent updates from facebook friends of mine:

(oops, I spelled Acquaintance wrong, sorry)

(but I did not spell “hardcore” or “friend” wrong! stupid computer.)

Please excuse my crappy screenshots.

Here are my thoughts:

First, Acquaintance who I’m not still in touch with enough to say this to for real (sorry!): I “liked” your status because I was really, really happy that you got a ticket for breaking the law.  Yes, it may have seemed harmless to you, and in a lot of cases it probably is harmless to just roll on through a red light.  In fact, in a lot of cases it would be harmless for cars to roll through a red light – but you wouldn’t be nearly as surprised or angry about getting a ticket running a light in a car as you would on your bicycle.  And that is frustrating to me.

I am a bicyclist, and I stop at red lights.

I have been riding the streets of Boston for almost three years, and I have ridden most parts of Boston and several surrounding towns.  I have been nearly hit by many cars, and even hit one car myself when it turned left and stopped suddenly in front of me while I was riding at a nice clip down the street in the bicycle lane.  She did not look down the bicycle lane before making the turn.  Anyway, one time that I got in a fight of sorts with a driver was when he pulled into the bicycle lane, cutting me off.  “HEY!” I yelled – this is often the most clever thing I can think of to yell when some giant metal machine nearly runs into me – “WATCH OUT!”

To which he responded, “Well, you run stop signs and red lights, why should I watch out for you?!”

And here’s the thing – I get his point.  If I’m not going to follow the rules, why should he?

But here’s the other thing. I do follow the rules.  It’s you, Facebook Friend/Acquaintance of mine, who don’t follow the rules, and it’s people like you that friendly Guy Who Almost Ran Into Me sees every day when he is out driving his car, and it is seeing people blatantly ignore the laws that makes him feel okay about more subtly ignoring other laws, like the one where drivers should not stop in the bicycle lane.

I used to consider starting a blog just to rant about bicycling in Boston.  Thank you, Acquaintance, for reminding me to finally talk about this.

I used to say to myself that bicycling on the road is like falling in love: you try to keep your eyes open for whatever might jump out at you, but you pretty much just have to take a deep breath and trust that you won’t get hurt.

And sometimes you will.  Sometimes it will be a driver who doesn’t look when they open their door, and then your face looks like this:

photo by ellie leonardsmith

even though normally it should look like this:

photo by ellie leonardsmith

Sometimes it will be a pothole that throws you off of your bicycle, and then you look like Hardcore Friend up there.

But look, people: until bicyclists start following the rules, drivers are going to feel like they have as much of a right to ignore/disrespect bicyclists as the bicyclists feel they have a right to ignore the rules.

Stopping at a stoplight takes about thirty seconds.  Really, and often it takes less than that.  You can still break ahead of those cars after waiting, and not only do you lessen your chance of getting hit, you way lessen your chance of someone seeing you and instantly hating you.  And while I would never honestly wish pain on anyone, I do find myself thinking, “maybe a car will come screeching out and really scare that bicyclist who’s running the red light that I am stopped at.” Inevitably, this does not happen.  But the light changes, and I ride on, and I almost always pass the rider who ran the light.  Seriously, guys, you’re not saving yourselves much time.

If you are riding in Boston, and you run a light, and someone yells, “Bicyclists have a red light, too,” it might be me.  When I started riding around here, I ran lights for about a week after I’d seen lots of other riders do it, and I thought, “It can’t be that bad, everyone’s doing it.” And then I almost hit some little girl (who should have been using the crosswalk, but wasn’t – but it still would have been my fault) when she was crossing the street with her mother and passed through some cars stopped at the light.  And her mother said, “You had a red light! Bicycles have red lights, too.” And I have not run a single light since then. That one sentence changed the way I ride.  Do you want to hit some little girl in front of her mother?  Gosh, that would ruin your day. Not to mention hers.

Tell me what you think.  Do you ride? Are you afraid to ride? I could say a whole lot more about this, and maybe I will.  Do you drive and hate bicyclists?  Will you join me in reminding them that there are laws they should follow, too?  And is anyone interested in hearing more about this, or about how I have pulled over and had a conversation with every driver who has hit me?  Tell me, please.

me being way hardcore at my first bicycle race

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