When women took to bicycles in the late 1890s, there was something of an uproar. According to Sue Macy, author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), the bicycle gave young women the ability to “go off on their own, and spend time with anyone they met on the road.” This, of course, led to “many romantic encounters, friendships, and romances,” and was thought of as completely “scandalous.” It is an apt beginning, one that fits the thrill and intrigue of biking today.
I say it’s high time for another bicycling revolution. And the City of San Francisco seems to be ready for it… sort of. It seems to be the season of the bicycle here in the city by the Bay, but the jury’s still out, literally in at least one case, on whether or not the seasons are turning in a beneficial direction.
A little recap of what’s been going on:
On July 15, 2011 a 23-year-old male bicyclist ran a red light at the corner of Mission and the Embarcadero and crashed into a 68-year-old pedestrian, causing traumatic injuries that led to her death a few weeks later.
On March 29, Chris Bucchere hit a 71-year-old man while, according to reports, barreling into a crosswalk after running a yellow light at the intersection of Market and Castro Streets. Info from a law standpoint here.
At the beginning of April 2012, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency added about 1.5 miles of dedicated bike lanes to Golden Gate Park in an effort to make the park more bicycle-friendly. See some photos, and check out more bike-related happenings around the city, here.
For bikers, these are pretty serious happenings.
I didn’t want this post to turn into a rant, although, believe me, I certainly am capable of ranting on the subject. Those around me can tell you that bicycle safety gets me really heated. But I do want to express my opinion, especially because it’s one I haven’t heard yet in the many recent debates.
A sentence I read in the Examiner a few days ago really fueled my fire: “Mayor Ed Lee, speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California on Tuesday evening, said responsibility for safety on the streets falls to everyone- bicyclists and motorists.” I immediately noticed that there is a group missing in that statement, the pedestrians.
Bicyclists are often described as having a scofflaw mentality, meaning that we’ll obey the rules of the road when they are convenient for us, and not otherwise. I certainly understand that. I try not to break the law, but I’ll admit to regularly doing so on my way into work every day, simply because there is no other safe way for me to get into the parking lot. I do this with extreme precaution, and I will more often stop or get off my bike than bicycle recklessly.
I can’t say the same for most pedestrians I encounter. I suppose that isn’t fair, because I imagine there are plenty I don’t see because they are unobtrusive. But there are a lot of pedestrians that walk around with what I call an extreme right-of-way mentality. What this amounts to is stepping out into the road, crosswalk, wherever without looking into the street at all. I have definitely been a few near misses that have me glad I’ve got the maneuverability of a bicycle and am able to swerve out of the way of, for example, the UPS guy who wanders from behind his truck into the road (not once, but twice, two days in a row), or the two girls who round a corner and are so busy drinking their Starbucks that they couldn’t be bothered to see if a bicycle was already in the 4-way stop intersection, moments away from being in the exact spot they’re stepping. It crosses my mind daily, almost like a mantra: “If I was a car (with no quick swerve ability), you’d be dead.”
I’m not trying to say that any of the recent accidents were the fault of the victims; I believe that in most cases, bicyclists have been more confident than they should be and have underestimated their surroundings. I also understand that pedestrians do, in fact, have the right-of-way.
My only concern is that “right-of-way” is a poor condolence for everyone when you’re dead or injured and I’ve just run you over.
I think the solution is that we all need to use a little more common sense. Bike lanes or no bike lanes, the streets can be safe for everyone if we all try and have everyone elses’ backs. I understand, we’re all in a hurry, and we’ve all got disdain for whoever is in (on) a different vehicle than us because it implies, among other things, socioeconomic differences, we’re only breaking the law this one time, blah blah blah. If we stop essentially ignoring each other on the road, and instead bring everyone’s best interests to the forefront, there is no reason we can’t all share the road.
For example, getting “doored” is every bicyclists worst nightmare; even worse, when it happens and you get yelled at for it, by a policewoman no less (Michael saw this, and pulled over to tell the policewoman to, essentially, back off). Instead, an apology, or better yet, learning to look before opening your door would be way better. Also, blinkers: you know, those things we all use to indicate that we will be imminently turning, not that we are already turning or that we turned a block back and haven’t remembered to turn them off. They are mandatory for all, bicyclists included. As for me, I’ll be working on anticipating pedestrians’ movements, and not getting so worked up when they act erratically; after all, I do it too! That’s the key, I think; realizing that we’re all people, whether on wheels or not. We’re all in this commute together, and we all make mistakes, we all break the rules sometimes. In lieu of road rage and and elitist attitudes, a little empathy and forgiveness go a long way.
According to Sue Macy, the bicycle was colloquially called “the devil’s advance agent”. What a great name! It definitely sums up the way I feel about my rides sometimes. Do you ride a bike? How do you deal with the occasional stress of sharing the road?