1. I have a million things to say.
2. I was wrong.
First, a story of three rides.
One/Before. Last Saturday (May 3rd), Melissa came over and we rode together to Clayton to test out my work route, which has generally involved the following:
- Left from a suburban side street onto a 2-lane road with a center stripe
- Access the sidewalk and a crosswalk to cross a major arterial
- Ride through 1/4mi of parking lots to access the neighborhood behind a strip mall
- 2 mi of neighborhood riding
- 1 mi of riding on 4-lane road
- 1 mi of riding on 2-lane roads (center stripe)
- 1/2 mi of riding on 4+ lane arterial
- Access sidewalk/crosswalk to cross said arterial
- 1/2 mi of neighborhood riding to access bike path
- 1 mi of bike path riding up a very steep hill
- Access sidewalk/crosswalk to cross a third arterial
- 1/2 mi of city-center riding on streets
Melissa patiently endured the first five bullet points, but suggested that we try a different route that involved one alternate (2-lane) road through a neighborhood, followed by about a mile or so on a major arterial. I looked at her sideways, then agreed.
It was easier, but I also immediately realized that I was appreciative of her company - both because she was more comfortable riding "as traffic" (rather than alongside it, or not with it at all, which was my preference) and because I felt much more visible and tolerable as a couple of bikes than one (mostly, I thought it would be less tempting to to motorists to run both of us over and face two manslaughter/murder charges).
While it was easier, more direct, definitely flatter*, and more pleasant than riding alone in my customary route and manner, I still elected to ride home (after we split up) in a way that was familiar and comfortable: 1/2 mile on an arterial, riding on the curbside 1/3 of the lane, and, though I worked my way to the left turn-pocket to access the south-bound road, once on it, I rode largely in the bike lane/glorified shoulder provided, which required me to merge with traffic when I crossed Highway 40, and to dodge road detritus in the pedestrian/bike lane, which is not swept separately, and which accumulates the crud that is swept out naturally by normal motorist activity.
Though I made every effort to be polite, predictable, and prompt (I was on The Radish 10-speed and faster than I can be on Fleur), I got honked at three separate times (at least once in a not-nice way; the other two were ambiguous double honks - were they acknowledging me or frustrated that I was impeding their travel for a few seconds? It wasn't clear).
I found myself looking forward to - and, honestly? dreading - my upcoming Cycling Savvy courses (classroom session to be held Wednesday and Train Your Bike/Tour of St. Louis to be held the following Saturday). On one hand, something clearly wasn't right, because if cycling is this much of a pain when in traffic, no one would ride. On the other hand, negotiating more directly with cars seemed like an awful plan. I just wanted protected bike lanes, preferably away from traffic.
*Funny, but they generally find or make flat and straight spots for major roads to maximize visibility and minimize the effort necessary to travel them...
Two/During. On Wednesday, I showed up for the CS classroom session. Mary and I were the students. I drove (three reasons: distance/8 miles, time/had to drive home to let dog out, and light/full darkness would fall before the course was over at 9:30pm). I literally thought the entire way to the class that I would appreciate the tips and use them when I had to interact with traffic, but that I'd continue to want to advocate for separated bike facilities after the class was over. And, three hours later, I could have talked bike tips and tricks for three hours longer. I left with a mixture of a nagging desire not to interact with traffic in meaningful ways, but a fundamental understanding of why my instincts to hug the side of the road were about the most dangerous options I could pursue. Sigh.
As late as Friday night, I was feeling really anxious. I couldn't decide whether to take Fleur, and labor up the hills with only three gears, or take The Radish, which offered ten finicky speeds (essentially, five speeds, because I usually stay in the lower of the two major gears) and less weight, but promised neck, back, and wrist pain from the aggressive road-bike/drop-bar positioning). I ultimately selected The Radish, because it was better suited to the hills and distance, and because it was easier to hoist onto the bike rack (the straight mixte-style top bar is far easier use with the mounts on the rack, and The Radish is probably ten pounds lighter than Fleur, who is increasingly unwieldy to lift due to her baskets).
I drove, again because I wasn't sure about my willingness to navigate streets on the way home, and because I wasn't sure my legs would tolerate 15 miles of riding above and beyond morning bike training and a roughly 10-mile ride around St. Louis (in retrospect, this second issue was spot-on. I was exhausted after 7 hours of bikey-bikeness).
The morning generally taught skills with which I was pretty familiar, if by different (or no) names - how to stop quickly; how to use your front brake without eating pavement; how to turn on a dime (much easier without massive toe-overlap, FYI), and how to avoid road obstacles without swerving into traffic. I'm really good at stoppping. ;)
We then had lunch and waited for a couple of folks (Monica and Mike), former CS grads who had agreed to ride with us for the Tour of St. Louis. We had lunch at Kaldi's and then rode together, in pairs, to the parking lot of the Cheshire Hotel. I thought we were going to discuss the route in further detail and take a water break.
Ha. Haha. Ha.
No, we were told to take Clayton to Skinker, take a left, and then go into Forest Park and wait for the rest of the group. One person at a time. My adrenaline immediately spiked; I regretted the second cup of coffee. I was practically vibrating. I let Mary go first (she's so brave).
Using the skills we learned in class, I was able to ride and behave in a way that was predictable and visible to the traffic around me, and I did it. And it was fine.
|Photo credit: Karen Karabell (my editing).|
We had several additional individual challenges that helped push us beyond our comfort zones while reassuring us that we were operating in a safe and comfortable way. And, little by little, it started to really sink in. It doesn't matter where you are, or how many cars there are, you can get there from here in a way that makes you visible and relevant to the folks with whom you're sharing the road. It was an amazing day. (More photos, here.)
|Photo credit: Harold Karabell (my editing).|
And somewhere in there, it hit me. I was wrong. We don't need bike lanes. We need cyclists and motorists to better understand how to interact with one another so that we can share the roads in a way that makes travel safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
More photos, here.
Three/After. And so, the next morning, when we were out of dishwasher soap (okay) and out of coffee (crisis!), I didn't hesitate to grab my helmet and unlatch the folding baskets on Fleur and take her the 1/2 mile to the grocery store.
|Shopping by bike is easy and fun.|
On the way to and from, I took the lane on the 2-land (striped) road near my house, and communicated clearly with the cars around me.
No one honked. The drivers who passed me went clear into the other other lane to pass. At a light, when I encouraged a driver to come past me to allow her to go right while I waited for the green to go straight, she gave me a big smile and indicated she was staying put. And that reminds us both that the person on the bike and the person behind the wheel are people -- we are more than our chosen methods of transportation.
The emotional and physical journey of this past week has been empowering and incredibly rewarding. I'm more excited to ride than ever.
|I was so thrilled, I bought a geranium.|
I continue to understand the desire for bicycle infrastructure. The instinct to stay out of the way of motorists' is strong and makes sense, until you view a cyclist from the perspective of the motorist. You are simply out of the way, out of the line-of-sight, and out of the minds of the motorists when you are on the sidewalk, on the shoulder, or in most bike lanes as they are designed in most places in America. I understand and appreciate that the ability to cycle effectively in traffic is a privilege and that this manner of cycling may not be appealing or appropriate for the very young, the very old, or those who are differently-abled. My challenge is to those developing infrastructure to consider that the designs we take for granted (sidewalks and sidepaths and bike lanes running immediately next to motorways) might not be the best way we can accommodate travel by all of our citizens. Further, a dedicated bike- or multi-use-trail is lovely, but is only as useful as its starting point, end point, and the destinations to which it can connect us along the way. I believe that creating more paths like Grant's Trail that connect our communities (eg, with transportation, rather than recreation, as the purpose for their creation), creating more bike/ped pass-throughs where side streets end and effectively disconnect many non-motorists from adjacent communities, and ensuring everyone knows the rights and responsibilities of road use will ensure that no matter the destination or the mode of transport, you can get there from here.