Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I have the shoes but not the lanes

A few months ago, I discovered Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a website that posts pictures of stylishly dressed women who commute via a bicycle. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, just about one-third of commuters do so by bicycle every day in all conditions - rain, snow, cold! I often peruse the site and wish that the USA would make further progress and make cities more cyclist friendly. What I love even more is that the women on the site are decked out in high fashion dresses and heels vs. lycra. They espouse the principle of Style over Speed. Unfortunately I live in one of the least cycling friendly cities. Although we have beautiful greenbelts and parks such as the Emerald Necklace, most of the paths end just short of downtown forcing cyclists to brave the rush hour traffic to get to their offices. Now more than ever, more and more people are riding their bikes because of the rising costs of gas, transportation, and living in general. And believe me, they are taking their lives out of their own hands and putting it into the hands of others who share the road.

If any of you have ever ridden in and around downtown Boston or in a city with lots of traffic and no bike lanes, you know how risky it really is. Boston is more so because of the Trolley T, buses, cabs, bike messengers, pedestrians, off-street parking and very narrow roads. I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been hit by an aggressive cabbie or inattentive driver. To survive, you have to have mad skills and be hyper vigilant. No one uses blinkers or crosswalks. No one yields to anyone else. Bus drivers are insane and cabbies are impatient and incompetent. They never ever yield. They will ride your rear wheel just as if you were in a car. It's very dangerous and I have yelled and flailed my arms at many. There's also the inattentive or maybe they're just @$$hole Boston drivers who will cut right in front of you to turn right! One lady almost pushed into me. Thankfully I was paying attention and able to avoid her - otherwise I would have been on top of a parked car or under a bus behind me. She never even saw me until I pounded her trunk with my fist. My personal fave are construction and double parked cars (note sarcasm) which inevitably force you onto a sidewalk with pedestrians, into traffic that never yields or worse, to a complete standstill. You only have a split second to decide.

And Boston has another unique problem, trolley tracks which have deep grooves that love to suck in a road tire. You will go down if you do not cross them just right and believe me this happens because you are watching for traffic and looking forward, back and around and not so much down in the road. I know this because I went down when my tire was sucked in and wedged. Thank goodness there wasn't a cabbie on my @$$ because I would have been killed. No doubt. After a while you get to know all the potholes, tracks, best times to ride, worst times to ride, etc. and you adjust. However, that takes time. Time is not a luxury for those who are newbies and not skilled in urban riding.

Jeez, I know I sound like such a naysayer about commuting. I'm not. It's perfectly fine (and safe) for those folks who live AND work near the Greenbelts or in smaller communities such as Cambridge. But for those of us who work or go to school downtown, there's not a good way to get there or out of there in rush hour. The addition of bicycle lanes will come at the price of sacrificing the availability of off-street parking for city dwellers and those who visit the city. Such parking will be or must be eliminated on the major thoroughfares. In a city where parking is already scarce, this will not be a welcome sacrifice. But isn't it a worthy one?