By: Bethanie Johnson
I was so excited when Spring came. To begin with, on the first day of Spring my friend and fellow car free traveler David Ponivas messaged me a funny picture about the fact that I’d made it through the winter. In the fall he’d shared several tips for me staying warm over the winter season that were very helpful. He’s been car free for over a year, and as I knew he had more experience than me, I listened. I always try and do that. There are times in lots of situations when I’ve realized that I am totally clueless about a certain topic and I should find better examples than myself and follow them. I’ve done this pretty often as a parent, finding people in my church and community that had raised strong and healthy kids and asking for advice when I was stuck. I do the same in cycling, looking to people who may have better knowledge than me. It’s a good reason to be part of a larger community than one’s self. I have found very often that one’s self is a faulty expert…and also, quite often, more than a little stubborn and egotistical. Thus as I am very slowly gaining some wisdom as I age, I blow a heavy sigh, humble myself, and look to those who know more than me on the various subjects I’m struggling with. So often I find myself going to the cycling community for support, and just as often I find they offer it freely…gladly and without hesitation.
And so on the first day of spring, David—who’d given such great advice—congratulated me for making it through the winter. I was excited about the warmer weather and the shift from nineteen layers (approximately) to one. I was excited about the shift from balaclava and trying to figure out the appropriate head and foot gear when riding in the sub ten degree temperatures that we faced this winter, to hey, all I need is a helmet and oh, I don’t have to wear those ugly pink gloves anymore (they are awesome gloves though). So Spring came and I was thrilled.
March was the month when car/bicycle accidents began happening in earnest. By “in earnest” I mean there were quite a few of them in a row. One involving a mother and child which I wrote about already, several that went unreported where nobody was injured, and the latest, which involved a very seasoned commuter whom I don’t know very well. I do know of him from the community, from pictures of his late fall cycling trips (one of our Charlotte community organizations, Transportation Alliance, ran a photo contest of alternative means of transportation, and we both participated). I found his photos inspirational because they, once again, let me know that there are other people out there riding bikes in tough weather. All winter long I looked to those people for inspiration because they went. They said the Radical Yes even when it was ten degrees. They bundled up, swallowed fear of the unknown, and they went. It’s the most amazing philosophy, the idea of “Go Anyway.” So when word came that this wonderful man, this husband, cyclist and citizen of Charlotte had been hit and left in the road, I was really angry. He was the last in a string of accidents involving cyclists. I’m a cyclist. Not only that, I’m a cyclist who always understands it could be me.
With that in mind I’d like to share the story of yesterday which a friend of mine asked that I share at some point. Yesterday I was riding the route I always ride to work at the USNWC. I chose this route specifically because of safe streets, greenway and bike-path. There are easier ways for me to get where I’m going but I am convinced that there aren’t any that are safer than the route I take. I took this route all summer and not once did I feel threatened or unsafe. I rode it successfully in the mornings when I was fresh and alert and I’ve ridden it in the evening after a five trip rafting day when I felt dead on my feet. Yesterday morning I was on Moores Chapel Road, which meant I was on the last leg of my trip out to the center, when a truck squeezed past. I will say that in general on Moores Chapel I do not practice lane control on my bike because there are lots of trucks and a section of it is fairly narrow and I don’t like taking up more space on the planet that is necessary. So I was about 2 feet from the edge of the road. I’ve never before yesterday experienced a situation on that road where anyone passed me unsafely. When I say a truck squeezed by I mean that if I’d had the nerve to let go of my handlebars and reach out I could’ve touched the truck without straightening my arm. There wasn’t anywhere for me to go except under the truck, straight ahead, or into the ditch. Probably the ditch would’ve been the safe bet, but for whatever reason I chose to ride the narrow space that ran 2 feet from the curb and slightly less from the truck. The driver and I were momentarily (to me it felt like forever) squeezed into the very narrow space of one lane on Moores Chapel that wasn’t at all wide enough for both of us to fit safely. Can I just say this is not what is meant by share the road? If he had swerved or if I had swerved I’d be in the hospital rather than telling the story.
It bothers me because vehicles allow for safe passing room when passing other cars and when it isn’t safe they don’t pass. It bothers me because it shouldn’t be different for cyclists. If there’s not room to pass wait until there is. It’s pretty simple. Safety on the roadway is not a luxury cyclists are hoping for. Its our right in North Carolina as a vehicle to have safe access to the roads. I know that drivers get frustrated when we practice lane control and move out to the middle of the lane on the roadway (I had a friend tell me this just two days ago) but the reason for practicing lane control is to avoid the kind of situation I was in yesterday. If drivers have to change lanes to pass they will is the idea.
I’ve been frustrated this month and saddened that we aren’t all afforded the same rights. I think folks view the cycling community as a bunch of people with way too much money clad in spandex and riding bikes that cost more than most of the cars I’ve purchased in the past 10 years. But I’ve seen regular cyclists from all walks of life on my rides this year. My bikes come from an awesome used bike salesman and he always gives me a deal. I’ve seen lots of people riding bikes because it’s their only means of transportation, not a luxury but a must. Its how they get to work. For me right now when you see me riding in the mornings on a well trafficked road, I’m going to work just as you are and I’m following the same traffic laws as you. As a cyclist and commuter I would love to feel as safe on my bike as you feel in your car. And that is not a luxury, it’s a right.