Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
The Seattle Times has an interesting article on transportation called “Hell on Wheels: Is there no end to the stream of traffic insults?” Here are some interesting, random things that popped out at me from the article:
- Seattle police have written 7,000 more tickets than five years ago for speeding and inattention.
- SUV drivers do talk on phones more.
- Generally, more people drive at 1 p.m. Saturday than during typical rush hours.
- Sidewalks cost about a million bucks per mile.
- …now as Seattle has started installing on-road bikeways and “sharrows,” the initial shock is strong. Drivers think they’re losing something.
- Seattle has the 4th worst traffic in the nation.
This one gets its own special call out:
“Before we blame the mayor*, illegal immigrants or smug cyclists for our coagulating streets, we should look in the mirror. It’s pretty obvious drivers are the chief problem.”
Today on my ride, a small semi-truck full of manure (the load was uncovered) came up behind us, honked loudly, and whipped around us. We all squeezed together as it went by. Somehow, even though otherwise people diligently called “car back” and rode single-file most of the time, this truck escaped our notice. I’m pretty sure the driver went by shaking his fist and grumbling about those d*** bicyclists on his roads.
This vignette isn’t unique. Doing outreach for the Bike Alliance, and in everyday life, I regularly field comments, concerns, and — most of all — complaints about bicycling. But bicyclists aren’t the problem, not really. We’re a tiny percentage of the traffic out there; about 3% of commutes in Seattle are by bike (here, here), and even when bicycling numbers swell on sunny weekends, nowhere do bikes outnumber cars. Yes, bicyclists do slow traffic down, but no more than farm vehicles, large trucks, or something fascinating on the side of the road.
The larger problem is that when people assume their motorists hats, they also put on the cloak of entitlement that says, “I have the right to get where I’m going as fast as possible, without impediment, hassle, slowdown, or bother. Get out of my way and let me get to my destination!” It’s particularly easy to be a jerk when you’re anonymous; a person who wouldn’t cut in a grocery line would willingly zip in front of other motorists to get a little bit ahead.
Maybe even deeper is the fact that as a society we’ve become so busy that every excursion is a trip rather than a journey. There’s no time to plan out and execute the hour-long bus ride; easier to just hop in the car and go directly. Heaven forbid walking; it’s usually too far, or too rainy, or too much hassle. Motorists try to redeem dead driving hours with their cell phones — last week somebody called me while driving on 520, explaining, “It’s the first chance I had to call.” — but end up driving distracted, as impaired as if they had a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.
What have we gained? Large, frequently-empty homes in sprawling suburbs housing isolated individual families far from useful amenities. It’s not just a shame, it’s a travesty. People are meant to connect with each other in community, and instead we’ve bought the lie that we’re meant to collect the best stuff.
Choosing to walk, bus, or bike symbolizes the desire for a deeper change. It’s rejecting the lie that being busy equals being happy, that every minute must be productive, that travel time is wasted time. It’s choosing relationship, choosing people over convenience, choosing to value the journey and not just the destination.
* For non-Seattleites: Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn campaigned as a bicyclist and bike commutes to Seattle City Hall. He has come under fire for his “anti-car” stance on a number of controversial topics, including increased on-street parking fees and the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement.
Click beneath the fold for a report on my weekend bike ride.
Rode on Sunday, as Saturday was Kallie’s 5th birthday party, and I couldn’t miss that. Per Dan’s instructions, planned to do 70 miles and 5500 feet of climbing on Sunday — 43 miles of a Francis Gan ride, and the remaining miles on my own afterward. Lovely day: High clouds with sun breaks (with wet roads), light wind, and starting in the low 40s and getting up to the low 50s. Messed up my own plan by agreeing to ride with Dad to the Francis Gan starting point, which added 12 miles on the front that I didn’t plan on. By the time we finished the Francis Gan ride, I was at 55 miles and feeling pretty pooped. According to Francis the group averaged 16.4 with 2400 feet of climbing. However, I decided to try to get in as much extra climbing as I could before my legs gave out entirely. I rode up Old Redmond Road, Market Street, Juanita Drive to Holmes Point, Seminary Hill, Simonds Road, and Norway Hill. We won’t discuss my speed on those last few climbs. The point is that I did it. This ended up bringing me to almost exactly 80 miles and, according to GPS Visualizer, a total of 5700 feet of climbing (lowball SportTracks estimate: 4,000 feet of climbing). Now at some point I’m just going to have to ‘fess up to Dan that once again I inadvertently exceeded the distance he set for me. I came home and drank two glasses of chocolate milk, ate a sandwich, and inhaled a bowl of yogurt. I think I hear a banana calling my name right now. And we have twice(?) baked potatoes for dinner. I’d forgotten how hungry I am after riding that far. Whew. Tomorrow’s looking like a rest day.