Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You "cannot conceive." Yes. Alas.

I have for several years kept an on-line journal.  Entries are protected and get shared with a group of friends and acquaintances.  A not inconsiderable number of the entries were about bicycling until I decided I needed a blog as none of my readers were bicyclists and I wanted to see if I could connect with other passionate bicycle commuters.  Failing that I wanted to say what was on my mind because with the delicate feelings of my driver readership at stake I was inclined to sugar the pill.

The specific precipitating incident that brought about chafecity was a comment I got over an icon I uploaded to the journal to associate with bicycle-related entries.  You can see this same icon in my blogger profile, it's a "No Left Turn" sign with "EXCEPT BICYCLES" appended.  I see this sign every day on my way in to the office. 

Here's what I wrote when I uploaded the icon:

I don't usually bother to write a post for an icon, or even bother explaining an icon, but this picture is special to me. I asked Contraption Captain to stop and snap a picture of this sign that we see every day on our commute to work. At this spot, there is a left turn lane that is just wide enough for a bicycle. Cars must continue on Alma street and take a far less convenient left further along. One reason that biking in this part of California is so wonderful is that bicycles are valued, mostly with nice broad bike-only lanes but also with these kinds of signs and accommodations which serve as indications that what is correct and acceptable for a bicyclist may not be appropriate for a car.  In this case a bicyclist may make a left turn but a car may not.

Most of the people reading the journal are people I met and knew when I lived in Massachusetts.  One of them commented.

(Massachusetts driver)   I cannot conceive of where it would be safer for a bike, a slower and less protected vehicle, to make a left turn than a car.  We have bike lanes in Cambridge, but people in cars drive in them all the time.

This in a nutshell is why I find bicycling in Massachusetts so loathsome.  This perception that bicycles (slow and less protected) do not belong anywhere.  Not even on roads with bike lanes because hey, people in cars drive in them all the time, right? 

California has it's short-comings but at least in the corner of the state that I bike, the bike lanes are used by bicycles.  Sometimes a car parks there and I get annoyed, sometimes a car drives in the bike lane and I get super-annoyed but I take it for granted that the lanes are there and mostly available.  And I take it for granted that I belong, as do the giant majority of people around me.


  1. I missed the original entry, but I live in Boston, and ride in Cambridge all the time (I live a little ways out of the city, and commute in by train, or sometimes car, but in the city, I ride, thanks largely to my folding bike - so easy to take along) Anyway - I have to disagree with the original commenter. True, Boston drivers aren't the friendliest or most considerate, but most of them do respect the bike lanes. There are obviously some that don't, but then there are always a few...and to be totally honest, most bike lanes in Cambridge are too narrow for cars - there's no way a car could fit between the parked cars and the lane.

  2. @Chris Hooray for folders! My husband commuted to SF for a year or so via train, and then used his Bike Friday Tikit for the "last mile."

    Hooray also for bicycling everywhere so a sincere thanks to you for riding. I mean that. I'm bad-tempered but also secretly hopeful. Bicyclists make me feel hopeful.

    My experience of bicycling and bicyclists in Massachusetts was:

    1. the roads are way older than CA roads and are quite narrow. this makes it harder for bikes and drivers to share. I think. I think the CA drivers in my area are calm(er) around bicyclists because they almost never get "stuck" behind us due to wide roads and wide bike lanes.

    2. the weather in MA is rough. this means fewer bicyclists. more bicyclists on the road gets cars accustomed to dealing with 2 wheels, at least a little.

    I was in Cambridge last summer and saw that in Harvard Sq the bike lane seemed to only traverse occasional sections of road. I was at Faneuil Hall noticing that there were no bike lanes when a stranger leaned over and confided "that's how we like it. Keeps the vermin out." A depressing moment.

    However when I last really biked MA last it was 8 years ago - and then it was Western MA. You are there Right Now. And you say it is good. Which is great news.

  3. I'm with Chris on the bike lanes- Drivers in Cambridge are pretty good about looking for bikes, and I've never seen one "driving" in the bike lane. Double parked, yes sometimes, but not nearly as much as in Boston.

    They've been doing a lot of reconstruction and restriping of lanes in Harvard sq (where I live) so some of the paint on the bike lanes might have been on its last gasp last summer, but the lanes are pretty consistent through the square.

    Cambridge is pretty proactive about infrastructure, despite a "bicycle committee" which I think is heavily VC. The civil engineers and city planners might actually be more progressive than the bike committee.

    Boston is catching up (there are bike lanes on the greenway side of Faneuil hall, and talk of a cycle track on the city hall side). But yes the roads are pretty narrow. But parking and traffic for cars are awful, which makes biking more attractive. The weather is rough, but not all that bad. Yesterday morning when it was 18 degrees, I probably saw 20 other bikers on my 5 mile commute. The snow and ice can suck, but in all honesty there just aren't that many days where it's problem- a month or so out of the year.