Friday, September 19, 2008

Bikes on the Road!

Having spent the summer biking ourselves and the kids around everywhere has given me a fresh perspective on traffic! It's made me wonder if most drivers have no clue what to do with bikes on the road. Therefore I give you:

Bike Traffic for Motor Vehicles 101:
In Minnesota, bikes are treated like cars. If you don't know what to do when you see a bike, pretend it's a car--
1.don't hit it!
2.would you yield to it if it were a car? then do likewise.
3.always signal. It's the biker you don't see who needs to know where you are going.

Often, we have trouble with cars actually being too accommodating of us as vehicles. I think the driver may be trying to be nice by stopping inappropriately to let us cross a road in front of them. Perhaps they are charmed by the strange biking family? It often makes it more difficult, not easier, when a car yields to a bike if the car actually would have the right-of-way. (Say, the biker has the stop sign but the car waits for the bike to cross.) You see, a cyclist is less protected as a vehicle from collision, and often, drivers are not looking for bikes on the road. Therefore, as I come to an intersection, I can't assume that any vehicle sees me. I certainly can't assume I can run a stop sign. So I watch traffic closely. I have to assume drivers may not see me.
It takes a bike, particularly a bike towing a trailer full of children, much longer than a car to get going again. If I've stopped to yield to a car which has the right of way and the car stops for me, it's particularly awkward if there is cross traffic coming the other way which doesn't need to stop for me, or if there is no traffic and had the car not stopped I could have proceeded in peace instead of lugging into motion with an audience.
I regularly cross busy roads with the trailer. Sometimes I have to wait a good while for an adequate gap in traffic. That's fine by me; I expect it and plan this time into our day. I'm not biking just to get there as quickly as possible. In fact, watching the traffic, a biker often is tracking the cars, gauging thier speed to get moving while this one passes me, so that I can be across the intersection before that one comes. Now don't fret, Grandmothers! We really are careful. I'm just saying that it's usually not helpful for a driver to slow down for a biker.

That being said, I really appreciate how courteous drivers have been to us so far. I haven't encountered any vehicular hostility here in St. Paul, and we've been on all kinds of roads, in all kinds of traffic! (I might interject here that there are lots of crazy, not law-abiding bikers out there, for whom I cannot speak. Ahem, I won't mention any names.)
I sometimes wonder if drivers stop because they feel sorry for the poor slow biker. Do you pity her because the sun is shining and she's in it? Because he's breathing hard?
Rather, wish that you were in his place. There is an exhilarating freedom in going places without a motor. Less to break, less to go wrong, more time to enjoy the view. Between busy roads there are spaces of actual silence. There is a feeling of power in one's own body that can take one places! A restfulness in going days on end without starting a motor, and certainly a deeper sleep at night for a body that has worked.

At first, the kids were thrilled to bike. They begged to bike or bus instead of driving. Times have changed a bit. Recently, Gibbie said, "Mama, I see people in cars and I wish that I was one of them." Sadly, soon enough he will be. Bike transport with kids may be simply impossible year-round in Minnesota!
We're learning to bring a little pouch of playthings or snacks for when the littles get restless. Sticks for banging on each others helmets do very well, as pictured with a special birdie, above.

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