This afternoon I was riding my bike and observed a fairly common event. An attractive woman in an expensive car kept honking her horn and yelling as she drove. She was frustrated and angry at the slow pace of traffic and the obstacles in her way.
These were the people she was yelling at. I’m just sayin’. In her defense, she was clearly a suburban driver who was unaccustomed to sharing the road with humans. In her world people out in the middle of the thoroughfare are a hazard to motorists. “Get out of the road you idiots. You’re going to kill someone” is actually pretty solid advice along the eight lane high speed arterials of suburbia. In the city? Things are a little different. She didn’t understand that these cyclists and pedestrians were in no way a threat to her health or safety, while her four thousand pound machine could do real damage to them. It simply didn’t occur to her that different behavior is required under different circumstances.
Last week I was heading back home after a meeting in a distant town. I was putting gas in the car when a group of tourists went by on bicycles. Two of them stopped to get their bearings and I asked them what they were doing on this particular road. They had peddled around San Francisco, taken the ferry to Sausalito, and then heard there was another nice town a few miles down the way. They followed the map, but didn’t expect such a hostile environment between the two locations.
You can build a physical place and a culture that embraces cars, or you can build a place that works well for pedestrians and cyclists. But you have to choose. They’re mutually exclusive. Driving in the city is a pain. The roads are narrow and parking is limited. At rush hour the cars back up and there’s nothing to do but sit and wait for all the cars to inch along. Then again, folks on foot and on bike whiz right by at a comfortable pace.
I appreciate the sentiment behind well intentioned bicycle lanes in the suburbs. But who are we kidding? These are death traps. Encouraging people to ride bikes in this environment is a bad idea. It would be better to acknowledge the obvious truth. This is a forbidding place to be anywhere other than inside a motor vehicle. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. Let’s also be realistic about the culture in suburbia. There’s a self selecting population that doesn’t appreciate pedestrians. People on foot are assumed to be impoverished (why else wouldn’t they be able to afford a car?) or eccentric environmentalists or exercise freaks. Accommodating them is an extraordinarily low priority compared to getting normal people to and from work and off to school. Let the suburbs be the suburbs.