Blog

I see…people

I see…people

“I want to kill a bicyclist. I want to hit one of them with my car, knock him off the road, send him spilling over the curb, tumbling out of control. I want to see the bike go flying, and then–this is my fantasy–I stop the car, get out and so do all the other drivers. They cheer me. They yell ‘hooray!’ and then they pick me up and carry me around on their shoulders.”

Richard Cohen, journalist, in Washington Post Magazine

I don’t think Mr. Cohen really means he’d like to murder someone. At least I hope not. If he does this, though, we have this in print, so we know he’s been thinking about it for a while.

Thank goodness this is not a fantasy that is prominent in most people’s minds. At least, I don’t think it is. Most people treat other people the way they’d want to be treated. Usually it’s not even done consciously. Maybe they don’t often go out of their way to help someone, but whether in big cities or small towns, in cars or on the sidewalk, there’s an acknowledgement that the people around you are just that: people. Mothers, sons, friends, daughters, and fathers. Waiters, engineers, teachers, CEOs. Poor, rich, and everything in between. There’s a dance, or an unending string of “negotiations,” if you will, among motorists, among pedestrians, and even between motorists and pedestrians.

And yet, once in a while, the humanity disappears. The dance turns ugly. We see road rage. We see hit-and-run crashes with other motorists, with pedestrians, with people riding bicycles.

Did you see what I did there? Motorists and pedestrians, more often than not, are seen as people. But “cyclists” are those whack jobs in garish outfits who have no respect for the law. They never stop at stop signs or lights and just appear in front of you out of nowhere! They insist on riding in the lane and I can’t get past them! Why don’t they get off the roads??? The dance ends. Negotiations cease. In their place, rancor. Dehumanization.

News flash: those “cyclists” are people, too. People riding bicycles. Parents, children, friends. Musicians, bus help, vice presidents. People at every level of education, society, economics. People riding for fitness. For fun. To get to work or school. To run an errand.

And, yes, some of them may be disobeying traffic law. But before you judge, look in the mirror, buddy. Do you ALWAYS come to a COMPLETE STOP before turning right on red? I didn’t think so. Do you EVER exceed the speed limit by a few miles an hour or so? Oh, yeah, I thought you did…So wait, we’re ALL scofflaws. And we’re ALL people.

Mr. Cohen’s rant takes the humanity away from those who choose to (or have no option but to) use another form of transportation. It reduces the person on a bicycle to an object. In fact, an object of disdain, to be (literally) crushed. Luckily, most people don’t share his fantasy. Most motorists are perfectly willing to coexist with other road users.

But there is ignorance out there. Many people in cars don’t really understand how to behave around bicyclists. And some people on bikes don’t play nice. We need to better inform EVERYONE of his or her rights and duties. Better behavior can happen, but we really are talking about a change in the culture.

In one sense, it’s an enormous change. It’s moving from a car-centric view of the world to one that sees roads as a means to facilitate movement from one place to another for all who wish/need to use them. Looking at it another way, though, it’s not so big. It’s just looking AT, not THROUGH, people, and remembering that we all have the right to move about in society, in whatever way we choose.

Share
Perception

Perception

“Distance measured with a pair of compasses is not precisely the same as when measured by the leg.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel

He’s right. It’s all in the perception. Point A to Point B. Here to there should be the same, regardless. But it’s not. We all think of time passing at different rates, depending on the circumstance. Some days just fly by while others drag on forever…

But we often don’t give that consideration to distance. Covering miles on the bike works much the same way. There are days when going 2 or 3 miles seems like an interminable (and insurmountable) distance. Think of the days when you’re really tired, or the time you “bonked” (for non-riders out there, that’s when you “run out of gas,” typically because you didn’t adequately nourish/hydrate yourself, or you’ve reached the limit of your fitness and just have no more energy to continue).

On the other hand, there are days when you get to Point B and feel like your legs haven’t even warmed up yet! I find myself experiencing distance in a different way now that I live in a city. The places I frequent are not so far away on a bicycle. In fact, in some cases, it seems like the distance is shorter on the bike, compared to the car!

OK, so New Orleans is small. It seemed to be a much larger place when I was a kid. But given the whole process involved in driving, it often takes less time to ride the bicycle than to drive somewhere.

But it really is more than time. I drove my bicycle to the New Orleans Bicycle Summit last weekend. It would have been weird to drive a CAR to a BIKE summit, right? Driving from my home to the summit location in a car involves getting on an interstate, finding parking, etc., etc., etc. Driving my bike took me on a relaxing route along tree-lined boulevards, aside a bayou, and then to the edge of City Park where the summit was held. I rode the bike right up to the door and parked in the bike rack, feeling relaxed, stress-free, and ready for the day.

I also found myself surprised that the trip didn’t seem nearly as far to me as it does when I drive a car to go get beignets and café au lait at Morning Call, perhaps a half mile away from the summit venue. Did it take more time than it would have, if I had driven my car? Yes, but just a few minutes. But what I gained was the day. The weather. Nature. Sights. Smells. Saying, “Good morning” to people I passed, and them returning the greeting. Freedom. The feeling of flight that only the bicycle can give. The lack of the stress of travel. The joy.

Yes, that’s it. The joy.

Share
Support. And Freedom.

Support. And Freedom.

“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.” – Sloan Wilsonjournalist

 

What an analogy! It’s hard to add to that, but I’ll ramble on nonetheless. Those of you who have children or work with them know that this is a pretty good summation of the way things work with kids. In reality, that’s a pretty good summation of any relationship. Every human interaction involves some level of support and freedom.

OK, my head just exploded. With our children, we move from more to less support and at the same time, increasing freedom. In our other relationships, do we perhaps move from less to more support, but with freedom redefined? Redefined, perhaps, as the freedom to leave (not all relationships with others grow!) becoming the freedom to stay (some relationships grow into lifetime choices of friendship and/or love).

But back to the bike. What’s so hard after learning to ride? Once we’ve gotten the support to balance it, we figure we’re free. And done with learning.

A lot of kids give up the bicycle when they begin driving cars, trading one means of transportation for another. The lure of the automobile – speed, comfort, ease of use – crowds out other options. And they forget what it was like to be out there, on two wheels. They forget the freedom, the sense of flight, that feeling the wind brings. They forget the euphoria of coasting downhill.

That’s when it gets hard again. Not hard to “ride the bike,” because one never forgets how to ride…umm, balance a bike, but hard because the innocence and invincibility of childhood fades. Adult life interferes. And so, too, does fear. Many people never take up riding again because they are frightened. Of falling. Of cars. Of roads. Of hills. Of rocks. Of…

And that’s where support comes in again. There is always more to learn, and confidence to build. Because in learning more, we realize (discover) that we can have better control over what happens.

  • Learning emergency maneuvers lets me react better in dangerous situations.
  • Learning about traffic principles shows me how to be interact with other drivers.
  • Learning more about descending hills makes me able to do it more safely.

You get my drift?

So keep learning. There are plenty of resources out there for you. I have some of them on my links page. Support and freedom. Not just for our children – for all of us.

Share
Awareness

Awareness

“The world lies right beyond the handlebars of any bicycle.”

Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Yes, it does. In one of my League of American Bicyclists courses, we do an entry exercise that includes the question, “What is the one word that describes what learning to ride a bike meant to you?” The most-often given answer is, “Freedom.” And that’s one way to read the meaning of this quote. Learning to ride a bicycle gave a sense of freedom, a sense that the world opened up beyond the home in which we were growing up. Everything was possible.

As we grew, many of us gave up on the bike. We learned to drive a car, so we put away the “things of a child.” Never looking back, never again thinking about the sheer joy of something as simple as a bike ride.

But wait, there’s more. The bicycle is another way to get from Point A to Point B. For most people, nothing between those two points is important. But, let’s think back to geometry class. There are an infinite number of points between A and B. But while driving in a car you will hardly notice any of them. That big metal box becomes a cocoon, insulating you from the world outside. There are few sights that can be appreciated as you speed past them. There are virtually no scents to be appreciated, as the hermetically sealed compartment’s ventilation system filters and recirculates the air. There is no sound except the radio blasting out the hits, the news, or what have you.

But the bicycle gives a unique perspective. At its fastest (for most riders), it just approaches the minimum speeds used by motorists as they go by, oblivious to their surroundings.

But the bicyclist’s view of the world is different. He is in the moment instead of protected from it. She sees the road in a different, kinesthetic way. He feels the terrain, having to pedal just a bit harder during that slight undulation of the road. At those lower speeds, and since there is no power other than human power, the bicyclist is more involved when going from one place to another.

And, “Oh, that amazing scent! Which of the trees/bushes around me is announcing its presence?”

“Doesn’t that breeze feel great?” she wonders.

“Wow, I hate it when the wind smacks me in the face. Wind is harder than hills…”

There’s a greater awareness, and maybe even appreciation, of the world around you when you’re on a bike.

Freedom. Awareness. Appreciation. Yes.

Share
It’s Too Late…

It’s Too Late…

I’ve heard that from several people, of all ages, and in various contexts. The subtext is, “I should have done it earlier in life; if I had done it then, I could do it well now.” Or maybe it’s, “But I’m too old to do that now.” But starting now, for whatever reason, is out of the question.

I recently saw an article from Sports Illustrated from 1970. Here is the gist of it: A Swedish newspaper offered a $1,000 prize to the winner of a bicycle race from the northernmost part of Sweden to the southern tip of the country. A 66-year-old man named Gustaf Hakansson decided to enter the race but did not qualify after a medical exam.

The race started without him. Regardless, he started behind the “official” riders on a heavy, old bike. Racers were required to stop and check in every night, and restart in the morning. But Gustaf was not in the race; he decided not to do that, and continued on. On about 7 hours of sleep over the course of the race, he led by more than 150 miles.

Eight hundred yards before the finish line, he had a flat tire. He continued anyway, and crossed the finish line 23 hours ahead of his nearest competitor. So a 66-year-old man deemed by doctors to be unable to compete raced, and won, against 50 much younger, much “fitter” men.

Message: Don’t pretend that you can’t. Whatever it is. Life’s too short to say, “I can’t” when you’re really saying, “I won’t.”

Share
You Never Know

You Never Know

You may know that I am a League Coach for the League of American Bicyclists. In that capacity, I have conducted seminars across the country, certifying new League Cycling Instructors (LCIs). They then teach bicycling skills and safety in their own communities, from “Learn-To-Ride” sessions for children and adults, to bike rodeos, to road use discussions with community planners and engineers, multi-use path safety with parks and recreation staff…you name it.

I usually am called upon to conduct three to four seminars annually. Candidates come from all walks of life. I’ve worked with teachers, ophthalmologists, police officers, bike mechanics, retirees, city planners…

In the seminars, I hope to convey the love I have for bicycling, and both the passion to educate people on the skills they need to do it well and the things they should know to do it safely.

The thing I never know is how the work I do in those seminars affects the candidates. Well, not usually…At the end of each seminar, I meet with each of the candidates to let them know how they did, and to either certify them as LCIs or let them know what they need to do to become LCIs in the future. During one consultation, a candidate stopped me and said that he had something to say, about something he hadn’t told us.

Turns out he had been laid off three weeks prior. His whole world was turned upside down. He decided not to chase jobs around the country in a declining industry, but wondered what was next. He told us that the seminar completely turned his attitude around. The possibilities that it opened up excited him about his next chapter. The way he described it (hard to do in print, since it was the way he said it) was that instead of asking, “What am I going to do???” he was asking, “What am I going to do!!!”

It turns out that there is a real possibility for creating a “place to land” right near his home. A new position in the bicycling world appears to be in the works, and now that he’s an LCI, he figures he has an edge on the position. Of course, he’ll be working hard to get it, but he’s got the right attitude and is going for it. Will he get that job? I don’t know. I DO know that he left with a renewed sense of purpose. Because we talked about bike stuff! He told me so.

A friend of mine asked a question one day on facebook: “What do you want to do before you die?” My response was, “…make a difference.” I think I have, at least this once.

Share
That Ain’t Right…

That Ain’t Right…

“Nobody ever died from not knowing how to play flag football. Yet we spend tax money teaching kids its nuances in gym classes, while bicycle safety is still foreign to most school curriculums. That ain’t right.”

Don Cuerdon, cycling writer

I was at a drivers’ education symposium last year, representing a state advocacy/education organization. We were interested to talk with attendees, almost all physical education teachers who handle Driver Education. Our organization offers Smart Cycling, the bicycle curriculum of the League of American Bicyclists. Using the League’s curricula, a number of “off-the-shelf” programs are available, and using those same curricula, we can also tailor a program to meet specific needs.

I was extremely disappointed in the responses we heard. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist of what we heard: “Nice idea, but we don’t have time to fit any more in the curriculum.” “We have all we can handle just getting through the material on driving a car.” “Just about all the kids know how to ride a bike.”

Likewise, some of the other exhibitors with whom we spoke were less than enthusiastic about partnering to talk about bike safety. “Get us a grant to talk about it and we will.” I realize that funding drives a lot of initiatives, but really?

As the writer of the quote said above, “That ain’t right.” The teachers are too busy talking about other things, so there’s no time to talk about behavior that may save lives. Other organizations are talking about pedestrian and motorcycle safety, but won’t add bicycling safety without additional funding.

We weren’t talking about a course in bicycle handling, although we certainly would have been happy to do so. We were talking to them about incorporating awareness of bicyclists as legitimate road users. We wanted to discuss teaching students how to drive alongside bicyclists and what it means to “Share the Road.” We wanted to share a systematic approach to make their students aware that bicyclists have all the duties…and rights…of a motorist, and that motorists need to be aware that their choice of transportation mode does not give them special privileges. But no.

We’ve continued the effort, nonetheless. We crafted a lesson plan for a “Share the Road with Bicyclists” day and made it available on the state’s Driver Education website. We’ve rewritten all the sections of the state drivers’ manual and commercial drivers’ license manuals that apply to bicycles, and submitted those edits to the state DOT for consideration. It is our hope that those manuals will include our edits when they are printed again….

One step at a time, one step at a time.

Share

Motor Vehicle Law: A “Bike’s-Eye” View

A new course offered by the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University–New Brunswick provided law enforcement officers in five counties with the training necessary to help them understand how New Jersey’s motor vehicle code applies to bicyclists.

Although New Jersey law explicitly gives bicycle riders the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles, most people, including many police officers, tend to see the traffic flow from the perspective of a motor vehicle operator. According to Les Leathem, Education Coordinator for NJBWC, “in talking to officers around the state, we found that many of them don’t realize the difference in the way traffic appears to a bicyclist. They also did not fully understand the challenges bicyclists face in dealing with motorists.”

Ocean County police officers about to start the road ride
Ocean County police officers about to start the road ride

With their seminar, “Title 39: A Bike’s-Eye View,” NJBWC and VTC equipped officers with tools they can use to be more effective in dealing with bicyclists as drivers. The courses, held in Camden, Essex, Middlesex, Ocean, and Passaic Counties in August and September, were also designed to help officers deal with motorists as well, who often do not understand that bicyclists have a right to use the road in the same way that they do.

“This program really helps law enforcement officers understand what it is like to ride a bike on the road. Instead of seeing bikes as ‘in the way,’ the course helps officers understand that bicyclists are another part of traffic,” said Arnold Anderson, Community Traffic Safety Program Coordinator at the Essex County Police Academy.

Officers in the classroom session
Officers in the classroom session

The course, developed specifically for New Jersey law enforcement officers, first addressed the so-called ‘Three E’s of Traffic Safety’: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement, in a classroom session.

Officers then got on bikes to practice drills to avoid crashes, and to ride on a variety of roads ranging from low-speed, residential streets to major highways. Their time in the saddle also took them along roads with and without shoulders so they could understand how roadway design, traffic and road conditions affect bicyclists. “The real power of this course is its dual approach: classroom discussion helps officers become more aware of the motor vehicle code as it applies to bicyclists.

Teaching officers hazard avoidance drills: the Instant Turn
Teaching officers hazard avoidance drills: the Instant Turn

Then, “getting the officers out from behind the steering wheel of a police car and putting them on two wheels gave them an understanding of how the world looks from the bike saddle,” said Mr. Leathem.

The course was created in consultation with police officers from around the state. Funding was provided by the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the program was administered by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Classes were created and led by Mr. Leathem, who is also a national coach for the League of American Bicyclists, and by police officers who are LAB League Cycling Instructors as well.

Share
Posted in Law
Looking, but not seeing

Looking, but not seeing

“In the city, ride like you’re invisible. As if nobody can see you. Because a huge percentage of the time, nobody can.”

Jason Makapagal, bicycle messenger

The Crash

And that seems to be what happened last week at a school near me. A police officer friend called to let me know of the crash:

The bicyclist was riding in the right lane of a road with two lanes going in her direction. She saw a car in the driveway of the school waiting to enter the roadway. The motorist looked towards her, and the bicyclist believed that she had made eye contact with the motorist. Apparently, though, the motorist didn’t see the bicyclist, and began to edge out into the street to make a left turn immediately in front of the bicycle driver…

The bicyclist swerved to avoid the crash. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

But here’s the rub. The motorist didn’t see the bicyclist. Even though the bicyclist looked right at her, and was in the right lane, where she was supposed to be. She did everything right, and still almost got nailed.

Looking, But Not Seeing

Many motorists look, but don’t see. Let me explain. We all have filters. It’s the way our minds work. Without them, we could not focus on the important things around us. We couldn’t differentiate sounds. For example; ambient noise would be no more or less noticeable than the conversation we’re in, and no different from the sound of the fire engine’s siren coming up behind us. Our brains have evolved to help us sort out the things that matter. The same thing happens visually. Without any filters, the page-turning of the person sitting next to you in the plane would have no more or less importance than the bag about to tumble out of the overhead bin into your lap.

In the same way, a motorist filters the environment, searching for things that matter. It is vitally important for a driver to know when a car or truck is coming down the road before he/she comes out of a driveway into a travel lane. So he looks, doesn’t see any cars, and proceeds out into the roadway. “Oh, no! There was a bicyclist there! I didn’t see her!”

The reality of that situation is that even though the motorist saw the bicyclist, his brain filtered out the bicyclist. So even though the bicyclist WAS in fact in the motorist’s field of vision, his brain considered and discarded that part of the picture. Now you’re questioning what I’m talking about…Want to see it for yourself? Go here to see what I’m talking about. Really. Take a couple of minutes to watch this video. I’ll wait…

OK, you’re back. That was fun, wasn’t it? Did you fall for it?

Most people fail the test in the video. If you didn’t go take the test, you really should. I’ll give you another chance here.

What happened to you is probably the same thing that happened in the incident I used to start this post. The motorist looked, but didn’t see what was right in front of her.

The Moral

The moral of the story: Please look around you. Please SEE what’s around you. Let’s watch out for each other.

Share
Melancholy…no

Melancholy…no

“More than any other emotion, melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.”

James E. Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor

 

What he said. I’ve ridden my bike at various times with various emotions and feelings: in happiness and in uncertainty. With vigor and in deep tiredness. Mindless and mindful. Hot, cold, wet, dry. With riding companions, and alone. And it just about always changes me. Sometimes just a bit, and sometimes a lot. My spirits are lifted. My body rejoices in the motion. My mind clears. There is no room for melancholy.

I have often found that riding brings me into a mindful state. It is much the same as meditation. I guess you could say it’s a physical meditation, perhaps the same as that achieved when walking a labyrinth. On long rides, in particular, the repetitive motion of turning the pedals in a cadence of the body creates a rhythm in the mind and spirit. Much like a mantra, or the rosary for Catholics, a ride becomes a repetitive and contemplative prayer.

It’s not always that. I remember, after my crash in 2012, when the doctor finally said I could get back on my bike. Because of the way that crash happened I never went through any feeling of fear in getting back on that horse: I had fallen; I didn’t hit anything or anyone, and I was not hit. I have absolutely no memory surrounding the crash. So when I actually got on my bike, it was with anticipation and excitement. That was the most emotional ride I’ve ever done. I was so filled with joy I almost couldn’t contain it.

My wife sat home in fear, hoping that all was well. And it most certainly was. When I got home, she told me the look on my face was one of childish glee and excitement.

And sometimes it’s a test. For example, when the wind blows at me hard and forces me to work for every tenth of a mile. Or the thunderstorm starts when I’m halfway through a ride. Or up that climb once again. On those days it’s all about my body. I feel every turn of the cranks. I feel the air going into and out of my lungs. I feel the muscles in my legs.

And sometimes, a bike ride is just a bike ride.

But most of the time, a ride just fixes “it.” Whatever “it” is. I return home more at peace. Maybe more tired, or maybe less so. But always recharged and ready for whatever it is that comes next.

See you on the bike!

Share
Theme: Elation by Kaira.
USA