Friday, October 5, 2007

Radical Bicycle Manifesto

To commute by bicycle in Seattle is to become radicalized about bicycling.

Perhaps not right away. At first, you may be lucky enough to have a dozen easy commutes in to work. Then one day a bus cuts you off, rolling right in front of you and blocking the bike lane to pick up passengers. An SUV driver yakking on his cell phone passes you on the downslope of a hill and then makes a sharp right turn, forcing you to slam on your brakes. A fellow bicyclist on a fixie or a mountain bike wooshes past you, leaving inches of clearance. A truck is parked two feet from the curb, sticking way out into the bike lane and forcing you into the lane of traffic. You carefully and reasonably “take the lane,” as you’re allowed to do, to avoid a dangerous situation and get a blast from a motorist’s horn, as a driver too hell-bent to get somewhere comes roaring up on you and insists you move immediately out of his way.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: To the city, for an unending list of hazardous places where the lack of signage or clearly-painted bike lanes creates cycling nightmares. To the drivers, who act like you’re invisible and regularly, almost routinely, put your life in peril. And even to a very large chunk of the bicycling community – riders who run stop lights and red lights, dart in and out of traffic and ride, against their own self-interest, at night without lights, often wearing enough black to outfit a Ninja. What are they thinking?

During my training for the STP, I started doing a little bit of bike commuting. After the STP I settled into a bike-commute rhythm. At some point, I went from biking 20 percent of the time to biking almost 100 percent of the time to work. Since August, it’s become something of a pleasant addiction. When I ride in to work, I feel great. When I ride home, I feel great. That little 30-minute rush of adrenalin and jump in my heart rate works better than a double-tall espresso in the morning. Curiously, it has the same effect on me at the end of the day. I arrive home energized at the end of the day, as if some genie recharged my battery while I was grinding uphill on Fremont Avenue.

I’m of the opinion that a well-behaved, careful, law-abiding cyclist is – or should be looked upon as – something of an urban hero. The commuting cyclist is taking a car off the road or freeing up a seat on the bus. His or her vehicle emits no pollution and takes up a tiny amount of space on the roadway. It’s even light on the infrastructure, with the typical commuter bike weighing in at something around 20 to 30 pounds. All in all, a healthy, law-abiding population of cyclists is good for the city – even for those who can’t ride themselves: People who trade their car in for a bike make more space on the road for those who cannot.

So I’ve decided to try turning my STP bike blog into a bike commuter blog, chronicling the joys and perils of riding to work in Seattle. I'm hoping that by recording the daily journey, I'll help shed light on why Seattle can be a difficult city to navigate on two wheels.

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