Sunday, May 15, 2011

Share the Road

A few weeks ago a woman I know told me her partner didn't do a good job fixing her inner tube, so her ride felt unsteady. I asked her if she knew how to work on her bike herself, she admitted to not knowing -but knew it would be a good idea if she did.

"I don't want to be eight or ten miles out of town with a flat."

I agreed and told her about the biking 101 class given by the city (which I still haven't taken).

The other day she excitingly told me that she signed up for the class this Saturday (yesterday). She was proud and excited as she felt she was doing her part, as a bicyclist, by learning how to navigate the roads and by acquiring the tools to build a good relationship with others who occupy the roads-mainly the vehicles.

It was obvious she was the kind of biker that is concerned not only about her rights and responsibilities, but rights and responsibilities of the ones behind the wheel. During one of our earlier conversations, she told me about being "run off the road" (very similar to my own experience described in an earlier entry.) Like myself, she went on the sidewalk to avoid a run in with some oblivious cars. What she got instead was a run in with a pedestrian who yelled at her for being on the sidewalk.

Now, I understand that the sidewalks can be narrow and that in many cities it is actually illegal to be on the sidewalks. But, it seems here the bike rider is at times in the mercy of the traffic on either form of pavement, and too often has to apologize no matter which she chooses. She told me about the bike/car accident that occurred near Indian School that severely injured the biker. I came home to find out there was yet another accident on Tramway; this time the person was killed. The first accident was due to the driver running a red light, the second was due to some medical issue that caused the driver to lose control of his/her faculties, meander off the road and strike the biker.

It was a bad day for bikers and drivers alike. The first accident was obviously avoidable if the driver had not run the red light. The second, since it was due to some condition that rendered the driver incapable of navigating the car, was just really really bad luck for both biker and driver. I do not know the condition of the biker in the first scenario nor the driver in the second. We do know that the driver in the first scenario will hope that the biker pulls through and that the biker in the second scenario will not have the opportunity to bike on the open road.

The news was a quick flash on the local stations...too quick for us to know anything about any of the individuals in the cars/bikes that day. It was too quick for anyone to consider the larger implications of the relationships being built or destroyed between those who occupy the roads.

No doubt, those who knew each of those individuals are going through their own sort of emotional confusion and pain. For the rest of us, we just know that the "conversation" on the road between the first biker and driver has yet to be resolved. We are wondering if the driver will learn from this episode and whether the biker will feel safe enough to get back on the road again. The conversation between the second set on the road, unfortunately, will not have the opportunity to continue.

Of course, we, as a community of bikers, drivers, pedestrians, can continue the conversation for them. The conversation I speak of is experiential. Meaning, the way in which we approach the road, consider one another, honor the space of the other and recognize the other's rights. This is the give and take that happens each time we all share the roads. Much like cars have been conversing (with the help of traffic signs, lights, signals) with one another, bikes, cars and pedestrians need to continue to learn a common language.

I fear that the frequency of accidents on the road will inhibit bikers from utilizing the roads, especially those who are looking for a different way of traveling. And, as I stated in earlier blogs, this is the most important way of making it safer for everyone on the roads.

I am proud of my acquaintance who is choosing to be a proactive biker. She is interested in learning the language of biking and interacting on the road. I would like to see the same interest on the part of drivers, or, at least start with those who are responsible for teaching us how to drive. Of course, it is the bikers who may feel more pressed to take the class, as they are usually the ones who are more vulnerable on the road. But, lest we forget...

It takes two to be in a relationship.

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