I am accustomed to the litany of complaints that automobile drivers fire at bicyclists; that we are heedless of safety, that we weave in traffic, that we run stop signs and lights. When I ride, the tug of traffic laws often works against my flow. I am not reckless, I do not cause cars to brake or swerve, but neither am I slave to a mechanical light at an empty intersection.
Recently the City of Boston added bicycle lanes on many streets and notation directly on pavement where bikes and cars share the road. The recognition should make me happy as well as safe, but just the opposite has occurred. Now that I have designated places for my bike I want others to acknowledge them, and they do not. Cars, trucks and buses violate bicycle space with more relish and abandon than the most intrepid cyclist ever encroached on motor vehicles.
The bike lane in front of South Station is ignored by the lines of traffic at that busy intersection. Last week I pulled up behind a BMW and waved my hand to indicate the car was filling the bike lane. The guy pulled over, rolled down his window and gave me a mouthful. I smiled and pedaled on. Considering the often true adage about the difference between BMW’s and porcupines (BMW’s have their pricks on the inside) I never tangle with guys in Beemers.
One night I cycled along Mass Ave from the Boston Conservatory to Harvard Square, over the river and past MIT. I counted six different vehicles that blocked the bike lane or cut me off, including two MBTA buses who passed me only to swing back into the bike lane, stop, and unload passengers without pulling all the way curbside. As I approached the square a couple of pedestrians actually danced in my path to upset my motion. Realizing they were drunk I kept my distance, but even drunks don’t play chicken with cars like that.
I have been riding my bicycle through downtown Boston for over twenty years, adapting to the car-centric traffic by not going too fast, riding defensively and making sure I can be seen. Now, with bicycle consciousness on the rise, I find myself angry more and more of the time. Why? Because a taste of acceptance, a taste of recognition, a taste of power is an intoxicating thing. I used to view motor vehicles as fearsome objects to avoid; now I think of them like Republicans – dinosaurs whose monopoly on moving through the world is only going to diminish.
Still, I feel their anger as well. If cars and buses respect bike lanes, they acknowledge a loss of pavement that used to be theirs. In the good old days cyclists were intruders whom they could dismiss. Now we have our own strip of road but since every licensed driver put kindergarten in their rear view mirror long ago, sharing is hard.
In the ranking of civil rights, the rights of cyclists to navigate as equal parties with any other vehicle is not as important as women’s rights or racial equality or gay rights, but the same dynamics hold sway; the dominate group refuses to yield to the emerging reality. The presence of more and more two-wheeled devices crowds in on them. We make their commute more complex. They are threatened, entrapped in their rolling metal, while we aerobically dance around them, proliferating with every warm day and hike in the price of gasoline. We are here, we are healthy and we are not going away. It’s just a matter of time before we establish a new equilibrium. The cars and trucks and buses will acquiesce; they will make the space we deserve. Until then I feel the power of being on the gaining side.