Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Plea for Education

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work. It was cold in the morning, but I knew that it would be nice that afternoon, and it was! I could not have asked for better weather for riding home: 71 degrees, sunny and clear, with a little breeze.

My commute home is a simple one. I get on San Jacinto through downtown and ride to Ross, so basically I ride in a straight line, in a single lane. This is why I was amazed at what happened to me right after I passed the JP Morgan Chase building.

Before I get into it, I will be honest here. There are some stupid people on bicycles who do stupid things like riding into opposing traffic or darting on and off the sidewalks, running red lights and stop signs or even changing lanes erratically. But I don't do those things, I pick a lane as far to the right as 'practicable' and signal when I am about to do something. Otherwise, I drive like any driver would and should.

Apparently that wasn't good enough for a brown haired lady in a champagne colored, four door sedan with Iowa license plates and an Iowa State University sticker (I remember so I can keep an eye out for this person in the future). As I went under the pedestrian bridge linking the JPMC building and the Plaza of the Americas, she pulled along side me in the next lane, and with her window rolled down, shouted "You are a fucking idiot."

At this point, she must have been riding high because the road was open and the lights ahead were green, so she sped off. What she didn't realize is that in downtown, there are lots and lots of red lights, and the average speed of a vehicle is roughly the same as a bicycle for any given stretch of road.

So naturally, she was stuck in traffic waiting for the light at Ross and the North Central Expressway when I pulled up. I noticed her window was still rolled down, so (in a total lapse of judgement) I pulled up and asked her if she had something she needed to say to me. She ignored me and rolled the window up.

This is, I believe, a syndrome of drivers who feel insulated from the ills of the world while in a car. What possible consequence could befall a person who decides to be a total bitch to someone else? Well, she should thank the Good Lord above that it was me she decided to piss off rather than someone with a violent temper. She didn't know me from Adam. What if I was armed? What if I had reached inside that open window and gotten inside her car?

To be fair, what I did was probably no better. She could have had a gun or a weapon. But still, I think this is a teachable moment.

This woman, for whatever reason, was completely unaware of the fact that I have the right to be where I was. She was completely unaware that it was her responsibility to share the road with me just like any other vehicle. I wouldn't be so quick to consider her a 'fucking idiot' but rather ignorant of the rules of the road.

I can only assume that she had been behind me in the far right lane (there are three total going one way, and I should add that city buses make frequent stops in that lane, so she was likely going more quickly behind me than a DART bus) and became frustrated that she couldn't go faster than 20 mph.

At any rate, I have decided to interpret her commentary as a plea for education. Sadly, it may be too late for someone like her who has no clue. But I think this underscores how critical it is to make drivers aware of the presence of bicycles. There should be more questions on the drivers license exam relating to cycling and study materials that explain how to share the road. School children should be taught at an early age how to operate bicycles safely in the street and eventually in the bike lanes that will appear in Dallas.

We have allowed this critical area of road safety to be forgotten by entire generations and it needs to be restored. Dallas has made a statement with its aggressive new bike plan that we intend to recognize cycling as a legitimate form of transportation, for young and old, rich and poor, for beginners and pros alike. Showing a subtle shift in transportation priority by giving cyclists a portion of the road is a start, but this must be a multi-pronged approach.

If by some miracle we attain the mode share of a city like Portland, where 7% of commutes are by bicycle, then we must ensure that the other 93% understand the rights of cyclists and the rules of the road. If not, then Dallas will be forever doomed to scaring away potential new riders who are not as bold or as ambitious (I believe that Bike Friendly Oak Cliff refers to them as 2%ers). Please, Dallas, begin the education process now, and who knows, maybe a younger generation can show the old folks a better way.