It was the first day that I moved to Baltimore, in late June 2019. My lease to my apartment started on July 1st, so I stayed at a friend’s place on my first day moving in on June 24th. We agreed to…
I got my first proper two-wheeled bike when I was around 8 or 9. My dad and I went out one afternoon to get it after we both agreed that the training wheels weren’t going to do anything anymore. I picked out the bike myself: it was orange and black and had a decal of the Tasmanian Devil on the frame and just the right size. My dad had asked if I wanted something a little more subtle, a black and blue one, but I grew up watching Looney Tunes, so the Tasmanian Devil resonated with me more.
When we moved here, my parents got me and my sister bikes, too, from a garage sale in our neighborhood. She and I would bike to school once or twice a week. My mom told us to stay on the sidewalk when we do. It was always a bit of a challenge, especially where the sidewalk narrows on the bridge. I would always have to get off because although it was wide enough for me to pass through on my bike, my hands were always shaky because I was afraid of hitting the rails.
College took me to a different city altogether, and I came to realize the necessity and benefits of owning a bike. I could cut my commute time in half to and from campus, it would get me some exercise in a somewhat-sedentary day, and I wouldn’t have to awkwardly look at people in the eye as I walk past them. However, I could no longer stick to the sidewalks like my mom told me to because urban sidewalks are very different from the suburban ones I was used to.
So, I had to brave the streets. Except I’m a coward and I’m scared of the streets (I almost got run over three times or three different occasions trying to cross the road, and no, I wasn’t walking distracted in any of those three instances.)
The event that finally got me to convince my parents to get a bike was a field lab that required us to bike to our location. My parents got me another bike (this time from a Craigslist listing because it was such a short notice), and just in time for that lab, I sprained my ankle. I lent my bike to my lab mate who needed one and rode on the university car to the lab site.
I’ve ridden my bike plenty since then. To and from campus, to and from work, to and from different friend gatherings around my neighborhood, and I’ve learned plenty when it comes to urban biking. Stay to the right/slow lane. Hold up the appropriate arm to switch lanes. Don’t get on the sidewalk unless there’s plenty of space or there’s no pedestrian. Learn the quick-over-the-shoulder glance before switching lanes because drivers tend to be assholes and cyclists are ants to them.
Here’s the thing: bike lanes are actually a good thing (I know, shocker.) In the part of town where I currently live in — West Campus, Austin — bike lanes are more or less nonexistent. Cyclists share the road with drivers, and West Campus drivers are not exactly the most patient drivers. There’s perhaps only one properly protected bike lane in the entire half square mile neighborhood that runs about 8 blocks (on a road that actually sees mild, one-way traffic compared to other roads in the neighborhood.)
So why the backlash against protected bike lanes? Well, for one, bureaucracy, but that’s the dirty, complicated stuff. I think it’s the way our cities are designed. In a place like Texas, where land runs aplenty and there’s quite literally always room for growth, development grows out instead of up, and this outward growth always takes the assumption that people will automatically rely on cars. Highways are widened to accommodate more cars, and streets are designed to be driven at high speeds. Our cities are essentially designed against cyclists and pedestrians in mind, and efforts to improve or modify are typically met with the general consensus that whatever is already in place cannot be changed (because $$$).
Who knows, maybe one day cities will change with the bikes and people in mind. Until then, better learn the quick-over-the-shoulder glance so I won’t get run over when I change lanes (and this one goes out to the drivers, too. Y’all know who y’all are.)
This post was written as part of a class assignment. Any opinions and views presented above does not reflect the opinions and views of the class, the professor, and/or the university.
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