Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Different Perceptions

It was a sloppy slushy day, just after a storm. The plows had made the rounds on the main streets, but had yet to visit any side streets. Or quiet secondary roads, for that matter. A day where it is easy to justify taking the car, and on many similar days I would have. On this particular day though the car was not an option. A small drawbacks to being a single car family; sometimes the car is unavailable to be parked across town for eight hours. So I rode my bike. The temperature was not to cold and except for the fact that parts of my normal route were impassable, not a bad biking day. An unremarkable winter commute, except this one brief interaction with a driver as I was turning left from Bank St. onto Fifth Ave.
"I'm a cyclist and that's not safe!"

These interactions are so rich, yet completely pointless. So, first: driver, cyclist or "cyclist too" don't scold people on the roadway. Especially if you're not going to stick around for a conversation. If you are planning on a conversation don't expect it to remain polite...
This interaction was so brief, I really have no idea what was so unsafe my fellow cyclist felt he had to tell me from inside of his car. I of course jumped to the conclusion "that's not safe", refereed to my left turn and my (legal and proper) road position preparing for said left turn. I don't know. Maybe he was expressing solidarity as he felt the car in-front of him did not give enough space (as he didn't give me more space... well it is a possibility). That is of course provides the richness of these interactions and the declaration "I'm a cyclist" is the cream that takes the dish over the top. Never will a cyclist say this whilst on an actual bike, that would be redundant. Put a "cyclist" in a car or behind a keyboard and "I'm a cyclist..." is the standard appeal to authority or authenticity, except it always fails.

I was going to go on and on about how "safe" riding was that day, but really that is beside the point. I felt safe, I knew that Bank St. was salted and not icy. Monk St. (a quiet street to the west) was probably not cleared so my choice was obvious. I'm a confident strong cyclist co vehicular left-turns are totally normal, along with the close passes on the right. Obviously the "cyclist" who chose to drive has a different calculation and balance for what is "safe". I'll never really know what "I'm a cyclist" actually objected to, or what would have gotten him out of his car that day. The one thing I am sure of is if "I'm a cyclist" would spend the energy making my choice to cycle more safe instead of scolding me, we'd both be better off.
Yelling at a cyclist through a car window probably takes as much concern and energy as signing an on-line petition: Ottawa Bicycle Lanes Project. Sign it! It is worth while, the political will for complete streets and bicycling is waning in Ottawa. Your voice is important. You may think I'm crazy for cycling on a sloppy slushy day,maybe you wouldn't but there are lots of mild dry days between November and April that it is possible to make a local trip by bike. All you need is cleared routes and places to park. For that simple easy request that would benefit many (not just cyclists or potential cyclists, think strollers, wheelchairs...), a huge amount of political will is required. This is why your voice is important.