I’m having trouble sleeping, so I thought I would “pen” this entry which I’ve meant to do for a while now…
So, the other day, Carolyn and I were walking to the mailbox a few blocks from our house. We go there because the pick up is early-ish (11:30 AM) and we seem to have good luck getting our DVDs back to Netflix pretty quickly when shipped from there.
Now, Altoona’s not really a pedestrian-friendly city in general. It’s hilly and sidewalks are scarce — sidewalks without tall weeds or 3-inch steps in the middle rarer still.
We’d made it down to the busy (ish) street that we have to cross along the way, and were waiting for traffic to pass so that we could cross. From this traffic comes a burgundy mini-van careening around our corner from the busy street up the relatively peaceful street we’d just walked down. As the driver came around the corner, a little wide to avoid us, she screams out her passenger window “Use the sidewalk!” I barked a reply “What Sidewalk?!?” narrowly avoiding vocalizing the “Bitch!” that came so readily to mind to follow. (Tourette’s being one of the syndromes I’m so glad not to have.) And truthfully, in the past 3 blocks we’d just walked only about 1/2 of one of the blocks had anything resembling a sidewalk.
But this did get me thinking. She was angry at us, because she “almost” hit us. And it started to make sense. Really, she was expressing concern for us (and possibly also liability issues for herself). By the combination of us both being on the road (us on foot, and she in her vehicle), we set up the possible scenario where she might have hit us with her minivan. That would have been bad for us clearly, and probably bad for her as well. Seen that way, it was a little more touching (in the good way). It also helps to bear in mind that I think psychologically, when we find ourselves in bad situations, we expect the fault for that situation to be external unless the situation is immediately preceded by an action or decision of ours that we know to be dubious or flat-out wrong. The driver did what she has done hundreds or thousands of times to no ill-effect — namely make that right turn, a little fast perhaps, but generally within tolerance. But this time, it didn’t go as smoothly, therefore the fault is external to her.
It also helped me understand people who, surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal super-structure, claim that bicyclists, straddling < 10 pounds of metal, endanger them by traveling the same roads as them. I think it comes from a lack of understanding of “what is a vehicle” or “what is allowed to be in my space.” Such a driver might be similarly frustrated or angry should they come upon a tractor trailer moving slowly up a hill, or through the twisty backroads. But such vehicles are clearly both 1) there with a “worthwhile” purpose – to transport the goods that the driver needs, and 2) too big to be bullied. So, when a commuter is slowed by something like that in his/her path, it’s unfortunate. But when a bicyclist is in the way – one who is presumably recreating, and can easily be forced off the road or at least made afraid by a close pass, it’s easy to see how it happens. I think, that whether they realize it or not, those drivers who say that bicyclists put them at risk are actually mad at themselves. They’re running late. They didn’t anticipate that other vehicles that aren’t as fast as theirs might be using the same roadway. They came upon the cyclist too fast to properly pass the other vehicle, and so are forced to make a choice between two unpleasant alternatives. Either they can pass the cyclist unsafely to themselves by going into the opposing lane without being able to sufficiently ascertain that there will be no oncoming traffic, or they can pass the cyclist unsafely to the cyclist, grazing by just inches away. It is, certainly, a regretable choice but one that can be avoided by a little bit of patience and awareness that while an automobile may be the norm for road travel, it is not the only vehicle that may travel the road. Please watch out for others, both bigger and smaller, slower and faster. Peace out, and stay on the damn sidwalk, fools 😉