Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Well-Intentioned Lob

To understand this story, you have to know that the traffic engineers of Portland have devised some ways of including bike lanes on busy streets that at first glance look like insanity but after a trial period might even be construed as clever. Once the public learns to use them the right way, they can work well. In the meantime, a hairy experience can be had by all.

More about that another day, but for now you need to know that the bike lane I occupied was wedged in between two car lanes. Since a lot of cars turn right at this one corner, cars and bikes are directed to trade places in the previous block. Here’s a photo to help you imagine it.

As to what exactly happened, I’m busy writing it and will explain that here momentarily. Meanwhile, study the picture. See how the red car has changed over to the right lane, whereas the bike lane dot-dot-dots itself out of existence and picks up again to the left of the red car. The two lanes have changed places. As the story unfolds, I am just gliding up to a stop in front of the traffic light, between two car lanes, having just veered over from the bike lane that was on the right a minute ago.
Come back soon.

To continue, 2 hours and several interruptions later:
At the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM Saturday, there aren’t too many cars around. As I coast braking up to the red light I notice this rusty piece of machinery in the middle of the bike lane, about the size of a mouse but not as fun to run over on account of its sharp edges. The more I think about it, sitting there waiting for the green, the more sinister it becomes and the more lucky I feel that I've missed running over it. I'm struck with the idea that I need to rescue the entire biking population of Portland from such a dastardly fate, so I reach down and scoop it up. I’m about to toss it over to the right curb, because that’s only one lane over whereas the left curb is about three lanes over. So I transfer it to my left hand and wind my arm back to throw.

At this exact moment the shiny windshield of a car sails up next to me on my right, while a mere minute earlier I’d been the only person to be found operating heavy machinery at that insane Saturday hour. My reflexes having been sharpened by the last few months of all-weather riding, as my arm travels forward my astute fingers receive the message at the last possible second to cancel that command, and clamp down even and the projectile is lifting off the launchpads of my fingers. My arm continues on around, I lurch precariously sideways and forwards as I abruptly change my movement plan, but the day is saved and I continue on my merry way with the evil object still in my hand.

The driver may have thought my gesture unfriendly, but at least he couldn’t appear on television pointing to a shattered windshield and ranting about being randomly attacked by one of those evil bicyclists. He might go so far as to tell his co-workers that a cyclist gestured menacingly, but that is all. Even so, this is no doubt an example of how silly us against them rumors get started about cyclists and drivers.


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