Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Somewhere a village is missing its idiot

Recently I was out in my car, driving down Hawthorne toward the river and this bike gets in front of me. Meaning, I came upon a bike going the same direction I was going. As Portlanders know, there isn’t a speck of room to ride a bike on Hawthorne. There’s absolutely no room for error at all – it's heavily used and the opposing lanes are separated by the width of the yellow line in the middle.

So here’s this suicidal maniac tooling along in my lane, going five miles an hour when the flow of traffic is about 25, and even though he’s sort of at the edge of the lane, there’s no way to pass him without risking a head-on with another car.

Is this really allowed? You often see cyclists “taking the lane” as they say, in other words pretending they’re a car and occupying the middle of a lane. Usually these kinds of cyclists, however, are wearing some type of spiderman costume and are riding almost as fast as the cars. They’re kind of making a statement, such as, If the car-heads haven’t made me a lane, I’ll just bloody well take a lane,” or the like.

That’s not what was going on here. Clearly this guy was just stupid. No doubt he was completely oblivious and didn’t even realize that cars couldn’t get around him. He’s riding over toward the edge, as if that helps, but no one can pass him, which anyone with two brain cells to rub together would be able to see. Not only that, he’s further increasing his chances of annihilation by riding directly in the path of any and all hypothetically opening car doors.

Does anyone know what the rules on this really are around here? I’m curious. This can’t be right. Anyway, he gave the car-driving me a huge bad attitude, that lasted till he went away.


At 1:25 PM, Anonymous mick said...

A bicyclist has the right (in Oregon) to "take the lane" if there is no bike lane or if the bike lane is unsafe. Taking the lane means riding in middle of the lane thereby making it impossible for traffic to pass without changing lanes.

I do this all the time because it is simply safer. If there is very little room on the right side of the road, trying to ride there is dangerous because cars still feel they might be able to pass you. If you drive in the middle of the lane, it's clear that they cannot.

And it doesn't matter how fast the cyclist is moving just as there is no minimum speed for cars. Assuming that the idiot delayed you, how many minutes do you think he cost you? Sometimes I am flabbergasted at how upset people get for wasting less than 10 seconds of their time on the road. People really need to keep it in perspective.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Thanks for clarifying the law about that, Mick, I wasn't sure. And you're right, it's much safer to take the lane than to squeeze over and give the illusion that there's room to pass. When a cyclist is taking the lane, as a driver I at least feel more confident that they have some kind of purposeful plan in mind. This guy had sort of a wobbly demeanor made me feel unsure, like he might do anything at any moment.

As for the slowness, I was telling myself those very ideas you mention -- like how much of a hurry am I in, anyway? I am, after all, a cyclist myself, and am usually travelling at his speed.

But you know, I would never ride my bike on a street like Hawthorne if there was an alternative -- which there was. He could have been on one of the parallel streets with much lighter traffic. Or if necessary, the sidewalk.

I use the sidewalk a lot, in areas where there aren't very many pedestrians (which there weren't on that section of Hawthorne). Whether it's legal or not, I think it's a good option.I'm slow and careful and always give peds the right of way. I avoid scaring them.
In my view, a cyclist is half pedestrian and half vehicle.

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Toni said...

Interesting topic. I was curious enough to go look up the Hawaii law, which seems to boil down to you shouldn't take up the lane on a bike except when you have to. Come to think of it, short of banning bikes altogether, what else could a law say? But I know what you mean about the frustration (you read my all-too-frequent mind) and, yes, I know it's irrational to count the lost seconds. What mostly frustrates is the mismatch between cars and bikes. Cars are ridiculously overpowered for city driving and bikes recall a gentler age: they really don't belong on the same tarmac. But is bikes on sidewalks the solution? As a practising pedestrian, I'm not too keen on that one, either.

BTW, biking seems to be ramping up in Honolulu and the city is beginning to take notice. I'll try and dig out the details if I have time.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger George said...

To give some perspective regarding that paved area called "Hawthorne"
I offer up some text stolen from the web site of the League of American Bicyclists: The League began as the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) in 1880, and was responsible for defending the rights of cyclists from its start. The League of American Wheelmen is credited with getting paved roads in this country before the reign of the automobile.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Thank you, George, for reminding me of one of my favorite bicycle facts, which I’ve known since 1972. I think cars should be relegated to the bumpy, unfinished, lower-maintenance roads (and I promise that my driver self will not complain), and the lovely smooth asphalt should be reserved for the bicyclist -- whose wear and tear on that expensive material is nil.

While we’re waiting for that to happen, here’s one cyclist who’s not willing to compete for lane space with other wheeled behemoths hundreds of times heavier and bigger than I am.

I know that as a bicyclist I would be right to take a lane, but sometimes you have to pick whether you want to be right or you want to be alive.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Toni, you hit the nail right on the head. The thing that’s fundamentally responsible for all the friction and bad feelings (and of course, the accident rate) is the mismatch. And yes, cars are ridiculously overpowered for city driving. They just are. Cars and bikes go together like elephants and fleas. They need to be separated. Unfortunately it’s too late in our urban planning for us to be Amsterdam.

Regarding sidewalk usage: as a cyclist I feel equally unwelcome on a sidewalk as I do on a street – just like when I’m using the street, I get frequent messages that I don’t belong there. I only ride on sidewalks that are relatively empty and I make it very clear that the pedestrians have the right of way. I ride very slowly and I pull over if a tight spot comes up or if an approaching ped looks the slightest bit alarmed. I’m not one of these speedburner types who force walkers to leap out of their path, leaving heart attacks in their wake wherever they ride. But I realize my stellar behavior doesn't change the fact that there are those types out there.

Sidewalks aren’t a great solution for cyclists, but neither are bike lanes that suddenly disappear, leaving the cyclist on a busy street without a lane. Portland is full of those.


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