Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mixed messages

Nearly every day on the bike I’m confronted with a mixed message. Most often, it’s the sign on a sidewalk curb cut that says “NO BICYCLES.” This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that bicycle RACKS are placed on sidewalks, typically a good distance away from the only access, which is that same curb cut. The signs don’t say “no bicycle riding on the sidewalk, not even to get to the bike rack” although that would be annoying enough. Nobody is ever forced to get out of their car and push it on foot to a parking place. The signs say “NO BICYCLES.” That means that there is often no legal way to lock a bicycle on a bicycle rack. (There may also be signs insisting that I not lock my bicycle to anything that I could reach from an area where bicycles are legally allowed.)

So I break the rules. If there aren’t people walking in the area, I ride right over that “NO BICYCLES” sign to the nearest rack to lock up. If there are people walking in the area, I usually get off and walk the bike to the rack. But in both cases I’m doing something I’ve been told I shouldn’t do.

There is no real space for bicycles, so when I’m riding my bike I’m constantly confronted with rules that contradict each other. As a result, at least once a day I have to make a decision about which rule I’m going to have to break so that I can follow a different rule.

When people complain that bicycle riders are “scofflaws” I think: how could riders be anything else? In San Francisco, I am legally forbidden from riding on the sidewalk, even though the sidewalk is the only place I can find a bicycle rack (or a meter). That’s before you even consider the road rules that drivers routinely ignore. In California, cars making a right turn across a bicycle lane are supposed to pull into the right lane near the corner, where the bike lane has dashed lines, before making a turn. If they are, as a result, stuck behind a bicycle that has reached the intersection first and is going straight: so be it. It is like being stuck behind a car going straight when you want to turn right. You have to wait for the car in front to go. When I’m on a bicycle, drivers assume that they can pull in front of me from the left lane and make a right turn on red, or block me from going straight on green, just because they’re in a car. It happens every single day. Some days I have had two cars make right turns on a red light in front of me at the same time, one from the right side (using an open parking spot) and one from the left side (using the car lane). Apparently bicycles don’t count as vehicles. Often drivers will start honking if there isn’t enough room for them to make a right turn on red light in front of me. I’m never sure what they want me to do, exactly. Maybe they want me to ride on the sidewalk. As a result, every day I have to worry that I’m going to be right-hooked at a dead stop.

The same drivers that I see doing these things, or rolling through stop signs without slowing, or stopping at red lights and checking for cross traffic and then cheerfully running right through them, insist that all bicycle riders should follow the rules of the road to the letter. Which rules? Should I risk being run over (again) by an angry driver to follow the rules of the road, or should I risk being run over (again) by an angry driver who’s insisting that I break the rules of the road? Decisions, decisions. PS: way to set a good example, guys.

When bicycle riders ask for separated infrastructure, they’re not asking for special privileges, they’re asking for clarification. For now it is simply impossible to do the “right” thing as a bicycle rider in the United States. That would be easy to change, and we’d all be a lot safer—everyone, whether traveling on foot, on a bike, or in a car or bus or train—if it did change.


Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

2013: not my favorite year. Some jerk ran me over with a car. It ruined most of 2013 for us, but with my full recovery estimated for (most likely) 2015, it’s kind of a gift that keeps on giving. But 2013 decided to slam the door on the way out, too. Over the winter break, I got conjunctivitis in both eyes. Between the infection gluing my eyes shut and the antibiotic ointment fuzzing over what was left of my vision, I couldn’t ride much (or read much, or walk much).

Rest in peace, buddy.

Rest in peace, buddy.

We did go out on Christmas Eve for Chinese food, which was fun (if kind of blurry for me, I rode slowly) until we came home and found that our elderly cat had had a stroke and was immobilized by the front door. Of course our vet closed for the holidays, so we ultimately bundled his poor trembling, incontinent body up in a blanket in front of a heating grate for the next 36 hours or so. On Boxing Day he was still unable to eat or walk so we euthanized him. (“Merry Christmas, kids! We killed your cat.”) I realized as we watched him go that it was the first time I had seen him relax in as long as I could remember. It was the right decision, but crappy timing.

Then when we went to Japantown for mochi making a few days later, the Bullitt’s saddle was stolen. Matt had adjusted the seat and forgotten to put the Pitlock back in place, so it was just a matter of time. That sucked. Then on New Year’s Eve at around noon, the water was shut off, thankfully temporarily. I opened a bottle of wine to welcome 2014, which at that point could not come soon enough.

Let's be friends, 2014.

Let’s be friends, 2014.

So far 2014 has been a relief. Unless you count my son falling over on his bike going up a hill on New Year’s Day—which I don’t, because he’s fine—nothing bad has happened yet. My vision is back to normal, the weather is unseasonably warm, and we are riding every day. Our son is riding his own bike more, and our daughter is mastering the idea of pushing the pedals forward on the trailer-bike.

This promises to be a busy month. One of my dissertation advisor’s rules was: whenever you go away for a week of vacation, there’s always two weeks of work waiting when you get back. Alas, so true.  But I appreciate the return to a familiar routine. I try not to take life for granted too much, and most days, it’s nice just to be able to ride again. Here’s to a lot more of that in the new year.


Filed under family biking, San Francisco