Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wonder-City!


With "the season of giving" in full swing, I thought I would share another story about riding on these Cream City streets. What new anecdote do I have to impart to you? I'm glad you asked.

Stopping at lights/STOP signs in traffic can be somewhat tricky. Many... make that most... sources/guidelines (including the Department Of Transportation) suggest the best place to be while at a stop is away from the curb. Curb leaners stand the chance of getting caught with the dreaded "right hook".

The right hook is what happens when a driver makes a right turn, and clips you because said driver didn't notice you at the stop. The closer you are to the curb, the more invisible you become. As you can imagine, the busier the traffic you're riding in the more oblivious to your presence drivers become. This translates into the more visible you should be by positioning yourself where you know they are more likely to notice. Furthermore, when there are three or more vehicles ahead of you at the stop you should actually position yourself in traffic (behind the vehicles). This is a great segue into one my newest bicycling adventure.

A few days ago, on my work commute, I decided to take a less peaceful route to work. This route is one I've been using as Old Man Winter makes his way into town. Basically, I ride to a nearby (home) bus stop and take the bus to a stop within 2-3 miles from work. I get off at that stop and ride the remainder of the distance to work. Reads fairly nice, doesn't it? That's because I haven't written in the bit about there being no painted bike lane on that particular street yet. And, with no painted lane, I need to be bold enough to hold my place on the road.

Well, I do just that. And, at stops, I make certain I'm at least the recommended three feet from the curb. Three plus feet from the curb places me and my bike just poking into traffic, and nearly impossible to fall victim to the right hook. I peek over my left shoulder at one particular stop, and notice a car approaching from behind with right turn light flashing away. There is no turn lane at the stop, so the car is forced to stop behind me.

I must admit to feeling a bit of concern about practicing defensive bicycling methods in rush hour traffic. But I remind myself this is the most crucial time to put this knowledge to good use. I, and other cyclists, are most vulnerable to inattentive drivers when said drivers are in a hurry. I also remind myself of the fact no stop lights in the city of Milwaukee are longer than a (reported) 90 second wait. A minute and a half isn't going to make much of a difference to anyone at this time of day. Right? Well, my motored counterpart isn't operating from the same set of rules/guidelines/safety practices as I am on this particular morning. The driver lays on the car horn. I, attempting to stay in my "happy place", do not turn around. Something tells me I know exactly why I don't want to turn around. And... if you've read any of my previous entries... you, too, know why I don't want to turn around.

The driver, once again, lays on the horn. I turn around in hopes, maybe, I dropped something and the driver simply wants to be a good neighbor. No... no such luck. As soon as my head is turned in the direction of the car, the driver begins motioning AND shouting for me to get on the sidewalk. The car window is up, so I can only hear a muffled shouting on my side of the glass. Phew! Thank God for little blessings. I think, "You should walk over and shrewdly instruct this person to check out bicycle road rights/rules on the". I think better of it when a scenario of the car driving over my bike plays out in my mind. I shout, "I'm a vehicle on the road. I have the same rights as you", and shrug my shoulders. I mean, what else can I do? The driver can't hear me through the glass, and I'm not prepared to walk over to attempt a drawn-out debate. I can only hope hope this individual is angry enough to mention it to a person whose opinion she actually values, and that truly person knows the rules of the road. Maybe they'll visit the DoT website together?

I turn to face the direction of travel. I hear another car horn. This time I will not turn around... it's not the same car. I think to myself, "Oh no! The natives are getting restless". With all the tension over the political and economic direction this state feels we should be headed, a person on a bike must seem (to some) as a proud, defiant liberal... especially when riding in the month of December. I mean, who does that... Right? What self-respecting Capitalist would give up absolute comfort to engage in a fun, healthy, and fiscally conservative form of transportation? Are these people two of the out-of-control, hardcore political conservatives I've seen and read about? Will they debark the vehicles to burn me at the stake, like a witch in Salem? Against my better judgement, I turn - expecting a stronger dose of scolding. To my delight it is a coworker, and she brings a little sunshine to my cloudy commute in saying "Good morning, Amado".

She, then, begins honking the car horn and signaling to the other driver. The driver won't look in her direction. She simply cuts a burning gaze in the direction she wants to turn. The light changes, and we're all THANKFULLY moving again.

For the umpteenth time since getting back on two wheels, the guidelines I am so studious about reading and memorizing pay off. I look up toward the heavens and say, "Thank you". And I recall Bicycle Times, the DoT website, and every other source I use to learn my rights and gain knowledge regarding my safety. My bicycle, while fun to ride, isn't a toy. It is a (FREE-WOOHOO) registered, moving vehicle. My lights alert pedestrians, as well as drivers, I'm on the road. My (front & back) brakes help me stop when the need arises. My personal state of awareness allows me to navigate safely through MKE and beyond. If I (on my bike) want to be taken seriously on the streets of Cream or any other city, I ought to conduct myself as a serious mode of transportation... especially while traveling in rush hour traffic.

Finally, as indicated in the title of the blog, I live in Milwaukee WI. Unfortunately, the city salts to deal with snow & ice. I'm not too keen on dealing with salt on my bike or riding 15+ mile commutes in single digits above, or double digits below, zero weather... which means I'll soon park the bike until the March thaw. My knit cap is off to all the riders who ride throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota winters. The winters of the two states are notoriously brutal... known even in parts of Europe. The missus is from Europe, and the only European she's met who didn't shrink at the thought of an upcoming Wisconsin or Minnesota winter is a coworker... from Russia.

But parking my bike until March 1 will also give me time to tweak my bike a bit AND work on some much neglected art projects.

Stay warm & tolerant!


- @

"Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle." - Helen Keller