Opinion: Don’t be part of the problem

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By Eric McKeegan

American cities are a wonderful place to live. Really. Regardless of perceptions, the number of violent crimes and automobile deaths have been dropping for decades. But things are suddenly getting worse, apparently. According to streetsblog.org, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2015 are up 10 and 13 percent, respectively. Many of us that ride the roads regularly started feeling this long before these stats were released.

We all know someone who has been hit by a car while riding. The odds are good you’ve been hit yourself if you’ve been at this long enough. Something is different now. Something different enough to scare some formerly-hardcore riders off the bike on public roads.

It is too early for anyone to determine what is causing it. Read the comment section on any news report related to bicycles and you’ll find a large part of the public thinks we bring this on ourselves. That is a hard argument to support with logic, but it certainly points out a serious problem. The public views cyclists as a crew of daredevils with little regard for our personal safety, traffic laws and automobilists’ (wow, that is a word?) incredibly important time.

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Perceptions don’t cause collisions, but they do create resentment and resistance to creating more and better transportation infrastructure. It’s hard enough convincing people that bikes belong on public thoroughfares in the first place. So maybe, in a not-so-direct way, perception can cause collisions?

It’s something to keep in mind the next time you blow a stop sign, or roll though that red. While it might be ridiculous, each of us represents all cyclists to the non-riding public, as evidenced recently in Pittsburgh. After a cyclist’s death, local riders are being scolded by law enforce- ment, told to obey the law and informed they are being watched. Imagine police doing that to you in a car? Yeah, never going to happen.

Everyone knows that cyclists don’t kill people. Even minor accidents caused by cyclists are exceedingly rare. But it still seems like we are getting away with murder on the streets as we seemingly breeze through traffic with little worry about the rule of law. In reality, the only get-out-of- jail-free card that works with amazing consistency, and only for drivers, is the phrase “I didn’t see him”.

Maybe this is all a nationwide “bikelash” similar to what happened in New York City in the past decade. During her time as commissioner of the city’s department of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan made sweeping changes to public spaces and the streets. During her tenure in the Bloomberg administration, the city installed almost 400 miles of bike lanes, launched the wildly successful Citi Bike program, and installed more than 60 pedestrian plazas throughout the city, including one that eliminated car traffic on Broadway at Times Square.

These types of success stories give me hope, but they won’t stop people from getting killed tomorrow. Why? I think we all know why. I bet you have one in your pocket or within arms reach as you read this. That little screen that promises to deliver one more social media hit, one more text message, one more dating app match. The siren song of notification. An email from work that needs attention. The latest political news on Twitter. The text from your ex wondering when you are going to pick up the kids. A message on Facebook from a high school classmate you haven’t seen since 2001.

These things aren’t unimportant, but trying to deal with them while piloting a 3,000 pound vehicle on roadways is a recipe for disaster. The allure of the app is strong. They are designed to get our attention and keep us occupied. And they are effective. Probably too effective.

Photo: Leslie Kehmeier

Photo: Leslie Kehmeier

What do we do? I really don’t know. We can install more blinky lights, and put on reflective vests and try to control the lane and do all the right things. But if someone is looking in at a cell phone rather than the road, it won’t really matter.

We can put our cell phones down while we are driving. We can teach our kids not to text and drive. We can talk to our friends and family about putting the phone down. We can work to get laws passed that make distracted driving a very unattractive thing to do.

And maybe next time you roll up to that intersection on your bike, try harder to not be so blatant about just rolling though. Everyone is watching. At least those people not watching their cell phones.

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Two Wheeled Musings

Words by Paul De Valera

My bicycle is my best friend, my only true ally in this world. My bicycle will never betray me. Though it may break and throw me off into a bush or get a flat and make me push it now and again, it won’t ever work toward my undoing — not intentionally, that is.

My bicycle is always there when I need it, and as long as I take care of it, the bike will take care of me. By using my bicycle, I get to go places, see things and travel under my own power. Powering myself makes me empowered. My mind becomes sharper and my body stronger. By using a bicycle I become a better person, a stronger person. The bicycle is a stalwart companion when all of my human interactions have failed me again for the umpteenth time; when tears race down my face as I pedal to the top of a mountain, each pedal stroke has a leveling effect, bringing me back to balance. All the sense of loss, hurt and anger created in this world are pedaled out. My bike is propping me up when, if left alone to my own strength, I would be in a fetal position.

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When I’m troubled, the bicycle unravels mental and emotional knots, helps to solve problems and keep me even-keeled. There could be times when you can’t articulate what is wrong, but your bicycle won’t care; it will just be a good friend to you and take you on your way for as long as you need. It has eternal patience. When my father died and I was sobbing out of my head with grief, I shunned the comfort of my family and got on my bike. I rode and rode and even pushed up a few peaks. As I kept pedaling, I processed my whole life experience, and before I knew it, I felt better because I had my best friend ever to lean on: my bicycle.

Every other morning, I try to get up and to the top of the mountain as the light of day is just glancing over the horizon. There is nothing like getting to the summit of a lonely peak and being greeted by a sunrise; it never fails to put a smile upon my face. While you can try to sum up life in trite little pithy sayings that can be slapped on a bumper sticker, these little things here on my bike are really what, to me, build up a good life worth living. And while I can’t remember every sunrise, I can remember the place it takes me, and that is what always brings me back.

There is a tree that I like to ride to; it’s a lonely tree on a fire road that has become my quiet place. When I get there I just take a moment to soak in the quiet. I don’t need to stay long — just a taste is all. The sounds of traffic, phones, endless talking and noise to no end will always be, but for now, right now, it’s just me, my bicycle and my quiet place.

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One day it will be gone. Even though I’m strong now, one day I won’t be. I burn, yet one day I will be burnt. I intend to ride long hours into my long years, but I will not be blowing past carbon fiber wonder bikes uphill on a 44-pound cruiser forever. The day will come when I can’t ride like I used to, and the day will come when the trail is just a memory and no longer a daily plan. So I ride.

Ultimately, it comes down to love. Riding a bike, for me, is love, and I can never love enough. One day I will be old and wrinkled; I will have lots of white hair and many, many well-used, well-loved bicycles with scratches, rust and bald tires. But I will know that I did what I did out of love. I will look back at all of those rides without regret. So never make an excuse to not ride; make an excuse to go. You’ll never regret the choice.

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Essay: Finding home by bicycle

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I realize it seems odd to live near some of the country’s greatest mountains—mountains that enticed me to move here to begin with—and to spend my summer weekends running away from their cool-air majesty. In the sweltering heat of the lower, rolling corners of Colorado that don’t appear on tourist websites or Strava segments, I am finding a little taste of Texas.

I am not interested in moving back to the Lone Star State, but lately I find myself searching for small tastes of the place I still reflexively call “home.” Things like good Mexican food from colorful hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don’t have English translations on the menu but do have tributes to the late singer Selena on the wall. Things like endless rolling hills crossed by low-trafficked roads that wind up, over and around farm and ranch country, all drenched in a hazy blue sky that affords sunburns, 50-mile views and plenty of space to think big and feel small.

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The former is somewhat hard to find, so I learned to make my own homemade flour tortillas and annually import special meat seasonings (via my mom when she comes to visit). The latter is what I have lately been after on my bike, which means eschewing Colorado’s famed mountain routes and driving sometimes two hours in search of the unloved barrenness of plains and plateaus. And I’ve been wondering why I’m doing it.

Those tastes are not inconsequential and, though I did not really intend to seek such experiences, the search seems well underway. The Hill Country north of San Antonio is where I cut my teeth as a bicycle lover. I jumped straight from learning to ride late in life (age 10) to placing third in the elementary school bike rodeo to 30-, 40-, 50-mile road rides far from home as a teenaged cyclist. For some reason, I have missed those long, rambling, head-clearing days on the bike.

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Last weekend, I found one of those rides an hour from home: 50 miles of dirt roads that drift straight and narrow through the low hills southeast of Denver. Gradual climbs and descents punctuated by occasional short steeps are well familiar, as are the strong smells of cow manure, the summer sounds of frogs and crunching gravel, the need to hold your breath as a truck pulling a horse trailer barrels by (don’t want to breathe in too much dust) and the sanity-questioning intensity of riding through the middle of the day sans shade. The only things unfamiliar were the clusters of pine trees and, on the return trip, the stunning view of Pike’s Peak shrouded in thunderstorms.

On roads straight and brown and sweet-smelling as a raw two-by-four, you can do quite a lot of thinking. Or not. I believe that’s the point. The time in my life when I was disappearing on long road rides in central Texas coincided with upheaval, growth, questioning (my teenaged years, remember). At 30, I don’t share the same life angst felt by my high school self, but I am again at a point in life requiring persistent deep thought.

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I am certain that is what has triggered the intense desire for these types of bike rides. Physically, I have no need to go home. Mentally, I have every need to go home to the types of places where I remember doing my best thinking, and that means riding through my memories on roads like the ones I explored in my youth. No other activity grants me such access to both the past, present and future all at once, while giving me time to think about it all in cadence with my physical self. Pedal strokes align with breaths align with miles align with thoughts.

It’s a big part of why I love to ride.

 

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