29
May
09

Living the life of a Vehicular Cyclist

I mentioned a week or two ago that I had decided to become a bike commuter. I think a better term is that of “vehicular cyclist”. A vehicular cyclist is probably best defined as a person who uses a bicycle for basic transportation needs, but that also includes acting like every other vehicle out on the road. Vehicular cyclists are actually and currently a rare minority among modern urban cyclists, since it is my belief that most cyclists who ride bikes for recreation and for transport, are either ignorant of the law, or willfully disregard it. Cyclists who use sidewalks, ride against traffic, fail to signal intent, blow through stop signs or lights, and who tend to be prone to colorful metaphors when approached about their behavior, tend to ruin popular opinion of cycling as means of recreation, transportation, and fitness, for the rest of us. Until fairly recently, I was one of these cyclists. I generally obeyed the rules, but there were plenty of times when, either alone or in packs, I acted like a single fish in a school, and blew through any and all traffic control devices with minimal regard to my own safety, the safety of others, and the general law.

I’ve said that it’s the anecdote in the paper that bleeds, leads, and reads… Well, that leaves us about 12,000 anecdotes daily when you look at a census of cyclists just in the East Dallas area in and around White Rock Lake. Cyclists have developed a reputation for being lawless, self-righteous bastards who want it both ways… They want the same roads and the same rights as motorists, but they also want the freedom to disregard those same rules. Furthermore, cyclists, in conjunction with disaffected motorists, have come to believe that in areas of high congestion, cycling is NOT advocated or appreciated on streets and roads without special lanes or even separated cycle-tracks. Yet bike lanes don’t solve a thing.

I used to be a HUGE advocate of bike lanes. Then, over the course of the last two years, a true mentor who has been a friend and acquaintance for almost 9 years now, and whom I knew of much, much earlier than that, took the time and had the patience to educate me on the limitations of bike lanes or dedicated bike tracks like rail-trail projects. I think the most profound thing I learned was that, once a lane is installed, or a track built, motorists will expect you to use it, instead of the road itself. Motorists WANT what I call “Gutter Bunnies”. They WANT you on the right hand side, or even on the sidewalk (which is itself illegal). Once you’re out of the way, they can show their OWN disregard for conventional law, and thus speed, or roll through stop signs, or change lanes without signalling, etc.

One of the biggest sources of cyclist/motorist friction comes from lane control. If a cyclist acts like a motorized vehicle, and takes the lane, then the honest-to-God’s truth is that most every motorist can and should treat that bike as a motorized vehicle. Sure, bikes are slower, but most neighborhood roads are meant for slow-and-steady type drives or rides, and let’s face it, there are ample places to pass, or announce that you need to pass. Finally, have you ever truly ridden in or near the gutter of a road? It sucks! Grit, grime, sand, slick stuff, and lots and lots of glass, which can ruin any ride.

Thus far, my commutes have been to and from the JCC from my house, and short trips to West Village and the Whole Foods on Lemmon and Lomo Alto. I’ll start riding over to my friend Todd’s house, and to the Panera near his home as well. We also rode up to our friend’s house a few weekends ago, through the Park Cities. One of the best things to come out of Vehicular Cycling with my wife (I purchased an identical bike to mine for her, just in ladies’ colors), is the fact that we ride TOGETHER now. There’s no need or opportunity to speed. Vehicular cycling is more social, more ‘together’, and when the dog is with us in the front basket, it’s more ‘family’ time.

I’ll try to post my rides and adventures or experiences as they come along, and I need to get a photo of the family on our bikes. It may have to wait a bit, though. June is already becoming a busy month.

One more thing. There’s a bike calculator that is pretty cool. It figures out just how much you’re saving by bike commuting. I thought I was doing it at around $.90 per mile, but in reality, it’s a lot less. However, the environmental benefits, social benefits, and health benefits far outweigh the replacement costs via car.

Here’s the link. http://commutebybike.com/

Gas Savings Calculator

Gas Savings Calculator

I’ll try to post the widget on both websites soon.

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