It’s a Sign

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Have you ever wished for a sign?

Me, too. And I got one!

A “No Turn on Red Sign” has been installed at the intersection where I was hit by an inattentive driver.

It is hard to explain how happy it makes me to see this sign. It feels like a big love letter just for me from Arlington County.

I am so grateful for the biking and bike advocacy community in Arlington and the DC area who I have gotten to know better in these last few months. The folks at WABA & BikeArlington are doing great work and offer many helpful resources.

I am especially grateful to Gillian Burgess of Kidical Mass Arlington and everyone else at the Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee who drafted and submitted a letter to the county manager requesting the “No Turn on Red” sign at this intersection. They specifically cited my being struck as an example for the need for the sign.

It is nice to know that sharing my story has helped improve a little corner of my community.

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Can you see me now?

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I was on the road this morning at 5:45 a.m. It was cold, dark and rainy. As I heard the approaching car from behind me, I repeated my breathy  mantra while pumping up Wilson Blvd, ” Please see me, please see me”.

On days like this, the escape velocity to get out of the orbit of my warm bed inside my warm house is off the charts and feels nearly impossible.

Against all odds, I made it out and you know what? It sucked. Just a little but then once I made it to the gym,  I felt proud. It wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.

The irony of biking to a spin class is often hard for me to overcome but is it really any less ironic to drive a short distance to exercise at a gym?

Thankfully, the rain stopped while I was inside the darkened cycling studio that feels like a  post apocalyptic training center for those who are to compete in some kind of stationary TRON-like sporting event. Don’t get me wrong, I love these classes. Perhaps that is obvious to you based on what I am willing to do to attend one.

As I suited back up for the outside world, I put on all my reflective, hideously bright gear, turned on my lights and headed out for the trail. Back on the multi-use trail, I often notice or rather my vision is accosted by something.

Some people have insanely bright lights. Too bright. And they have them flashing. The rear light flashing, I get that. I do that. But why do they insist on turning my ride into a potentially seizure inducing, blinding rave from hell?

More is not always better. I know that you want to be seen and be able to see. Good idea! But if the other cyclists are blinded and the drivers annoyed, you may actually be more dangerous than the ninjas who like to go without lights and wear dark colors.

Virginia law requires that you have one headlamp that is visible at 500 ft. I am actually not sure how bright that needs to be. I intend to get scientific about it and investigate. Does anyone know if those cute little lights Bike Arlington & other organizations give out meet this requirement? I hope so because I love those lights!

I am fairly certain that the lights I have seen far exceed that requirement. I could be wrong.

But I stand firm in my assertion that a blinking front light is a terrible idea.

My final plea to my bright-lighted cycling compadres… Please consider the eyes of those that you will cross paths with and point those lights towards the ground and make them steady.

Yelling and Yielding

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Sharing the road isn’t always easy.

On occasion while riding my bicycle,  I am yelled at by a person driving by in a passing car who seem to be angry at my mere presence. I have been told to “get on the sidewalk!” or “get off the road” and it made me so mad that I wanted to spit. I yell back with all my asthmatic might, ” I am a vehicle, this where I belong.”

I like to be informative.

It is true, though. Bicycles are considered vehicles on the road.  And yes, people riding on bicycles are expected to follow the same laws of the road as those traveling in motorized vehicles. I know, I know, a lot of cyclists don’t. It is maddening and I curse under my breath every time I see a cyclist blow through a red light.

On the other side of it, adults on bicycles have no business riding on sidewalks. The thing is lots of people do not know this either. And faced with being on the road with cars going 10 mph over the posted speed limit, I understand why folks make this choice.

When I have followed all the rules, planned my actions carefully and someone decides to slow down in the middle of an intersection, risk the lives of everyone around, to express their displeasure with my existence on the road, I feel defeated.

I wonder if this person assumes that all people on bicycles are riding for fun. For many cyclists on the road, their bicycle is their only vehicle.

I think it would help if we all do a couple of things.

1) Remember that inside the vehicles are human beings. You know, people, just like the ones you know and love.

This is a daily exercise for me and I often fail miserably.The road is such a tangle of movements and decisions by so many players, it is easy to witness someone doing something completely ridiculous or dangerous or just plain stupid and then react and comment.

So when I make commentary on other people’s driving, whether from the seat of a bicycle or behind the wheel of a sweet Mustang borrowed from an incredibly trusting friend, I try to remind myself to be kind and think of the person inside/ on the vehicle.

And then someone cuts me off and I am back to vocabulary like  “idiot” or “dumb-ass”.

I am a work in progress. As is the whole system.

2) Acceptance of what is.

Look, if cyclists are constantly annoying to you, I understand. But here is the thing, they are here to stay. In many places, like Arlington and DC, riding a bike makes sense on every level – economic, health, time, environment  So, it makes sense for us all to learn how to drive around cyclists and cycle around cars and pedestrians. As well as,  learn the rules/ laws and follow them.

Learning to get along with a little more yielding and a little less yelling matters. In fact it is a matter of life and death.

Lets think of it the 3 components like rock, paper, scissors.

car = rock

bike= scissors

pedestrian = paper

Except in this scenario paper never wins.

Car vs. Bike- Car wins

Car vs. Pedestrian- Car wins

Bike vs. Pedestrian- Bike wins ( seriously you can kill a person with your bike)

So pedestrians always lose in the collision department. They deserve extra care. Is it really so bad to wait for them when they have the right of way?

Some great resources for learning the laws and good habits on the road are:

http://www.bikearlington.com

http://www.waba.org

http://www.bikeleague.org

It’s Like Riding a Bike

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Transport by bicycle is both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Somehow, simultaneously.

At times, the weight, wind and topography make it seem like mission impossible to get across town.  The weight of the trailer carrying my 35 pound daughter, the lock, the snacks, and whatever it is I feel the need to drag along with me, tends to make me feel like an underappreciated pack mule.

We considered another option for carting around the offspring. It was the holy grail of cycling for transport for us for many months. We fantasized about how we might import one from Denmark, how we might build one ourselves and then finally we found a bike shop in DC that owns one and rents it out.

The Christiania Bike!LIGHT3115

It seemed like the answer to our prayers. The kiddo is in the front where she can easily be seen and monitored. Theoretically, what one can push might be more than what one can pull?   So, we metro-ed into DC and gave it a whirl. Our facial expressions in the photo below tell it all. We hated it! And I could not imagine maneuvering that thing on the hilly rides around Arlington. My thought was, this bike would be perfect for some place really flat with a well established bicycling infrastructure,someplace like, um…Denmark.image

Once the fantasy bike faded, I embraced my trailer set up more and more and now I feel naked without it, albeit slightly liberated and faster. This might also have something to do with being alone.

The easy part,  you ask? For many of the short trips around Arlington, I can get there in about the same amount of time as I do driving. Especially, if you include finding a parking spot. Also, it is possible to go places you can’t go in a car.  I have been discovering  nooks and crannies and bike trails of Arlington that I didn’t know existed.  Furthermore, arriving somewhere by my own effort gives me such a sense of accomplishment.  When I arrive at my destination,no matter how the ride itself went, there is always that “I did it” moment.

I can see this in the expression of my daughter when she first started pedaling on her bike solo. She couldn’t stop smiling as she propelled herself across the church parking lot. I am pretty sure that most of the time I am riding my bike, I wear the same perma- grin  across my face. I am giddy and proud.

Other People’s Cars

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I have been reluctant to post recently because, well, I feel like a hypocrite writing about my “car-free” diet. The reason being, in the last two months, we have spent a lot of time in cars.While on vacation, we rode in taxis and the cars of family members. After 3 weeks of riding in cars, I started to get used to it.

When we returned home from our travels, we rented a car for the weekend to ease the transition and stock up on supplies. Then, due to the travel of family members here, we have had access to a car on and off during the last month.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the end of this blog. We still use public transport and ride our bikes. We still don’t own a car and have no intention of buying one.

I would like to tell you that I was guilt ridden for enjoying so much car time. But it’s not true. I have been grateful for having access to a car. I could give you all the reasons cars are convenient and comfortable but, you already know this.

If you are considering going “car-free” but are worried about being trapped,stranded or hindered, don’t be. There are so many ways to access a car to drive without owning one.

Here are the 3 main ways we get our mitts on cars:
Car Sharing– Great for short-term use, easy to check in and out.
Rental Cars– If you are going to use a car from more than a couple of hours, the daily rate of a regular rental is likely more affordable than car sharing.
Borrowing Cars from family & friends – This is a nice option, if it is available to you.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Highway Policy Information in 2010 there were 6,222,928 registered vehicles in the state of Virginia representing 2.4 % of the national total. According to my calculations, that would mean that there are approximately 261,362,976 vehicles registered in the US.

I like numbers but what I am really saying is that Holy Crap there are a lot of cars out there. Not everyone needs to own one. If you get rid of yours, you aren’t stuck in some pedestrian wasteland of inconvenience. You’ve got options. You may even grow to love the non-car options of biking, walking and public transport. On the other hand, some days, you might want to drive other people’s cars.

Kicking and Screaming

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I did not embark on this “car-free diet” skipping and humming for joy. I was reluctant, skeptical and a complete whiny baby about the whole thing.

I had an excuse for everything:

Him – We have lived without a car before.

Me – But that was overseas, not here… in America.

Him – You bicycled across the United States.

Me – That’s different, I was 21 and now I am not AND I have a 3-year-old to get around.

Him – You can do this.

Me – But, how am I going to get to the gym in the morning?

Really?

Yes, my principal concern was how I would keep up my hard-earned habit of going to the gym at 5 am. Somehow, I could not fathom traversing the entire 1.5 miles between our house and the gym. A bit absurd, since I would happily push myself physically for an hour AT the gym. But, it IS cold and dark at that time of day. I was barely able to get myself to the gym WITH a car.  It was a worrisome prospect.

What finally pushed me over the edge to give up my beloved Volvo?

Was it that I realized I DID have experience being car free? Was it that I remembered we had chosen our location FOR its proximity to bike trails and public transit?

NO and NOPE.

It was the inkling that I was single handily paying for the college tuition of our Volvo mechanic’s children. A car that rarely leaves the boundaries of Arlington County and for which, a big day of driving is 20 miles, has no business needing THAT much mechanical attention! Yup, it was the money ($$$) that made the final sway.

I cried a little when I posted an AD on Craigslist to sell the car. I behaved poorly throughout the process. I had a serious buyer immediately and that freaked me out. I swooned about how much I loved the car as their family test drove it. I dragged my feet with vague contingencies on the sale and was extremely stubborn about terms.

For the final dramatics? My 3-year-old channeled my emotions and threw an impressive tantrum that included the kind of crying, screaming and kicking that I could only do in my mind. (Thanks, sweetie.)

When I finally signed away the title, accepted the CASH, cancelled the insurance, notified the DMV and declared our household car-free, to my surprise, the relief was immediate.

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My black beauty galloped down the road and our “car-free diet” began.