Monday, April 17, 2017

Little things. Every day.

Little things happen every day. Little things that remind you that to many drivers, a person on a bike is not to be taken seriously. Not really part of road traffic. Peripheral, like fire hydrants and sandwich boards

Take this afternoon, when I was on my way to the mall for garam masala and toilet paper. I take Kilborn now, if I can help it, rather than Heron: it's an eastbound route to Bank Street that cuts out most of the hair-raising crap near my apartment. But Kilborn, where it crosses Alta Vista, is really pretty narrow.

This is a signalized intersection without advance lefts. You've got a through lane and a turn lane heading each direction, and the turn lanes are super narrow. In fact, so are the through lanes: definitely not wide enough to let a car pass a bike with a metre of space. 

Partly because I started riding this route in the winter when the snowbanks covered half the through lanes, and partly because it is so narrow, and partly because on the west side of this intersection the pavement is severely potholed and broken, so that I need to be in the middle of the lane anyway . . . for all those reasons, I habitually take the lane before I reach this intersection when I'm westbound. There's a red light, usually. And Alta Vista being a major corridor, people often want to turn right onto it.

And today, as I was waiting for the light, I became aware of something large moving up beside me, and looked over to see a big black Volvo SUV pulling into the left-turn lane, then up to the intersection, and making the right turn around me as I gestured in exasperation, and shouted, "Hello, that's illegal, what the fuck, buddy!"

No, it wasn't particularly dangerous. I was stopped. The driver was moving fairly slowly. But it was . . . insulting. Demeaning. And frustratingly typical, If that driver had been stuck behind a car waiting for the green light, he would have waited: without even giving it a second thought. It wouldn't have occurred to him to try to queue-jump around a car. But a cyclist? I was supposed to be over at the side of the road. In the gutter, where cyclists are supposed to be. Out of the way. And if I wasn't going to "share the road" (in driverthink, that means "be somewhere not here") then he couldn't be expected just to wait behind me: I'm not a legitimate vehicle. It wasn't even like he was mad at me for taking the lane: I'm willing to bet he honestly didn't see that that was what I was doing. A cyclist taking the lane, in this driver's mind, was just a cyclist who was further from the curb than she should be, but still essentially at the side of the road where cyclists go, and so there was no reason not to make the right turn. 

And sometimes I get really sick of not being a "real" road user. Of the constant reminders that I don't get the respect that would be given someone in a car. Not out of open hostility. Just the way things are.

A month or two ago, an elderly man yelled "You're not a car," out his window at me after waiting at the light, in the same spot, for me to go straight and him to turn right. And it wasn't even anger: what I heard in his voice was the sort of resigned irritation that told me he actually knew I had the right to wait in the middle of the lane, but didn't feel I should have it. That someone had told him he was supposed to treat cyclists like cars, and he resented it, because he didn't think he should have to, and the dadgum government was being stupid, catering to us pompous bike riders who think we should get special rights over (read: have the same rights as) real, job-having, tax-paying folks in cars. (I know, it's a lot to get out of the tone of voice of a crotchety man in the rain, but it's the impression I got.)

I get tired of it. But it doesn't mean I'm going to stop taking the lane when I need to. Grumpy Man and Queue-Jumping Volvo Guy can just deal with it.

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