My cycling habits have changed over the years. I’m not sure if this change is due to: 1) biking more and more, 2) reading so much about transportation cycling, or 3) just getting older. Whatever the reason, I am a more careful and (dare I say) law-abiding cyclist than I used to be (broken collarbone notwithstanding).
To illustrate this point, I invite you to take a trip with me. A trip back in time to the year 2002. Or maybe it was 2003, I’m not really sure, it’s been a long time. This is also a trip in space – to the distant land of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Massachusetts Avenue – the stretch between Porter Square and Cambridge Common. The stretch that always feels like an East-West road no matter how many times one sees it on a map and realizes that it actually goes almost due North-South. But I digress. Mass. Ave. – as the locals like to call it:
This stretch was a regular part of my commute when I lived in the Davis Square area and worked in the Cambridgeport area. One day, I was biking to work on my quasi-crappy mountain bike, as I often did on nice days. I stopped at a red light and waited until the cross traffic cleared, then I continued through the intersection. That’s right I ran the red light! Total scofflaw I was back in the day. At the next light, a middle-aged woman wearing a color-coordinated cycling kit and riding a road bike pulled up behind me. Again, I waited until the traffic cleared and ran that light too. The woman passed me before we reached the next light. We waited, when the traffic cleared, I executed a bit of a “shoal” maneuvre, passing her and continuing through the intersection. There are several annoying lights along Mass Ave here, so this happened a few times. As I pushed off through the last light before Cambridge Common, the woman said, “You give cyclists a bad name.” I rolled my eyes and muttered (under my breath) “oh, bite me,” and continued on my way because I had to get to work and didn’t have time to change into different clothes. At the time, I took the woman’s comments as just another form of Cantabridgian Pedantry. (“Cantabridgian” is Cambridge-snob for someone who lives in Cambridge.) This sort of thing seemed to happen fairly frequently in the city of Harvard & MIT. People always getting up in your business about doing something wrong. Growing up in Kansas, I got less judging from my conservative Lutheran church than I got from the bumperstickers on the back of an average Cantabridgian Volvo (Oh how I loved living there!)
Sure, I rolled my eyes at the time, but obviously the incident has stuck with me over the years. Residual shame? Deep down, did I know that she was right? Or maybe I pitied her for her stick-in-the-mudness. Every once in a while, I’m struck with the urge to reprimand a cyclist about some idiotic behavior, but it is only the memory of that pedantic Cantabridgian that keeps me in check.
I got really close to saying something the other day when I saw this:
He’s biking on the wrong side of a relatively major street (Hope Street, just north of Olney), in rush hour, while his dog trots along beside him. I’ll have to admit that I’ve done this in the past, but I was on the sidewalk AND I WAS TEN YEARS OLD! Seriously, could there be any excuse for this? Although it’s legal for adults to ride on the sidewalk in Providence, in most cases it’s less safe than riding in the street. But in this case? Dude, just ride on the sidewalk. I was very close to yelling at this guy. I’m usually a little shy about taking pictures of strangers, but in this case I just stood on the opposite sidewalk and kept shooting as he slowly pedaled up the hill, his dog nonchalantly trotting in front of him, motorists looking perplexed and swerving away from him at the last second. I believe I’ve seen this guy around town subsequently. He was riding a brown Surly Crosscheck frame with some handlebar configuration other than drops. I believe it was a singlespeed as well. If you know this guy, for me, please tell him that he gives cyclists a bad name. And he’s stupid. And a jerk. And an idiot. And that’s all my pedantry for today.