Friday, December 30, 2005

My mind is in the gutter

There is a segment of the bicycling community that opposes the creation of bike lanes. One of the main gripes against bicycle lanes is practical: Bike lanes become repositories for road debris, which is particularly damaging to bicycle tires. Another argument is more philosophical: Bicycle lanes segregate cyclists to separate facilities. This is a slippery slope, they fear, ultimately leading to the exclusion of bicycles from streets without bicycle lanes. Some folks say, bike lanes are bike ghettos. It's a compelling argument.

I use my city's only north-south bicycle lane on a daily basis, except the portion that runs along Lincoln Street. Lincoln is a one way street running north, making it completely inappropriate for a bicycle route. I quickly learned that riding my bicycle with traffic (as state law requires) would place me on a collision course with a relentless parade of wrong-way cyclists. No thanks.

Lately I'm becoming sympathetic to the first argument against bicycle lanes. South of Victory Drive, the Habersham Street bicycle lane is full of leaves. Some of these leaves have fallen directly from trees. Others have been moved from the yards of homes (including the yard of one prominent local official) into the bicycle lane.

These leaves don't pose much of a problem for me, as I usually ride on the left edge of the lane. However, they are a potential hazard for nighttime and rainy weather cyclists. Admittedly, this situation is seasonal. Once the trees have ejected all their leaves, the danger will diminish. However, in the spring the leaves will surely be replaced with mounds of grass clippings.

Other objects can be found in the bicycle lane at all times of year. I'd like to think that this truck was parked this way in an attempt to leave a portion of the bike lane clear. But I'm doubtful of good intentions in this case. The end result is that this truck is blocking a portion of the bicycle lane and all of the sidewalk. A police officer could have cited the owner of this truck for two different violations. I wonder how many police cruisers passed this location while the truck was parked there.

On a more positive note, while I was waiting at a traffic signal this morning a cyclist pulled up behind me. I turned around and said good morning. Not only was she riding on the correct side of the steet, but she also waited for the light to turn green! These two actions placed this cyclist delightfully at odds with most of the other bicycle operators I see every day. It was an after Christmas miracle!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hari's today, gone tomorrow

Since I've been commuting by bicycle, I've seen two new restaurants open for business, watched the rehabilitation of a dilapidated house, and observed other houses become more dilapidated. Yet, I try to resist focusing too much attention on the residential and commercial structures I pass each day. Why? Because I have yet to encounter a building that was racing to beat me to the next traffic signal, stepping off the curb in front of me, or rolling straight toward me in the bicycle lane. There are plenty of motorists, pedestrians and wrong-way cyclists to perform those tasks, so I try to stay attentive to them.

One building I feel safe in inspecting closely is Hari's Food Store, a formidable contender for the title of Savannah's least attractive convenience store.
The reason I got into the habit of surveilling Hari's is this: It is source of successive waves of automobiles that flow into the roadway. The operators of these vehicles seldom show much regard for approaching cars and display absolutely none for approaching bicycles. I've found it pays to keep an eye on Hari's and prepare for evasive maneuvers, whether one is traveling down Habersham Street by bike, car, truck, sports ubiquity vehicle or M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

Last week, I noticed something different about Hari's. There weren't any cars were streaming out of the parking lot into my path. In fact, the store was locked and completely empty. While the lights were still on, the interior of the store was clearly devoid of shelving and merchandise.

One of my coworkers lives less than 200 yards from Hari's. I've heard him complain about Hari's for a reason different from my own: It is the source of successive waves of honey bun wrappers, empty beer bottles and losing scratch-off tickets that wash ashore in his front yard. I figured he'd be pleased that the place was locked up. When I asked him about it, he said he had no idea Hari's was closed.

Cars insulate us not just from the weather, but from the life of the neighborhoods through which we drive. To become aware of the subtle day-to-day changes in our communities, a different sort of vehicle is required. I'm lucky that I get to use such a vehicle almost every day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More posting than riding

Yesterday I wrote that I couldn't remember the last time I drove to work. But I can remember the last time I was driven to work. That was today. The threat of heavy thunderstorms and an office function at which unwet clothing was required kept me off my bike.

On the way to work not a drop of rain hit the windshield. Looks like the skies are clearing now. But that doesn't matter. I don't care if I get wet on the way home.

Tomorrow I ride!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More riding than posting

The lack of activity on this blog could be interpreted as a sign that the Bike Year is over, that I abandoned the experiment. But, actually, the opposite is true. I've continued to ride on almost a daily basis. I honestly cannot remember the last time I drove to work.

Using my bicycle for tasks that previously would have placed me in the driver's seat is not really an "experiment" these days. It's part of my daily life. And I suppose that's why I haven't felt compelled to post in recent weeks. It all seems so unremarkable. I now understand why Bike Year hasn't attracted many visitors. It isn't terribly interesting. In fact, I guess it's pretty boring.

Still, as I peel months off the calendar, I've become aware that even though utility cycling has become my routine, it is always changing. The big change lately is the weather. Having lived in South Georgia and North Florida for most of my life, I've never owned a decent pair of gloves. Even when I lived downtown and walked a lot, I never bothered with gloves. After all, they are already sewn into jackets in the form of pockets.

Now, on cold mornings, I'm gripping the handlebars through $3 gloves I found years ago on the clearance table at the GAP. Finally I know why they were so cheap (aside the probable child labor and all that). These are not gloves, but more like hand costumes. They give the impression that I'm wearing gloves in much the same way that the Halloween costumes sold at K-Mart when I was a boy conveyed the notion of characters from "Star Wars." The wearer of the thin plastic jumpsuit with an image of C3PO on the chest was never mistaken for a real robot, nor did he or she ever really feel like a robot. In much the same way, my cold hands are acutely aware that they are not wearing real gloves, but merely an homage.