Veering Right: A Cyclist on the Constant Sensation of Being in the Way

When she was a kid growing up in Minneapolis, biking was as natural to Alice Avidor as breathing the air. But as time went on, biking went from feeling carefree and empowering to something more like a hostile negotiation.

Photo: streets.mn
Photo: streets.mn

Avidor writes at streets.mn about why she now finds herself veering to the right to avoid inconveniencing drivers:

I think the driver that pressed down on the gas to blow past me may have it in for me. Subconscious thoughts as a car whizzes past on my left side. I’m on a bicycle. I’m on my way to work in Downtown Saint Paul. I second-guess my bike ethics when favoring a road to bike down that has no bike lane drawn out for me. I’ve been hit by a car before. That memory will never leave me, and frankly I don’t want it to. I’ll tell you why.

I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I was practically raised on a bike. My father and mother, both strong bike enthusiasts, placed me on a bike as soon as I could walk a straight line. By the time I hit my teens I had spent countless summers biking throughout the winding city. My parents made sure to have extra bikes on hand for my friends, finding used bikes and fixing them to make sure they were able to ride efficiently. I never felt more free than those summers, riding without time or worry, no commitment but the hills ahead of me. Sweet sixteen rolled around and when asked if I wanted to enroll in Driver’s Ed I simply said that I was fine without a license. I didn’t see the point in learning something I would never use. I live in a city full of sidewalks, was very knowledgeable about public transportation, and had a functioning bicycle. I dismissed the idea. The more years I biked, the more this idea solidified for me. But the more years I biked, the more I seemed to become an annoyance to the streets I once cherished.

The first time I was badly hit by a car was when I was 18 years old. I was biking from work to a friend’s birthday dinner one humid July evening. I was hit by a car that ran through a stop sign. It was a smaller car driven by a young woman who was talking on her cell phone. I was thrown off my bike and landed somewhere between my right shoulder and head and was badly bruised where the car hit me on my left leg. I came-to and was greeted into consciousness by the young woman who hit me, overly concerned for my well-being. I started panicking, patting my body to see if I was all in one piece. I was in such shock that I collected no information from the young woman and in the end she got away hassle-free.

Looking back, I get angry at myself for not exchanging information and getting nothing in exchange for being side-swiped by a woman carelessly driving while talking on her cell phone. But I wasn’t used to this. I wasn’t used to being overly cautious of myself biking so drivers could be under cautious about their driving. I try not to plan my trips around a car accidentally sideswiping me. But this is the harsh truth my young urban-bicyclist self had to learn growing up. Graduating from the sidewalk to the road meant I was an annoyance in some driver’s eyes and something that needed to be sped past. I wasn’t an innocent child that could be willingly waited on, I was now a rebellious teen who was ruining drivers’ commuting experiences.

Sometimes I slip into in the worry-free, timeless bike mode of my past. It’s very easy on a warm summer evening in the Twin Cities. I’ll quickly get awakened by a driver honking and yelling out their window to keep to the right. I’m subconsciously reminded of getting hit by the last car and I veer furthest right, putting my child-like thoughts in my back pocket. I keep my cool and try to remain loyal to the streets as I deviously whisper, “I’ll keep to the right as soon as you stop killing the poor polar bears. And start approving of the Saint Paul bike lane proposals”.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure reports that Kansas is raiding its transportation budget to shore up its general fund, and that might not be such a bad thing. Tim Kovach looks at how sprawl can worsen the heat island effect in cities. And Mobilizing the Region says New York state could save money on traffic enforcement and education by getting the street engineering right.

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