Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yes, bikes belong, even at 8:30 pm on Kimball with my kid in a trailer

In all fairness, 87% of our biking journey today had a puppies and rainbow quality to it. Smiles and yielding: “No, you first” “No, you!”

Maybe it was the warm break in the rain, the baby leafed trees and Miguel’s cheerful yellow slicker that put a kind step into the traffic dance as I pedaled him in a trailer from day care to a friend’s house and back home--a good seven mile round trip journey.

The ride to Lisa’s was friendly and mostly on side streets because we could zig and zag from day care. The trip home after sunset was tense but manageable--a straight shot down “mid tier” Kimball with car and bus traffic liberated from rush hour.

We were so close to home when the positive vibe was broken: “You are going to get you’re a** run over” yelled a man in a maroon SUV. I eyed the just turned red light two blocks ahead and briefly accelerated, hoping to catch him for a talking to.

On my own, I am an assertive but polite cyclist, but I will chase down drivers when goaded with trash talk or in response to egregious violations of law or civility. (I pick these battles carefully—I make mistakes too.) Alone, I almost always catch someone at a red, unless they freak out and turn.

With Miguel, it’s so different. I am still polite, but the assertiveness is sharpened into a mix of extreme care and confidence. I come close to 360 degree, anticipatory vision, especially with the trailer. I make few mistakes. Maybe I need a big sign that says, “Relax, I know what I am doing.” When drivers spew the anti-bike rhetoric when I am with Miguel, I get angrier than usual. But when I am hauling 45 pounds of kid, trailer and care, I don’t usually have a chance to catch up and continue the conversation, which is probably for the best.

I did not catch tonight’s antagonist. If I had, I might have said:

“Hi! Is there a problem? We’re just trying to get home. Do you think my a** should be in a car instead, taking up more parking spaces, adding to traffic jams and slurping down petroleum? Or do you think my a** belongs on the bus, atrophying while my fingers tap impatiently at each slow, lurching stop? Or maybe you just think my a** should get out of your way, no matter what. Regardless, could you please use better language? My 2 ½ year old son is listening to everything we say.”

Miguel picks up on everything. Earlier in the evening, I had yelled, “Heads up, heads up, heads up” as a driver was getting out of his car without looking back. I try not to ride close to parked cars, but the door zone and travel lane can be a tight squeeze. I don’t like taking chances, or startling drivers, so I do yell in a firm way sometimes. Miguel has heard the heads up refrain before. Today he told me he didn’t like it. Of course he doesn’t. It’s the same tone I use with him when he gets too close to the stove or inexplicably puts a nickel in his mouth.

If I have to be so arch-backed vigilant, scanning, scanning, barking here, scowling there, should I just stop biking with him? I’ve already mixed transit in more than usual to honor Miguel’s need to walk and enjoy big machines. But biking is my main form of transportation! Sometimes it’s a question of either biking or staying home. I don’t want the answer to be get a car or go back to transit dependency. Sure, I understand why people drive and I love transit, too. I just want there to be room in the streets and in people’s hearts for me and my family to pedal quietly along when we need to. What’s so crazy about that?