Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bicycle Commuter Tip #7

Speed is a double-edged sword in urban bicycle commuting.  I think most everyone wants to go fast, at least some of the time, if they can do so with minimal effort and maximum safety (I wouldn't recommend any but the latter.)--I know I do, even though I am all for stopping to smell the flowers whenever I can.  Now I've read some folks who suggest that speed is what you want especially to keep up with city traffic, and they are not entirely wrong--incidentally, I do not bother to cite because much of this is in the realm of opinion and neither definitive nor worth arousing controversy.  However, as a blanket statement, I believe it is wrong.

This relates back to an early post, which I may re-visit and tweak, about commuter routes.  I stick to an ugly, backstreet route, which is heavily used all the same during rush hour, but there are few traffic lights, long stretches, and very few pedestrians along nearly half the ride.  I can move with considerable speed because the activity is light and I usually whiz by any snarled traffic.  However, once I enter the more congested areas--Chinatown being the most congested along my route--speed should be moderated.  There are so many unexpected things that can go wrong it's not funny!  I know I emphasize dangers a lot, but the thing is, if you're careful, then cycling is really fun.  This doesn't mean you should go molasses slow, but if you don't have an emergency why risk it?  I see cycling as a life activity and am opposed to anything that could cut it short.

Speed dangers are same as driving dangers in most cases.  One of these is that pedestrians come from out of nowhere!  Usually this is bad for the pedestrian if they get hit and sad for the motorist, but for cyclists it is also dangerous.  Getting cut off by cars is always a danger, especially as traffic gets intense.  One day I saw a car pull out of a parking space so fast it ran over a nearby pigeon before it could take off!  That's the kind of erratic behavior that speed doesn't help.  Getting "doored" is another danger.  I only got "doored" once, but I was moving slowly uphill so it was hardly a situation at all.  In other words, speed is good for moving with traffic or past it, but only up to a point, because when it's moving well cars will always be faster than you are and you'll be sidelined anyway.  It is not good for everything else: seemingly parked cars and pedestrians, not mention double parked cars (as common as pigeons).  City traffic has a lot of "everything else" in it.


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