Jun 252012

Out on the streets, that’s where we’ll meet

By Captain Comannokers
NoC Transportation Czar

There are a shit ton of people out there who are not very good drivers. I am SO in favor of making it tougher to get a license. You should need a 90 percent or higher on your written test. If you don’t know the laws and how they apply to the road, should you be out on it?

Add our modern-world distractions that folks love to tinker with while behind the wheel, and the recipe is like adding sour milk to a rotten egg omelet.

This weekend I was driving on West Sixth Street, heading toward Limestone. I was at a red light at Upper and Sixth, and waiting to proceed straight. An SUV was going in the other direction on Sixth and was looking to turn left onto Upper (toward downtown). The light turns green and I start to move forward; at the same time the SUV cuts directly in front of me to turn onto Upper.

I stop, he stops. He yells at me. I am dumbfounded. He tells me that he has the right of way (in so many words). I am more dumbfounded than before. My comprehension skills are so flummoxed I can’t speak–a left hand turn at a light with no arrow trumps through-traffic in WHAT universe?

Aside: I see random acts of driving idiocy like this more often than I’d like to. Even worse (well, maybe–I guess it’s of equally idiocy), I’m pretty sure that SUV guy was going to make the left ON red if it wasn’t for a couple of cars traveling on Upper impeding that decision. I think “his laws” allowed him to turn onto a one-way street at ANY point. Left had turns be damned.  In his world, green means go–straight up, GO. Other drivers can figure out their own shit–it’s GREEN.

Enough on that rant. The actual observation that I want to get to is that, in my opinion, being an everyday cyclist makes me a better driver.

As a cyclist, I need to have a keen sense of everything around me. Crappy drivers, crud in the streets (ten-fold more than a driver of a vehicle would need to notice). My peripheral vision needs to be sharp and knowledge of traffic laws (or driver tendencies, as well as pedestrians) can be essential to survival.

Being what I believe is an aware and mostly defensive commuter, I tend to look for potential dangers: cars backing out of driveways or parking spots, hazardous road conditions, problematic traffic patterns/areas. Drivers, especially drivers who don’t ever view those same streets from a bike, tend to just put it on daily autopilot. The steel machines just push on through–and when you’ve got somewhere to get to, well, all bets are off!

Conversely, when I do need to drive, I keep those cycling senses, especially when traveling on the same roads that I traverse on a bike.

Not that I’m trying to sound holier-than-thou–that’s not the intent at all. Basically, I just want safer streets for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and I think having multiple road perspectives helps achieve that goal. If we only trek in one way, yet we are asked to “share the road” with other modes of transportation, how do we fully understand what our fellow travelers experience?

This applies in all directions. If I only biked and never got in a car in my life, I would have a tougher time understanding some of the unique challenges that vehicles face when sharing the road (especially roads that weren’t built with “sharing” in mind, but for pushing thousands upon thousands of motorized vehicles in and out of metro areas).

If I never walked anywhere, why would I pay attention to the particular quandaries a pedestrian faces in urban areas. Crosswalks? Here’s what some drivers and cyclists seem to think about them: You can walk through those painted stripes when I’ve done what I need to do with my vehicle or bike (plus, I’m late, so really don’t even think of stepping foot in my path).

It’s like living in a place where knowing three languages is beneficial to communication. You need at least a few basics of the other languages down in order to get along easier. If I only spoke my language and refused to acknowledge that the other languages existed, eventually I’d be digging myself a hole.

Put that shovel down and attempt to speak all the road languages in your community.

This is your captain speaking, over and out.

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