I am pleased to report that I’ve become a bike commuter. Record rainfall has fallen in Portland, Oregon since I’ve moved to this city, and I embrace my chicken-shitedness as a cyclist. I was not going to start bike commuting when the rain was falling by the inches. No way. For weeks I looked out of the steamy bus window as the seasoned Portlandia pedaled by in their scuba-like bike clothes. Instead of investing in bike fenders, I bought myself fancy wellies and a petite umbrella while I marked days off the calendar. I admit I was inspired by the city commuters, but I waited for the clouds to lift and the mercury to rise before I committed.
The bike citizens of Portland have fully committed to this lifestyle. It rains, yet still you ride. Left coast Portlanders value policies that foster infrastructure for its people who embrace a car-free or car-light lifestyle. There is even a bridge devoted specifically to public transit, pedestrians, and people on bikes. It’s the stuff of fiction in most urban environments. No cars, if you will, can go.
Here’s the thing: I feel guilty because I’m learning to love the sharrow.
If you are unfamiliar with the sharrow, allow me to give you the quick definition. It’s a painted bike symbol on the road alerting drivers that they will be sharing the road with cyclists. For years, I’ve favorited more than my share of tweets hating on the sharrow. I’ve poked fun about the shortcomings policies involving the sharrow. Up until recently, I would have claimed the anti-sharrow corner.
It’s just paint on the road without policy, I’d say. Without education for citizens. Without infrastructure. Without any viable alternatives or ideas for substantive change in the way we connect bikes as a solution to the problem of our dependency on fossil fuels. The sharrow is not the radical change I’d like to see to see in the world.
It’s just paint on the streets, I’d say.
In order for the sharrow to work; there must be a social construction of its meaning. Policy dedicated to the education of a community of people is something I believe in.
The sharrow works when there is a community who understands its role.
Cars and bikes shar(row) the road.
The sharrow is a start. Maybe. Sometimes.
Roads–if you look historically–were built to make the transportation by wheel more efficient. Paved roads pre-date cars.
Roads, nowadays, are owned by drivers of cars rather than riders of bicycles. Bike transportation, however, makes a lot of sense for The People. It doesn’t work everywhere for everyone. I get that.
I’m a bit of a dreamer; I wish we were all a bit more Dutch in our neighborhoods.
In PDX as a cyclist, I feel (somewhat) safe and part of the traffic. Heading into the city, there are so many bikes! People (usually) obey the laws and the system (sort of) works. It’s not perfect; I’ve seen drivers exhibit palpable rage at anyone on a bike. Every city and town I’ve pedaled through in America is no different.
For almost half of my 4.8 mile commute to my office, I’m mostly on a Neighborhood Greenway with sharrows. Lucky ducky me.
Maybe painting the streets with the sharrow teaches people that there may be cyclists. Maybe.
Maybe I love seeing so many bike symbols on the road while I pedal to my sweet little job. For now, let me share a few wonderful thoughts I’ve had during my first month of off-and-on again bike commuting.
10 Observations While Pedaling: A Memoir
- A huge flock–a gander?–of geese flew under The Broadway Bridge on a day I struggled to pedal home. I was so tired from learning all day (woe is me, I know) and the wind was so harsh on the bridge. It made sense to stop and rest to look down the span of the river. I watched the geese extend their wings to glide over the river. It was so lovely.
- The PNW winter is a major drag; you have to change clothes four times a day as a bike commuter. Once in the morning then at the office and again in the afternoon and in evening. I’m really excited for the weather to improve.
- Green boxes on the street are–by design– to teach drivers to see cyclists. Bikes line up in the green box and the people in cars watch cyclists gather. It’s a genius idea for bike visibility. One day while standing in a green box in Portland, and I counted fifteen people. Thirteen of them were women. Badass, y’all. I wish I could shrink and pink that feeling for everyone who identifies as a feminist.
- I’m shocked by the women who wear full-on business clothes during their commute. I put on make-up in the morning mirror, but I wear bike clothes on the way to work. Battles with saddle sores (TMI, alert!) keep me from looking city-cute on the bike. There are women in panty-hose and fancy shoes, and it’s so charming. Maybe they don’t have far to go. Rock on, all you lovely ladies.
- Pink sparkles and reflectors are fun! I bought a pink coat. Seriously. It’s bright and easy to see me. That’s the point. Switching from thinking about muddy clothes as a mountain biker to being a city commuter is both depressing and exciting. I’m still processing this change in life. I have fancy-pants lights and reflector tape for my bike frame thanks to my concerned bike geek husband. He set up my bike, and it’s so dorky to interpret newly wrapped handle-bar tape as an expression of love, I know, but it’s so sweet.
- The color of the Broadway Bridge reminds of the Golden Gate Bridge. This construction project makes bike commuting problematic, but damn y’all, the bridge was built in 1911. We need to take care of our bridges.
- Sometimes when I come to an intersection, I love the person who has slowed down in his or her car. Shoulders behind the wheel relax. I wave. We smile at one another and carry on.
- Usually the people I have encountered with mobile technology that plays music annoy the hell out of me. They almost always have really crappy taste in music. One day a very normal-looking workaday man rode by me playing Johnny by the Violent Femmes quite loud. It made me happy for the rest of the day.
- When I have lofty thoughts about the future of open education, I can see that we are very much in the sharrow stage policy-wise. That’s frustrating to people who have been in the movement, I suppose, for a long time. It’s also kinda awesome if you’re new to learning about open education. It’s like driving down the street and seeing a bicycle symbol on the road for the first time. More on this idea later.
- If I can be there to witness a gaze into the horizon of what it is possible–either by bike or by the Internet–then I’m very happy.
Open education and bike advocacy during the other 51 weeks of the year? Yes. Each passing day. On your left.
This much I know.