Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Morning Commute

I tend to ride to and from work on a daily basis, spare those days when it is raining or snowing. These past days have been a godsend, weatherwise -- sun, blue skies, little or no humidity. My ride takes my from the eastern part of Capitol Hill down Massachusetts Avenue, past Union Station, onto New York Avenue by Mt. Vernon Square, onto I Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and ending on M Street -- about 5 miles as the crow flies. Average ride time is 15 minutes, which beats the amount of time it would take on Metro or by car.

In terms of what type of rider I am, I would say I lean towards the aggressive side. I suppose I developed this style when I regularly commuted in New York City in early 2002, where traffic was worse, drivers less forgiving, and pedestrians much more numerous. Riding in NYC, and a style I have since adopted here, has a certain Discovery Channel documentary feel to it -- you either forcefully claim your territory or spend the majority of your commute feably defending it, a losing proposition when you consider that it's you on 25 pounds worth of aluminum versus them in 2 tons of steel and horsepower. In my opinion, drivers respect a biker that aggressively claims his or her space on the roads. After all, we're entitled to use them too. Then again, there is smart aggressive and stupid aggressive. Being smart while on the roads entails being constantly vigilant, making your presence obvious, and letting drivers know that you too want to get to work safely. I feel safer riding in the middle of a lane of traffic than I do riding far to the right of one, where I am subjected to cars trying to squeeze by, park, or swing their doors open in my way. And I won't lie -- I often run red lights, cruise through stop signs, and head the wrong way down one-way streets. While this is illegal no matter how you do it, I try and do so intelligently -- I make sure no cars are coming in the distance, and I make sure that pedestrians and other cyclists know where I am and what my intentions are. In the Mother Nature way of describing it, I'm nowhere near the top of the commuting food chain, but I also refuse to be relegated to the bottom simply because I choose to ride a bike.

As for today's commute, well, it was one of those days where either most drivers took an extra dose of stupid with their coffee or simply decided to conspire against those of us on two wheels. I left at my usual time but there was more traffic than usual. A mere three blocks from my house a mini-van decided that the use of rearview mirrors when suddenly changing lanes is passé, leaving me no choice but to slam on my breaks to avoid ending up a hood ornament. A quick tangent on this note -- in those circumstances where your crap driving endangers me, expect to hear about it. My personal favorite is to cut in front of the offending driver, slow down, give them that "You almost killed me" look, and leave them idling in the city's crippling traffic. I've seen bikers spit at drivers or throw water bottles at them, but to be honest, I'm not that combative. Anyhow, I continued on my way, only to suffer the same indignity a few blocks later when I entered the I Street corridor that stretches from around 13th Street to 21st Street, NW. This time it was a taxi, also known as the "See no bike, hear no bike, yield to no bike" class of motorists.

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. Of course, when traffic is heavy and backs up at red lights, bikers face the challenge of weaving through lanes of stopped cars. This is both fun and frightening -- the former because you feel sorry for the saps stuck in traffic, the latter because you imagine the god-awful scenario of any of those drivers swinging open a door or your bag or handlebars clipping a car's side mirrors. I usually take a deep breath, mutter a little prayer to myself, and head into those narrow vehicular corridors with reckless abandon. Emerging at the other end is always, always extremely satisfying.


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