Contemplating Pathways

I went for a bike ride last Saturday afternoon. It was a glorious sunny day, so I took the scenic route along the beach. As I rode along the bike path, dodging young children, dogs, stray balls, joggers, oncoming cyclists and meandering pedestrians, I began to contemplate these pathways. The route along the beach is separated and dedicated to cyclists in some sections, but for the most part we all share the road. Even when it is separated and there are clear signs marking it, most people don’t pay attention to the signs. I used to get angry and yell out to people that they were on the bike path, until I was caught treading on that reserved ground myself. A friend and I were walking one afternoon, totally lost in conversation and had wandered off the pedestrian path. I realized people weren’t doing it on purpose, they were just in leisurely mode and weren’t paying attention. My self-appointed policing would have little effect and made for an unpleasant riding experience for me. Better to just slow down, drive defensively and enjoy the sights.

I love the new dedicated bike lanes in my city though. I used to be afraid to ride across the Burrard Street Bridge because the sidewalks that we shared with pedestrians were so narrow. An old boyfriend had once gone over his handlebars trying to stop for a pedestrian and had nose-dived off the sidewalk onto the highway. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and got patched up. I was left standing there with two bikes. Then another cyclist pulled up and offered to help me get them home.

The only time I have ever fallen off my bike was on the Stanley Park Seawall, which makes the former Burrard Bridge set up look a cakeride. On the seawall, we also share the path with skateboarders and rollerbladers, but I was knocked off my bike by a young cyclist who was just going way too fast. He didn’t stop to see if I was okay. I had wrenched my ankle, but was still able to ride home.

In Europe, dedicated lanes are a way of life, as is cycling as a mode of transportation. Women cycle in their dresses and high heels, men in suits, kids and whole families, sometimes with groceries in tow, use bikes to get around. In one presentation on alternative transportation, I saw a picture of an intersection where there was a long line-up of bikes waiting to cross, not cars! In some countries, helmets aren’t even mandatory. I presume because it is considered safe enough to do without. Still, I am living proof that you can fall off your bike, and I wouldn’t relish landing on my head on pavement, with or without the help of a car.

Once I leave the beach, I head up a nice hill which gets my heart thumping pretty good. The cycling path on the road ends very quickly and then I have to enter a very narrow dirt pathway that is shared with pedestrians. If I do meet a pedestrian, one of us has to veer into the woods or onto grass to pass. At the top of the hill, I arrive at a very confusing intersection at the University of BC, several roadways merge there. It’s the point where you can head off to study humanity at the Museum of Anthropology or head over the cliff to Wreck Beach to study humanity without your clothes on. I never know how to cross that street. Cars don’t even know what to do. There is no signage and no proper markings or cross walks on the road. Whenever I get there I always think, I must write the UBC bike people and ask them about it. Then I forget, as I race across the street, dodging traffic from several sides.

The way home is mostly down hill from there. The reward for climbing that hill. But it is also on roads, bike routes sure, but we share the road with cars. Parked cars are often the most dangerous. On my ride on Saturday, I had to veer quickly when someone flung open a car door.

I don’t drive in traffic much. I did take a cycling course from Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition in an attempt to feel more confident on the road. It helped, but I’m still nervous. Dedicated lanes do make me feel safer, but I’m not sure they are the whole answer. I heard that in New Zealand, kids take cycling classes in school. So from an early age they are taught the rules of the road. They learn that bikes are supposed to follow motor vehicle rules and they know who has the right of way when a car and a bike come to a stoplight (whoever gets their first). Maybe there could be a whole section in the drivers’ manual on cycling too. It seems like two-way education would help improve safety on the road for all.

Another glorious day, maybe I’ll take a ride, find an empty parking lot and practise my parallel parking.

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