Women’s Wednesday: Where the Sidewalk Ends – Bike Commuting with Katie Macarelli

By Katie Macarelli

It’s no surprise that I dislike driving my car. I loathe driving it to work. Today the plan was to drop off the car at a somewhat sketchy (but reliable) Subaru service shop for a routine oil change. It’s only about 1.5 miles from our office…but it’s along a dangerous strip of merging highways–a “street” all of us know and love. Colfax.

The SAFEST plan would have been to drop the car off, cross Colfax, go through a maze of random, one-way, dead-end neighborhoods to get back to the normal route I commute every morning. That would have been about 4 miles and at least 3 times the ride time.

I did not opt for this route.

Instead, I rode the most direct route to our business park.  Which is fine in ⅛ mile increments.  “Oh, HEY! A shoulder! Nope…gone. But wait!  THERE’S A SIDEWALK. Going, going, gone. It’s just gone. Okay. Back into traffic.” And so on and so forth.

There’s one particular intersection that has cars coming from 8 directions. Okay, maybe not 8 but at least 4.5. It’s angular, it’s gritty, and the lights are timed just perfectly…awful. Two cars legally get through this light (3, if you’re lucky).  Of course this causes everyone immense rage. By my informal calculations this exponentially increases the percentage of lights ran every peak traffic minute of the day. It’s as if this section of the city was specifically designed to increase accidents; plotting human against human and humanity against nature.

Fun fact, though: there IS a cross-walk. It’s diagonal. It crosses 6 lanes of traffic. It isn’t nearly long enough and don’t even THINK about easily getting to the button from your bike. It’s positioned at the wrong angle on a raised median. Unless your arms are longer than mine or you are Danny Macaskill, it’s not possible. Even riding to get to the button makes you feel exposed and dangling out on the edge of sanity.

But whatever. I’ve never claimed to be sane.

I rode directly to it with false confidence, dismounted my bike, pressed the button, clumsily repositioned and remounted my bike and waited.

I felt like I was at a race start.

 

I don’t ride with a heart-rate monitor and I wear a crappy Casio digital watch so I have no idea what my heart-rate was, but I’m guessing it was beyond heart-attack level.

A quarter mile later, I made the left turn into our business park by merely sprinting off the line and getting the hole-shot in front of the cars that were either distracted at the light by their phones or just hanging back waiting to see what would happen.  Even though I was following the rules of the road, there was still honking, irritated motorists, revving of engines and motorists passing me far too closely (even though they had plenty of room to pass).

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that afraid and out of my element on my bike. It was a stark reminder. Even though I dislike using my car, owning it is a luxury. It’s a luxury many people don’t have. Getting to work, getting your kids to school, getting to the grocery store as a cyclist or a pedestrian (where the sidewalk ends) is inconvenient, demoralizing and dangerous at best, life-threatening at worst.

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