Life in no-man’s land
For the first time in four years, I have a bike on campus, and quite frankly, I don’t know what took me so long. Living just a little bit farther than before from the rec and the j-school finally motivated me to bring my set of wheels to Columbia.
I think my original hang-ups were biking with a bag and parking my bike on campus, but I was silly to worry; biking beats walking in every way. I now have a cute little basket for my bag and computer, there are bike racks outside almost every building (I somehow didn’t notice them before) and — obviously — I get places so much more quickly, saving me minutes here and there that really do add up.
When it rains, things get complicated and I often end up walking, but that happens very infrequently. I’ve been asked what I’m going to do when it gets cold, icy and snowy, and yeah, biking will be much less comfortable and much more difficult then, but so would walking. Biking gets me everywhere in about half the time, which means cutting out half the time I’d be trudging through slush on foot.
However, there is one major problem about biking: Everyone else.
Biker’s are in a weird sort of no-man’s land. We don’t really belong on the street (I don’t care what GetAbout Columbia proclaims, that’s the car’s domain) and have to dodge traffic there. We also don’t belong on the sidewalks and risk collisions with pedestrians there.
If this state of existence were the only problem, it really wouldn’t be that bad. What makes it such a big deal is how clueless everyone is. I never realized before how little people pay attention to their surroundings — while they are moving. People in cars just don’t seem to realize bikers exist, so we have to be very careful to make sure they see us, are stopping, aren’t changing lanes, etc.
But what’s far more irritating to me are the people on foot. These individuals, too often, are either totally clueless or totally inconsiderate.
I will give you that, as the bicyclist, it is my responsibility to watch my path. And after again contending that I have no path, I will assert that I do always watch where I’m going. I do my best to steer clear of the people and obstacles in my way (I have an accident-free record, knock on wood), but these walkers should realize that it’s a lot easier for them to take one step into the grass than it is for me to swerve off the sidewalk and around them. Far too often, however, oncoming pedestrians stare me down and refuse to move, as if there is some other lane for me to be riding in.
But most people are completely clueless. They’re listening to their iPods and don’t hear anything around them, or, more commonly, they’re looking at their phones and totally oblivious to everything but the person on the other end. They’re on the sidewalk, in the street, you name it, and until you are right up in their faces or right behind them, they have no idea you are there. People will even cross the street without looking up. Quite frankly, it’s scary.
I want to scream at them to watch where they’re going because they are paying no attention. But I don’t. In fact, I’m not a very vocal biker, so I typically don’t call out my presence unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Instead, I add another tally to my count of dangerously unaware people, gripe about them under my breath and continue on my otherwise merry biker way.