Why I’m Riding on Rainier Avenue, pt 3: On Confrontation and the Privilege of Having a Choice
Confronting the Boogeyman
Thing is, I do ride on Rainier, and fairly often. For the last couple of years I've ridden this famously unfriendly-to-cyclists street many dozens of times. Heck, averaged out, I probably ride on Rainier around once a week!
So what's that about?
America! eff yeah! coming again to la-la-lala-lala-la-la!
What about the uglyness? Good question! If I am choosing to ride on Rainier I am already giving up on a lovely bike ride. I keep my head down and my eyes open. Sometimes I plug up one of my ears and listen to music. Usually fast paced hip hop. Like workout music. I'm just riding hard and keeping sharp.
How do I feel like I can stay safe? Another excellent question!
I keep safe by exercising my rights and protecting myself by taking the lane the whole way. It can be a little scary, but I feel safest riding this kind of road in a vehicular manner. Meaning, operating my bike basically as if I were driving a car. (Vehicular Cycling is a controversial subject. It should be. I have a deep ambivalence for the philosophy and more than a little frustration with the culture that surrounds it. What's ironic is that I never learned how to drive a car, yet I've taught dozens and dozens of folks how to ride as if they are driving one!).
At the speeds many of the drivers travel at on Rainier, and with as many potholes, highway off-ramps and shopping center parking lot entrances as Rainier has, I feel safest if I know for sure that every driver, and the driver behind them, can see me on the road. This isn't as disruptive as it sounds. Rainier is at least two lanes deep in each direction for its whole length. Any driver who needs to pass me can pass me when it's safe. I'm not being pollyannish here, usually at least one fellow road user passes me with some expression of 'tude. I can't know for sure but drivers on Rainier seem to become hostile in a special way, like taking the lane here is a particular affront to the natural order of things. I've gotten a few comments that make it clear that at least some hostile drivers are angry that I would choose to ride Rainier. As if I am happy with that choice. I'm having a great time and laughing at them as I muck up their commute.
the appointment I never want to miss.
Why, oh Why Ride on Rainier?
Well, why do I ride on Rainier? Isn't it a choice? Great question number three! Bravo.
These days, I have one appointment I never want to miss. One trip that I never want to take the long way for. When I leave my job at five I have just enough time to pick up Little Oil before her preschool closes at six. The Beacon Hill route I wrote about yesterday takes me about 40 minutes, give or take a few for luck with stoplights and tired legs climbing up that hill. The RATT, the Rainier Avenue Time Trial, (as some Bike Works folks call it) takes me 30 minutes to downtown. Those ten minutes sometimes make all the difference. For me, a lifelong walking, riding stereotype of the bohemian slacker, parenting is about never allowing myself to say, "I'm sorry I'm late!"
In my family, I am lucky to handle many of the responsibilities some think of as traditionally those of a homemaking mother. I do the majority of school pickups and dropoffs. I do our grocery shopping and most of the cooking and, if Lady Oil or I desire take-out, I'm usually the one to run out and get it. (Dear Mrs Oil, I'm not trying to imply that I do more than you. Quite the contrary. Readers, Lady Oil is an amazing partner and parent. It's just that I do a little more of these particular chores.) This is because Mama Oil and I both know that the bike is the best tool for picking up Lil' Oil downtown. And that bringing the bike to handle these 0-3 mile trips to run errands is the more responsible way to use our energy. Also, I really love doing it! I suspect that most people do not enjoy picking up groceries as much as I do.
an Oil picking up groceries.
Choice and Privilege
For most of my life, a great deal of choice and mobility and flexibility have been available to me. I moved around the country a lot and when I did fall in love with Seattle, I was lucky enough to cultivate, I dunno, an artist's life? Instead of one employer and one set of responsibilities holding me down, I kept my options open and worked multiple part time jobs and freelance gigs. I valued taking it easy. I still do!
I kept costs down by not traveling much and not buying much and by making my own fun with my friends. This lifestyle, just like living car free and eating vegan, is both a choice that I stand by and am proud of and a choice that I have only been able to make because I am very privileged in our society.
I am a little unusual among my friends for not driving at all, but in my circles there is nothing unusual about not owning a car and getting around more or less exclusively by bike. Good for us! We've made a series of choices that have made it possible to make a really great form of transportation a vital part of our lives. We've also been lucky enough to be in a position to make those choices. Lucky us.
But the thing is, I'm willing to bet that many of the people who give cyclists shit, on the road or on the web or wherever, are in part doing it because they assume that we are A) in their way and that, B) we are there by choice, C) to spite them.
Now, I refute part "A" out of hand. We aren't in anybody's way. Everybody should have equal access to public roadways. Period. To quote the old time Critical Mass slogan, "We aren't blocking traffic, we are traffic."
The spite part, "C"? Well, this whole issue is drenched in class-based resentments and cultural resentment and resentments of other types, as well. I believe that in primarily catering to those individuals and communities who were already likely to ride, bike advocates and the bike industry have reenforced the cultural barriers that contribute to bike riding being perceived as an activity of the wealthy and privileged. Hopefully we can all work together to change that. Everybody should have equal access to healthy transportation choices. If more drivers could see that that person on a bike is not so unlike them, maybe they would be a bit more patient and considerate when sharing the road with them.
Hey, bike riding is fun. If I were stuck in a car and saw you ride by, having a great time, wind in your hair, I'd be jealous, too!
Getting on Rainier is a tough choice, but sometimes it's gotta be made.
The Pay Off
I've read a lot about how Women are seen as the indicator species for a city's bikability. The theory is that if a high percentage of women ride, that proves that things are great for cyclists because women are more risk averse than men. This is stupid and insulting.
Women are brave. They are not a species, (I know it's a metaphor, it just sucks). And, as Elly Blue points out, the honest fact is that average American women have more car-dependent responsibilities than the men in the household.
I am lucky to get a cool perspective on this aspect of male privilege by being a cycling papa who gets to handle many of those "Mom's Taxi" type chores for my family, even though my partner primarily drives. I am not claiming equivalency with women, I'm just saying that for the first time in my life I need to value time above fun when I get on my bike.
Good thing that that time is a fun time!
Thanks for taking the time and reading, Nice People!