Sunday, November 27, 2011
This Lane is My Lane
Naples and the Florida beach towns nearby have a lot of bike lanes. They are a blessing and a curse.
Obviously, it's nice to ride your bicycle in the bike lane. You feel safer there, as if that solid white line -- or maybe the dorky little sideways cyclist icon -- will somehow keep motorists from running you down. And the bike lanes here actually go somewhere, unlike those in other states that get you halfway down a busy road, and then leave you there with cars zipping by at 55 mph. Here, you can use lanes to bike into old downtown Naples, out to the beach, or even to the airport.
But, being along the edge of the road as they usually are, is a bit of a curse. That is where the pavement is usually worst, and where bits of broken glass and other junk collects. In Tennessee, I used to get a flat tire about every other month. In Naples, it's at least once a week.
Bike lanes get bicyclists. That's a big blessing ... and a small curse. Naples has pretty much hit that "critical mass" point at which bicycles are sufficiently ubiquitous that motorists cannot ignore us. We're here, we steer, get over it.
But we sometimes get a traffic jam in those bike lanes -- or maybe a better word for it is culture clash. We have the hammerhead triathletes pushing the 30 mph speed limit trying to pass the beach cruisers going so slow that they would fall over if they weren't tricycles. We also get a lot of bike salmons -- people on bicycles that think that they are pedestrians, and insist on riding against the flow of vehicular traffic. A head-on altercation between these and the guy in the speedsuit doing 30 breaks at least one collarbone and dings the hell out of someone's handlebar basket.
And then there are the pedestrians in the bike lanes. Naples gets as wide a spectrum of runners as it does cyclists -- from marathoners who look like they were carved from a leftover beef jerky to hefty power-walkers cradling Sony Discmans (Discmen?) keeping time to Olivia as they Get Physical.
Sometimes the runners don't have a sidewalk, or don't want to run (or power-walk) on the sidewalk. Usually, I have no problem with this. There are just a few bike lanes in Naples that are labelled "Bike Only," and those seem to be on roads that are busy enough that it would be truly treacherous for the bicyclist to have to weave in and out. So long as runners stay out of those Bike Only lanes, we should all be able to get along. Of course, I've heard a lot of other cyclists yell at runners to "get out of the lane," but I think that's analogous to cars yelling at us to "get out of the road." It just goes to show that you don't have to drive a car to be a dick.
However, the biggest curse of the Naples bike lanes is that they are gilded cages.
You see, between the bike lanes and bike routes with "sharrows," it's relatively easy to ride somewhere ... so long as you just want to get coffee, ice cream, or stop at a convenience store. But if you want to ride your bike to Home Depot or the dentist, you're going to have to get back on the "real" road.
When I leave the bike route and get back on "real" roads here, however, I get a bad feeling from the cars. "What are you doing out here, you idiot," they seem to say. "Why aren't you on Gulf Shore Boulevard where there's a bike lane?"
Because my dentist is over here on Immokalee Boulevard, I want to tell them. And I need a package of stainless steel self-tapping 5/16" screws. Or maybe it's just because I am RandoBoy, and I've got to ramble a little further from home than the bike lane will allow.
Now, it's possible that I'm just being over-sensitive. Maybe the bike lanes and Share-the-Road signs keep cars further away than I'm used to, so that when I go out on other roads the cars feel closer than normal. Maybe it's no different than it was on Franklin Road in Brentwood -- I've just gotten spoiled.
But it doesn't feel that way. It sometimes actually feels openly antagonistic.
I appreciate the bike lanes. Honest I do. I appreciate that the fine taxpayers of Florida were willing to give up a little bit of pavement just for cyclists -- well, us and pedestrians -- and paint a line and the dorky icon. I'm one of those taxpayers now, and am more than willing to have my contributions go to build bike lanes, along with whatever other pork program our fine elected officials deem worthy.
But my taxes also go to build those "real" roads, and I have just as much right to those roads as the cars do. Keep your car out of my bike lane, and I'll keep my bike off your interstate. But don't go acting as if I should limit my cycling to a few hazard-filled hand-me-downs, and that I should then thank you for not running me down on those.