Tuesday, October 2, 2012

CITY BIKES

When I stepped off the curb in the city center of Dresden,  I could see the way was clear because I was able to cross between cars that were stopped for a traffic light.   I thought I was perfectly safe.   What I didn't see was the cyclist bearing down on me and traveling at lightening speed in a bike lane between the curb and the stopped cars.  I didn't even notice him until I heard the sound of screeching brakes and saw the terrified expression on the cyclist's face.  We were nose to nose with  his bike twisted  and the front wheel turned up in the air like a pretzel.

"Oh, my God," I gasped in amazement,  shocked that I wasn't knocked down or worse yet, badly hurt or even killed.  "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you.  I wasn't looking for a bicycle. "    In Dresden, like most cities, a bicycle lane is equivalent to a car lane.  In other words,  pedestrians need to keep an eye out for bicycles in the same way you would look for cars.    The young German rider, speaking perfect English, apologized profusely as if it had been his fault and not mine.    

"Are you okay?" we asked each other, and while we were both okay, we were definitely shaken up.   Fortunately,  this cyclist was paying attention and obviously saw me in time to apply his brakes that thankfully were in excellent  condition.   We were really lucky.   Nevertheless, this terrifying incident was a very near miss, and I couldn't help but think about the elderly gentleman who died last year when a cyclist knocked him down in the middle of a San Francisco street.

During our vacation in France and Germany last month, I watched the locals (and maybe a few tourists) navigate back roads and city streets by bike.   I also saw some close calls similar to the one in which I was involved in Dresden.   Riding skills required to maneuver in crowded city conditions aren't ones I've mastered yet.  I would find it challenging to ride a heavy bike that is loaded down with groceries or maybe with a small dog sitting in a front wicker basket.   Exploring a new city by bicycle is not an option I would favor,  although I know this is preferred by some of my biking friends.  I have to admit I'm intimidated by city traffic and crowds of pedestrians on busy, narrow streets.   In some cities, like Montreal,  bike lanes have two way traffic with their own signals,  but those lanes are very crowded so I am sure collisions are common.    In Berlin I discovered that red painted sidewalks are for bicyclists not pedestrians.    One rainy evening I was surprised by the chutzpah of riders who were not wearing bright clothing nor a helmet.  A flashing light somewhere on the bicycle would have added to their visibility.   I even saw a few women wearing high heels and mini skirts as they pedaled by on wet city streets in the dark.





Transporting food by bicycle in Cuba
In India and Vietnam, I rode in a bicycle rickshaw and felt the same vulnerabilities, but I put my faith in the experienced drivers who wore rubber flip flops to pedal on uneven cobblestone streets.  Although I had to hold my breath at times,  I had confidence that they would be able to avoid the speeding scooters, especially in Hanoi and the tuk-tuks and holy cows in New Delhi.  On a bicycle tour in New Zealand,  there were a few times when I forgot to ride on the left and not swerve to the habitual right, especially when making a turn onto another street. 

Next week I will tour San Francisco by bike on what my girlfriends call "A ride of a thousand views."  Fortunately this is a city I know well, so will not have the same apprehensions  I would have if I were to ride my bike on city streets in other parts of the world.  Regardless,  I will keep my wits about me and my eyes peeled for pedestrians,  like the careless pedestrian I was in Dresden.   

1 comment:

  1. christania’s “lej en ladcykel” bikes are rolling across the city. The system, less than a year old, is funded by christania’s municipal government. It is currently only in one of christania’s 22 administrative districts. Although a 2nd generation system, there are 12 “Houses” in this district, each with around 40 bikes. The yearly subscription cost is the equivalent of $2 US, and allows the use of a bike for up to four hours at a time. In less than a year, there have been 6,000 subscriptions sold. There are larger 3rd generation systems in the world, which do not have a subscription to bike ratio as big as that.

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