OK, Thanksgiving is over. Let’s proceed into the insanity (and fun!) that is the month of December!
As I contemplate the traffic jams around our shopping centers and downtowns, I am reminded about the benefits of not owning a car and of getting around mainly by bicycle. I’m not adding to the gridlock or air pollution, I’m less likely to put on holiday pounds and I usually get a parking space right by the front door of my destination, sometimes locking my bike to a curbside tree or sign post. I realize it sometimes rains at this time of year, but I have found there are many dry and downright warm days too. And even if the sky is actually precipitating on you, you can only get "so” wet, no wetter than that. You probably won’t melt! Taking a hot shower and changing into dry, warm clothes after returning home from a wet bike ride are a couple of the most pleasant bike-related experiences you can have.
If you’re a person who, for whatever reason, can’t ride a bike, you can contribute to the good will of the season by being nice to a bicyclist. Here are three easy ways to do that.
1). Make contact.
Stay awake and aware. Look around you. Expect to see pedestrians and bicyclists, among other road users. Give a smile and a wave as you acknowledge the existence of others. I don’t drive a convertible, but my head is always out in the elements, and I never use ear buds or headphones to listen to music while bicycling. This means we can talk to each other. I enjoy yielding to pedestrians and saying, "Go ahead!” with a smile. Some of my most amusing moments on the bike have involved talking to people. Early one dark morning, biking along El Camino Real in Redwood City, with all my lights flashing, a police officer pulled up next to me at a red light. He rolled his window down, smiled and said, "I love all your lights!” Another pre-dawn morning on an almost-deserted El Camino Real in Atherton, I was stopped next to a motorist at a red light for what seemed like a very long time. He rolled down his window and said, "Why are we sitting here so long? There’s no one coming on the cross street!” And one warm afternoon on Middlefield Road in Redwood City, I was stopped at another long red light, right behind another bicyclist. Seeing me waiting behind him, he struck up a conversation with me, and ended up offering me a sip from his "water” bottle, which (he said) contained something a bit stronger and more interesting than water.
2). But don’t make too much contact.
One really polite, legal and safe thing motorists can do when encountering bicyclists on the road is to give them a wide berth when passing. I know just how scary it can be to suddenly see a vehicle zooming past me, just inches from my left elbow. If the road is too narrow for you to pass, and too crowded for you to change lanes to give me extra room, then just wait patiently behind me, like you would for construction equipment, farm vehicles, Amish buggies or any other slower road users. When it’s safe, you can pass me widely. If I had a bumper, I would buy a bumper sticker for it that says, "I [Heart] Wide Berths.”
3). Keep the unnecessary noise down.
I think I can speak not only for other bicyclists, but also for pedestrians, sidewalk diners and other motorists when I say: Fix your muffler! And turn down the music! Motorized vehicles make plenty of noise even when the mufflers are functioning properly and the stereo is off. Please don’t add to the din. Part of my bike commute route, heading home from work, includes Junipero Serra Boulevard in Palo Alto. That’s a great bicycling road, but never more relaxing and enjoyable than when all the cars have passed and I can hear only the sound of the wind and the birds.
On one bike ride, I was stopped at a red light next to a motorcyclist playing modern, rap-like music so loud it could be heard several blocks away. It was deafening to sit next to — I guess the young motorcycle rider didn’t mind damaging his hearing, but I was not enjoying the musical selection. I started jigging and bouncing my body up and down in time with the music, in the best imitation of dancing I am capable of doing while on the bike. From the look on his face, he had never seen a woman my age doing any gyrations like that — he looked positively sick to his stomach. However, he turned the music off just before the light turned green, so my self-humiliation had its desired effect.
Studies have shown that the more bicycle riders are present on the roads, the safer the conditions become for everyone. If you must continue to drive your motorized vehicle, please follow my three holiday suggestions all year long. But better yet: Please increase safety by joining me as a bicycle-riding user of our local roads. I’ll give you a smile and a wave when I see you!
Margaret Pye lives in San Carlos and is a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and the San Carlos Transportation and Circulation Commission.