Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sidewalks and You

Normally, I'm one of the first people to say that you should never, ever ride your bicycle on the sidewalk.

However, I'll also admit I've been a bit of a hypocrite. While the apartment where I live is in a perfect location for biking (close grocery stores, close to work, etc.), there is no easy "back way" to get out of the complex. The street I have to get out through is busy enough that until now, I've stuck to the sidewalk for a good 2-3 blocks before switching to a safer side street. I'll admit, I've even taken my bike up the wrong side of the road on the sidewalk because it "felt" safer than crossing and then re-crossing the street.

All the research I've done indicates that this is a really stupid idea. The cars are not looking for traffic on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk, so they are much more likely to hit you. Also, if there's a pedestrian or any other obstacle on the sidewalk, you have to pull out into the road to go around them, which makes you more vulnerable than if you'd have just been out there and highly visible to begin with.

Somehow, I've just never been able to convince my gut of that on the busy street where I start my trip each morning.

Today, I tried riding on the street, and surprisingly, I felt a lot more secure. I didn't believe it when I started out, and I mostly tried it just to prove "them" wrong. Turns out "they" know what they're talking about. I felt like the drivers took me a lot more seriously, and I didn't feel like people were nearly as nervous as when they spotted me in the cross-walk. Maybe it's because drivers in Dallas are more aware and respectful of pedestrians and bikers than in other places I've lived. All I know is that once I got over the initial nerves, I felt a lot safer.

Here's what I've found is a good trick to a safe ride on a busy street: When you get to a red light, pull off the road. When the light changes to green, let the stopped traffic go by before you go through the intersection. Use this extra time to have a drink of water or something.

This accomplishes three things: First, it gets you out of the exhaust from any vehicles that may be stopped in front of you. Second, it gets you out of the way of anyone who may be wanting to turn right at the intersection (otherwise, they may be tempted to kind of edge around you on the left, which is how a good number of bike accidents happen, according to the statitstics I've been reading). Third, it's just the polite thing to do, and my theory is that the drivers (who will probably get used to seeing you out there every morning) will be a lot nicer to you if you've made a habit of being courteous to them.

Of course, this only works if you have a street with very frequent and well-timed red lights so that the traffic tends to go by in waves. If you've got a constant flow of traffic, I'm not sure what the solution would be. Anyone who does know is free to comment!

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Just Like Riding a Bike...

Today, I returned to the world of bicycle commuting, and I'm so glad that I did. This morning was perfect for riding. Not too hot, not too cold, not too humid, but with just enough cloud cover to keep the morning decently cool.

For anyone who might be thinking about bicycle commuting, I highly recommend it (especially if you live less than 5 miles from where you work).

Here are some tips learned from my first day out:

  1. Use Google maps to plot your route.

    Since March, Google has had a "bicycle" option for creating maps. It's still in beta, but based on my experience, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get started riding a bicycle in the city. The route it sent me down was amazing! I spent most of the ride on pleasant, shady residential neighborhoods, with either nice wide lanes, or two lanes so that cars had no trouble passing me.

  2. If you're worried about getting lost (bike routes can be a bit tricky, since you're trying to go around the main thoroughfares), try copying the turns out onto a sticky note that you can stick to your handlebars.

    This worked beautifully for me, though I do also recommend examining the map, and even using Google map's "street view" to get a feel for the route before you leave. Also, if you have weak vision, like me, make sure you write clearly enough that you can glance down and read it while rolling along. I got a little sloppy at the bottom of my sticky note, and as a result had to pull off the road and stop to read it.

  3. Be ready the day before!

    Pack as much as you can, and make a list of everything you need to handle before leaving the house. I'm never quite fully awake first thing in the morning, but with a little preparation, I can set it up so that I don't have to think at all. It made the morning that much more pleasant.

  4. Eat breakfast and bring a water bottle, even on a cool day.

    This is one I didn't think about before setting out. Luckily, it was nice and cool, so I wasn't dying of thirst or anything. However, I would have been happier with a bottle of water about halfway through the ride.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Perspective on Public Health Care...

I have often found myself drawn into debates about the subject of public health care. Frankly, I feel that the healthcare system in America is broken, but I'm not completely certain what the solution is. However, I do have something I would like to point out...

The number one argument that I hear against public health care is that people don't want to have to pay taxes for other people's health care.

Here is my question: Do they not understand how health insurance works? How do they think the health insurance companies make money? Every month that you pay that insurance premium and don't get sick, you are paying the health care costs of someone who did get sick. Not only that, but you're paying enough that the company still manages to make a ridiculous profit.

So where would you rather your money went? Straight to the doctors who care for you (even if it's paying for someone else's care), or straight into the pockets of the health insurance company?

Come on, people. Just think about your stance before reacting with your gut. That’s all I ask.