Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Riders Of The Mean Streets

Maybe it's me, but it seems that Oregon (or at least the Portland metro area) is no longer quite the state I encountered when I moved here over two years ago. This state and the city of Portland both had a reputation for outstanding bicycle friendliness among the various regions of the USA. During the infrequent occasions when I drove, I was shocked to find laid-back motorists who actually let you into their lane when you turn your signals on.

Things have changed for the worse. It seems that there's been a massive influx of jerks from other regions (most notably, from So. Cal.), people who drive like toddlers throwing a tantrum. They come from places where even minor arterial suburban streets are often over 80 feet wide to a place like Portland, where most streets are narrower, and they pitch a fit. (Of course, Portland has a very good mass transit system and an awesome bus service, but these people are too dysfunctional to ride mass transit.)

The tantrum these people throw consists increasingly of speeding through residential neighborhoods on streets that only allow one lane of traffic because they are so narrow. The trouble is, these are the very streets favored by bicyclists who want to avoid regions of heavy traffic. Cyclists are increasingly having to contend with impatient tailgating motorists driving threateningly inches away from them. Motorists are also increasingly guilty of attempted “right hooks” (this is when a driver pulls in front of a cyclist, then jumps into the bike lane to make a right turn without providing adequate clearance between his car and the bike).

This sort of behavior is characteristic of a nation that has been driven insane by selfish materialism. After all, it was a bunch of Americans who trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death last year because they each wanted to be the first to score an after-Thanksgiving deal on consumer electronics.

Whatever the psychological cause of this behavior, I don't care. I only know that a.) I don't want to burn my money in a gas tank; b.) I don't want to die in a crash; and c.) I'm tired of jerks in motor vehicles. Of course, many drivers are not jerks. But some of you are. So let me tell you what I propose.

If you are a driver and you don't think you can control yourself in traffic, beware. I am in the midst of conversations with the Portland police department, who have expressed their willingness to add traffic patrols to areas where bad drivers are a hazard. If you drive in the residential neighborhoods around the 42nd Street MAX station, either north or south of I-84, you had best slow down. The same thing applies to any of the residential streets west of 42nd Street and north of Broadway. And don't go racing down Ankeny. You might get busted. As the saying goes, “Kill a cyclist, go to jail.”

But if these things don't move you to change your behavior, at least slow down for your own sake. Think about it: you have driven pedestrians off the road, you have driven small children away from playing outdoors in their own neighborhoods, and you are attempting to run bicyclists off the road. The road has become a much more dangerous place because of you. Now your jerk driving, and the fact that there are so many of you who drive like this, is starting to threaten your own property. Just Google “car hits house,” click on “Images,” and you'll see tons of pictures like this one:

I have a feeling that with increased congestion and diminishing motorist sanity, incidents like this are becoming quite common. It would be interesting to do some sort of historical survey. Along those lines, check this out: “The curious frequency of cars hitting houses.

For those of us who are cyclists, I propose that we take back our cities. One way is to map out hidden, unnoticed, car-free ways, interstitials and informal thoroughfares that exist in your locales, and to learn to use them. Here are some links that talk about this: “Interstitials and informal bike routes,” and “Bicycle Wayfinding in the Early 21st Century.”

1 comment:

ha1ku said...

For motor incidents that result in death, I honestly don't think jail time is sufficient. Personally, I think if you kill someone while driving, you should lose your driving privileges for life.