“Madness is never that far away. It’s as close as saying yes to the wrong impulse, but you don’t because luckily most of us have that little voice inside our head that says, “Uh uh uh, turning the car into oncoming traffic is counterproductive!”
– Jim Carrey
Anecdote 1: I run straight into a pothole. The jarring hit causes my feet to bounce off of the pedals, the bike only slightly out of control for a split second. Now, if I had not experienced that sensation a hundred or more times already in my cycling experience, perhaps I would panic and jerk the handlebars or do something else to cause a wipeout. Experience, however, mitigates that panicked, knee jerk response and I just return my feet to my pedals and continue onward.
Anecdote 2: When I was an adolescent, D and I went for a trip from his house in Falconer, NY, to the mall in Lakewood and back again; a huge undertaking at that point in my life. D’s dad and sister came with us. Heading down Falconer Street, the dad and D ahead of me and D’s sister, I saw her hit a patch of bumpy road, her feet flying off the pedals and being as close as she was to a parked car, she and the bike ran into the back of the car. I skidded to a stop and ran to check her out. All in all, she came through it with just a few scrapes and a slightly busted bike her dad had to coax home for the rest of the trip. That image of her losing control for just a second is etched into my memory.
I bring all of this up as a roundabout way of expressing disappointment toward whomever decided it would be a good idea to set up rental bike stands in major cities, allowing inexperienced riders to attempt to pilot their way through the traffic and pedestrians of a city like Philadelphia. I bike behind these people on their muted blue, basket laden bikes and cringe when I see their feet fly off the pedals or see them jerking the handlebars back and forth, oscillating this way and that as they are unable to steer the bike in a straight line.
The rules of biking on a busy city street are more diverse and complicated than biking a designated path in a park. There, it makes sense to set up bike rentals, allowing people without their own bikes to take a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride. Having naïve riders in a bike lane that shifts to a shared road that shifts to a road with no shoulder and cars whizzing by is a completely different story. Experienced bikers with hundreds of city miles under them are always in danger when biking in city traffic, but at least they know how to react to situations, how to get their feet back on the pedals.
When I was about to move to Philadelphia, I spent hours of time ahead of the move planning out potential routes that I could take from our new West Philly home to work at UPenn. I researched websites about biking in Philadelphia so that I could have some knowledge about the best way to watch out for parked cars swinging their doors wide, knocking your teeth through your bottom lip as you cruise through the bike lane. I looked up the best places to park my bike when going to work. All things considered, I felt reasonably well-versed in everything minus actual experience before I ever set foot in Philadelphia.
These pale blue bikes with riders who are either renting them for a good time as a tourist or in an attempt to make up a few minutes while running late for a meeting (even riding in heels or business suits) had better have some idea what they are really signing up for when they purchase their rental bike. Not only is traffic in car form a risk, but these riders pose a risk to other riders who rely on predicting what those riders in front of them are going to do.
Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of every car and make everyone bike and you won’t get these rental stations removed, either. After all, I can, on a small level, appreciate that one point of these stations is to allow for a more active public and less vehicle congestion. I did see a larger number of people on bikes in Philadelphia than I have seen anywhere else, so I guess for that intention, they’re working.
I also do not foresee the creation of a licensing test for bikes because how are you going to test a 7-year-old the same way you would a 16-year-old or a 25-year-old?
My only suggestion would be to more loudly advertise training and safety courses in close proximity of these kiosks, just in case people are interested in not dying on two wheels. There’s your slogan: “Learn to Bike Smart So You Don’t Die”
Fortunately, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia does offer “Urban Riding Basics” (a bit less foreboding title than mine, I’ll give them that) and other free training courses and even rides for a small bike rental fee to those who either want to learn to ride or more specifically learn to ride in the city. Even if people can’t attend a class, they offer links on their website for what to do in a crash, a glossary of signs and symbols seen on the road, and general bike laws that everyone should read.
If places like the Bicycle Coalition and Indego Bike Share–the company behind those pale blue bikes mentioned earlier and another resource for free classes–better promoted these valuable classes instead of burying the information on their website, then perhaps we might see a few more educated cyclists (and even drivers better educated in bike law, like how it’s NOT CORRECT to ride on the sidewalks and “out of your way”) on the road.
Cover photo: Indego Facebook