The Mean Streets Of Springtime


By Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie — Winter commuting by bicycle; cold, wet, quiet mornings, just the sound of water slicking the fenders and one or more of my sons sniffling back a runny nose and asking me, from the back of the bike, about why only some of the geese have flown fly south by January. Sometimes the ride feels like that scene from Twelve Monkeys, when the Bruce Willis character comes up to the surface and finds snow and silence. There are still clashes between cars and riders trying to share the road, but winter seems to lower the frequency and intensity.

But once the sun shines for more than a few days straight, once the April Showers give way to May Flowers and a few less showers, the streets of Portland, Oregon come alive with two wheelers. The confrontations scale up as well. Blame it on the numbers and new riders finding their way. Add to that drivers ignorance of the laws that give cyclists rights to the roads. This year it could have something to do with the rising price of gas, matching up with drivers having to get up that hour earlier, increased distracted/driving while texting, local news doing scare tactic stories about how bikes don’t pay their way and spring fever.

An unscientific survey of my fellow commuters finds drivers throwing things from cars, revving engines, yelling obscenities and cutting off lanes. To be sure, cycling is still a very fun and safe way to travel, but once in awhile I get pushed too far and have to push back:

Lexus driver rolled the crosswalk and stop sign in a school zone while on her cell phone, slammed the brakes – came inches from our bike train and Matteo’s knees.

Her sheepish grin wasn’t gonna cut it. I spoke in an Eastwood whisper growl into her window. “In your sealed compartment you might have missed the sound my son screaming! All the money you are rushing off to make or spend won’t bring my family back, using a school zone as a short cut to work or coffee is a shit the bed idea… and I have memorized your plate. If I ever see that phone in your ear while you’re operating a 3000 pound piece of machinery, I will hunt you down and enjoy throwing your precious gadget into the Willamette River.”

She started to cry. I suggested she marry that emotion, store it up and pull it out for a minute or two every time she starts her car.

I don’t regret a word. I will say that it kept me from grabbing her phone on the spot… that and I didn’t have the bail money.

While I can’t recommend doing what I did that morning. I do recommend calling 911 if you get into a road rage incident, taking down a driver’s plate, and riding defensively no matter what time of year it is.

Something else I’ve noticed each spring. The road rage drops off as everyone gets more comfortable with the large number of cyclists taking to the streets. Ride safe, but don’t stop riding. In fact, the more cyclists on the road, the safer those roads become.

And when anyone tells you that you don’t have a right to the road because you don’t pay for it…

Stop apologizing and trying to justify riding a bike.

People commuting by bicycle deserve tax rebates not new taxes because cycling is a net gain!

We already pay taxes for the transportation infrastructure.

We pay more than our share of road costs and get the smallest piece of the funding pie.

We reduce traffic congestion.

We impact the transportation infrastructure the least of any mode of mechanized travel, extending the life of roads, bridges etc.

Our parking footprint is tiny.

We do not pollute.

We present little risk to others.

We reduce the cost of healthcare.

We reduce the need for imported oil.

We put $7,000 per year per bike commuter back into the local economy.

“Cyclists are a net gain” and should demand more than we’ve gotten simply in the name of fairness and being efficient as a society.

Cyclists are a net gain to Society – spread the word.


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