There’s this sidepath I sometimes ride on in Plainfield, Indiana. As far as bicycle infrastructure goes, it’s pretty nice. It borders a high speed arterial and so it’s good to have some grade separation. Unfortunately, the only way to get across a busy intersecting street is via a crosswalk. It’s marked and there’s a signal, but motorists routinely ignore it and put me in harm’s way. Some of them then curse at me for slowing them down, even though I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Because of this, I sometimes take a different path that allows me to cross further down the road where traffic is lighter. I can join the sidepath just past the intersection. That’s what I did yesterday. Here’s what greeted me.
I had to dismount and carry my bike through the grass to get on the sidepath. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to plow the snow in a way that kept the pathway clear, either. I don’t know if the person doing the plowing was just inattentive and uncaring or if he was mean and nasty or what…
This little story isn’t all that unique or remarkable, but it does point out something important. It matters very little what kind of bicycle infrastructure we build if we don’t simultaneously work to change the culture that says the rights of motorists are more important than the rights of other road users.
In fact, I could argue effectively that bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is fundamentally irrelevant without a change of heart on the part of motorists. While I was in Utah last week, two high school students were senselessly run down while legally crossing a street in a marked crosswalk. One tragically died. Law enforcement officials are charging the motorist with at least several counts of distracted driving. There may be more charges when toxicology reports come back. I’m sure he’s sorry and regrets the damage he’s done, but it’s too late. Too much has been lost and he can’t bring it back. I hope somebody learns something from this so that down the road somebody else’s life might be spared.
When it comes to riding a bicycle, I don’t want my own private sandbox. If I’m going to dream, I’ll dream of a day when we can all share the roads and show mutual respect for each other. I’ll dream of cars slowing down and cyclists moving over to let faster traffic pass. I’ll dream of everybody getting along the way we’re supposed to…the way we were taught when we were younger.
Changing culture is more important than pouring concrete. We would be better served by focusing more on education of road users and enforcement of laws, and less on engineering and infrastructure. We would be doing ourselves a big favor if we put each other’s needs before our own. We can do more to keep everyone safe on our streets and highways by simply slowing down and extending basic courtesies to one another.
I think it’s worth considering. I’ll even go first.