Here in the Twin Cities I've definitely noticed a sharp increase in the number of riders I see daily who are obviously on their bikes for a reason other than recreation, meaning they are using their steeds to get to work, run errands, etc. It's not too difficult to gauge someone's "greenness" just by observing them and asking a few internal questions: Do they handle the bike confidently? How do they react to other cyclists around them? How are they dressed and how new is their gear? What do they do when negotiating a traffic-clogged intersection? Those are just a few.
Of course, I'm a cyclist and you'd think that would mean I'd be overjoyed to see so many more people out on bikes. On a certain level I am, but I am also hip to the fact that I need to be aware of safety concerns posed by the presence of a glut of newbies on the trails and in the lanes. If I, as a cyclist, think like that then imagine what the increased presence of cyclists means to habitual motorists and commercial/professional drivers.
Well, this issue has made, and will continue to make, its way into the media. I don't have to point out that one of the mainstream public's favorite things to do is address the safety (or most often the lack thereof, as depicted in the media) of cycling. This article from MSNBC, Cars vs. Bikes, is no exception but it presents some valid observations from the "outsider" perspective. Four Wheels make Room for Two is a local story from Rochester MN. It features quotes from and a video of legendary rider Chewie Moffit. (Never mind that they call him "Brian". News folks always check their facts and get the details right y'know.)
In both articles there are two fairly distinct sides presented. Sounds kinda like American politics, eh? The cyclists and advocates say "Yay! Give us more space, acknowledge our rights, take notice!" The drivers say "Geez! You guys and gals are in the way, we can't get around you, this is a real problem." Who's right? Both, of course, and while I am no fan of the villification of transportation cycling it cannot be denied that there sure as hell have been no provisions for the boom that the US is experiencing in ridership. And I do not feel the least bit out in left field to say we're only viewing the tip of the transportation cycling iceberg.
What does this mean? A lot of different things for sure. But one big one is don't expect, brothers and sisters, for the stink eye to shift away from cycling anytime soon. Legislators and officials are baffled. Drivers are frustrated, in some cases justifiably so. They're gonna bitch and moan and that, combined with the regally stoopid stuff I see some riders do, will likely increase scrutiny and regulation of cyclists' actions. That means I think we can expect more enforcement (i.e. citations) in an effort to make cyclists "ride safer." And perhaps that is not entirely bad to get some of the lackbrains on 2 wheels to clean up their acts. I am, on the contrary, extremely resistant to the idea of regulating cycling, but that's a topic for another essay.
Ride safe, ride aware. Take the highroad whenever possible. Keep your third eye open and carry your Zen mind in your hip pocket. Most of all, be aware that the psychological impairment of habitual driving can only be heightened by high fuel costs and more of us -- the "annoying cyclists" -- on the road. Rubber side down.