Photo: Me in Amsterdam, one of the bike-friendliest city in the world!
The city I live in is NOT bike or pedestrian friendly. It is like a game of road warrior out there, and every man, woman and child is for him or herself. This does not make anyone happy.
I choose to bike when possible. Why do I bike? It is cleaner/greener than riding in a vehicle. I get exercise and fresh air. I get there faster than on foot. It is cheaper than owning a car or paying for taxis. It is less crowded than the bus. It’s convenient. It makes me happy.
When I lived in London, which is pretty high on the list of bike/ped friendly cities, I used to say riding into work was like a morning cup of coffee. I would leave the relatively quiet neighborhood outside of Central London where I lived, and the closer I got to the City, the louder and faster it got. My heart rate would accelerate as I zipped past the cars sitting in traffic, dodged opening car doors and kept my eyes pealed for the oblivious pedestrian (of which there were always a few). I loved it. I even loved the cool mist that inevitably was kissing my face most mornings. Though I generally grumbled about English weather, riding in that cool (or freezing) morning air woke me up, and I wasn’t hot and sweaty when I got to work.
On the way home, it was a reverse emotional journey. As I left the hustle of the city, my ride became more peaceful. As I neared home, my pulse decreased and I wound-down from the day. I was often freezing by the time I walked through my door, so I would race into a hot shower!
In either direction, it brought me a happiness that was not achieved when rammed on the hot and stuffy Tube, sitting on a seemingly endless bus ride or paying extortion to ride in the back of a taxi, which would inevitably nearly plow down a cyclist, so I would find myself lecturing the driver. Nope, on my bike, it was just me and the traffic and the wind….and my thoughts. Certainly, I had to focus on the road, but still, it allowed time to think and to ponder without music, computer, phone or TV.
The happiness was heightened by the fact that my annual membership to London’s bike share scheme cost about as much as a one month pass on the public transportation system. And regardless of whether I got home in time for run or joined a Pilates class that day, I had 25 minutes of moderate exercise twice a day, five days a week.
I now live in Georgetown, Guyana, which I love or I wouldn’t live here, BUT, I have dubbed it the “loudest little city in the world.” Maybe it isn’t, but it sure is in the running. The constant honking of horns is enough to elevate anyone’s blood pressure.
The traffic laws that do exist are loosely enforced. Traffic lights seem a mere suggestion. Pedestrian crossings are a ruse. There is no such thing as a ‘no-pass’ zone, and I have never seen a sign indicating a speed limit– “as-fast-as-you-can-go” seems to be the accepted speed.
Those of us who dare to ride or walk are in constant peril. Partially this is due to the actual cars, which are weapons, and partially this is due to the very angry horns.
Drivers apparently don’t think I can hear them coming, so when they are just upon me and their horn is as close to my naked ear as possible, they lay on it…not a little warning toot…a long, blast. I have nearly lept out of my skin on multiple occasions. Sometimes they are just (unnecessarily since if I can hear a horn, I can hear an engine) telling you that they are passing, but at other times, the message is more aggressive. I am in their way. My “as-fast-as-you-can-go” is not as fast as theirs, and on a narrow street, I am hindering their progress, so I need to move the hell out of the way. Other times, they are giving me a “Hey, baby,” honk, and when I don’t acknowledge, the honking and/or shouting is continued.
I actually broke my brake cable one day because I had to squeeze so hard to avoid running into the side of a vehicle. The driver cut in front of me just before the corner in order to turn, thus cutting me off while I was continuing straight. Allowing me to pass the corner and follow behind me would have cost him about 7.2 seconds.
When I do have to take a bus to travel further, walking in the bus park is the most dangerous part of my day. There is no pedestrian right of way. One must be on constant alert or a mini-bus will plow right through you. Since most would be greatly inconvenienced if they ACTUALLY hit you, they usually do try to avoid it, but if one causes them to have to stop, pause or otherwise slow, they will blast the horn until you move.
The police in the bus park do nothing, as no law is being broken (until someone is actually hit).
The great irony is that on the many occasions that I have nearly been hit, and have avoided it by swerving, stopping, leaping off my bike, yelling/ringing my bell, I usually here some bystander shout, “Slow down girl!” as if my haste was the problem. When drivers pass, it is usually at full speed and far too close for my comfort and safety.
What does this have to do with happiness?
There are many, many cars on the road around the world. Bikes and pedestrians reduce traffic, reduce noise, reduce air pollution and reduce waste (think how long a bike lasts and how much smaller it is than car). They keep the individual healthier, which saves the health system money (unless they are run over) and they allow that individual to save money, which they can spend on other things.
This all being said, cyclists, we have a responsibility to ride safely, obey the traffic laws, not put our selves or other bikers and walkers in danger, wear a helmet, etc.
If we do this, cyclists and walkers and drivers and public transportation takers could all live together happily in any city in the world. It would be wonderful if cities, around the world would follow the examples of Amsterdam, London, Brussels and other places. While creating special bike lanes may not always be practical, educating drivers on how to share the road would save lives, increase traffic efficiency, reduce congestion and could make the city a little less quiet when the constant horn honking becomes a little less necessary!
Some cities have made great strides to make their streets safer for the cyclists and pedestrians, but whether or not you live in a city where this is the case, as a driver, when a cyclist is on the road, instead of getting annoyed that they are in your way, slowing you down or in any other way making you unhappy, just slow down, pass them safely, give them a wave and silently thank them for their small contribution.
Here is a video that explains it clearly!
That’s all. Happy riding!