Jim Dowd on the new bike lanes:

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You see this symbol on my bike helmet above? Anyone who’s not 12 know what it is? Anyone?

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It’s the Rebel Alliance Starbird symbol from Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter helmet from the first two Star Wars movies (the good ones).

You know why I have that on there? Besides the fact that I’m such a massive dweeb I make Leonard from Big Bang Theory look like Keith Richards by comparison? Because riding a bike in Gloucester is not unlike the trench run at the end of that film. Here you are, screaming along trying to keep up with traffic and there are doors and drunks and moms on phones. You’ve all heard me talk about this before: Riding a bike in Gloucester is like attacking an armored battle station in your tiny X-wing. And I never even had a Beggar’s Canyon back home to practice in.

The newly installed bike lanes are a big Wampa step in the right direction. The biggest thing they do, in my opinion, is say, “Hey, drivers: it’s cool for bikes to be here!” That’s literally the most important thing. I’ll look out for the obstacles, the potholes, the people pulling out of Cruiseport with their eyes on the phone and not the road (I’m looking at you here, mayor of Fitchburg), staggering dudes without shirts on, all that. What I need is for the intentionally hostile drivers to at least know that we exist and that it’s cool for us to be in the road and to tone down the road rage a few dozen notches.

You’d perhaps be surprised how often people yell shit like “Get out of the road!” or “Get out of the frikin way!” or “Your brother owes me fifty bucks!” (That may be a separate issue, actually). I see comments all the time about how “That road wasn’t designed for bikes” or my favorite generalization, “Roads” (as in all roads) “were not designed for bikes”. I guess that’s technically true, the Romans probably did not have cyclists in mind when they laid the first stones on the Via Apppia in 312 B.C. but most of our roads were not “designed” for cars either. It’s up to us what mix of uses we want to put our roads to.

So the bike lanes remind us that the roads are a public resource; they do not belong to any one group of users. We have trucks, we have cars, and we have busses and Tommy the Trolley or whatever and bikes. Everybody needs to learn to get along because auto use in this country is actually declining. People are seeking alternate forms of transportation for a variety of reasons, and bikes are one of the alternatives folks are turning to. You’ll be seeing more of them, not less in the coming years. Maybe you’ll come join us?

So Huzzah to bike lanes and a shout-out to Heidi Wakeman and Steve Winslow for making it happen. And a second Huzzah to all the folks out there who let me in, let me cross, slow down and generally drive safe around cyclists. One of the things I think we all love about this town is that we don’t have a lot of lights or signs; we all just sort of let each other go with a wave so we can all get where we’re going. “Bearing our neighbor’s burden within reason” as they say. Gloucester may get trashed in the media, but we know how to take care of each other and that’s a shit-ton more than I can say for most places in 21st century America.

You know what? Mos Eisley also got a bad rap. That place had a kickin’ bar scene.

Jim

11 comments

  • “Hey, drivers: it’s cool for bikes to be here!” That’s literally the most important thing.”

    As always this Jim Dowd who I have never met hits a home run. As I was trying to bike up and down each new bike lane this morning and seeing all these dashes of paint where I know more are coming I can see the message is clear.

    Even after a day I felt more comfortable pedaling down Rogers Street. It’s not like that stripe of paint by itself made me invulnerable but it does several things which prevent the nightmare for bikers.

    1) Dooring: I’m riding in the same spot past parked cars as before, what’s the difference? The difference is that the dude in the parked car just parked negotiating across the bike lane stripes. So maybe 50% of the time he might look back down the bike path before he swings his door open? And weeks from now once he sees Gloucester striped like a zebra that driver might have it wired into his head?

    2) Cars not giving that little three foot space or even worse, not going by but following you down the street backing traffic up. If I am in my painted lane and you can see by the stripes you have your lane, be on your way!

    3) Cars turning right and a biker smacks them. The first few times this happened to me in Boston I thought the taxi drivers had it out for me but really they got other stuff on their minds like the taxi radio, their cell phone, the Red Sox on the other radio, the customer yacking. But if there is something drawn on the street, maybe that driver might remember that they just passed a few seconds earlier a biker who will be colliding with their right turn?

    Data show (Bodin personal communications) that bike fatalities decrease by 50% when you paint these lines on the road. So I also thank all that made this happen. Keep on Paintin’.

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    • The good news is that more bikes means more cars getting used to bikes. Also the data indicates pretty clearly that as more cyclists hit the road not only does the behavior of drivers, who are more in tune with our unique physics and restrictions, but also cyclists’ own behavior gets better. The logic goes- when biking is something done only by a few people, it’s socially aberrant. Therefore the kinds of people attracted to socially aberrant behavior will cycle, or will do so out of necessity due to lifestyle choices/impositions. You know, punks, drunks and the guys who design deceptive speculative financial products for Wall Street. As it become socially acceptable- with bike infrastructure and visible population of non-outcast cyclists (My friend Jon Hardy says: “No helmet and a milk crate tells you that this person is probably not biking by choice”) more “normal” people feel free to bike.

      The Good news for Gloucester is that we have no normal people. Not one. Everyone is invited to be somewhat insane so defining yourself as an outcast causes no social penalty. Therefore we can bike with impunity and our “closer to normal” population will feel more welcome with the addition of bike lanes, bike parking and other cyclist-friendly infrastructure.

      It also makes people who are biking not as a choice, but out of necessity less stigmatized for doing so. This is the case of many folks from the poorer neighborhoods of Boston who bike not because they were inspired by “Breaking Away.” Bike advocates in Town realized they were all higher-income professionals, but most of the cyclists were actually from low-income neighborhoods. There has been a real push since to get the same kind of bike lanes and advocacy to where people need it most.

      For a city our size we have great public transportation options, a steadily improving bike infrastructure and a walkable downtown including a lot of public services. We’re really lucky in that regard. Between my bike, the train and occasionally the bus I usually don’t touch a car all week in the summer and only take it shopping/errands on the weekends. I’m in better shape and get to write these missives which hopefully both entertain and encourage. Now I just gotta figure out what to do come November-March.

      Dogsled?

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  • It would also help if the city repainted all the yellow lines. And Thatcher Road is crowded with bikes on the weekend, but the shoulders are narrow if nonexistent, and that makes it scary on some of the turns.

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    • Yes, the shoulder on Thatcher is nonexistent. In the late spring it is worse because the grass/weeds get tall and push you into the street a little further unless you want your legs whipped by switch grass. DPW needs to cut that back sooner. I nominate Jim Dowd as the biker liaison to the DPW to point out stuff like this.

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  • Personally I hate the new bike paths. I expect the number of accidents to increase on Roger street, but we shall see.

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  • Does that mean the gulls are the womp rats?

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  • It’s takes both sides to work this out as clearly stated in article – after all the respect aspect is/has always two way street bike lane included, so is courtesy! Speaking from personal experience delivering the GDT in 1965-66, I had the route that ran from Kenny’s store Lanesville to Plum Cove Court – then picked up the other route that went to Foley Cove the last house was toward the cove and had two police dog(s) Sheppard’s scared me more than once jumping up on the wooden fence as you got close barking. After school, I was lucky to get home by 7pm on foot lots of walking. “When I finally saved up enough money to buy my own bicycle cut this down to about 05:30pm except blizzard time (SNOW). Plus less pain on shoulder with paper bag slung.” I can tell you my first assignment military to South Korea December 1978 mostly Bicycles, very few cars – now with population of 48 million in the size of Tennessee nothing but cars and vehicles. Believe me share the road and be thankful for the rural small town feel – I miss it along with the spirit of the cape, and best fresh seafood…and did I mention fall beautiful!!

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    • All good points. I was in China a couple of years ago taking the maglev train from the new airport. Outside the window amongst the cars, trucks, scooters, motorbikes, was a bunch of people moving house by bike. They had dressers, beds, boxes and lamps strapped all over the place. It was as impressive as the technology on the train.

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      • A sight to behold for sure! Ripley’s believe it or not :-) Fire extinguisher on laptop avatar – we used to use the little toy firemen hats with the saying because we were always putting out fires!

        Too be 100% honest – After 25 years this way nothing surprises me anymore!
        Have a good week!

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