Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Short post, short ride.

I didn't ride home today. I called my dad to tell him to tell me to. He wouldn't. He asked why I needed to be told to. I told him I'd almost been hit yesterday by a left turn. I'm not scared, I'm just tired of being more anxious and wound-up after a ride than before. He agrees: rides should at least be emotion-neutral.

I left my bike at school and took MARTA home. I'll ride home tomorrow. I don't know how much more bike commuting I'll do, at least while school is stressful. I don't need to add to anxiety. I'll just ride on the weekends.

It's just not fun anymore. Atlanta, you're killing me.

Letter to Office of Constituent Services

Below is the e-mail I sent to the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services. My sister says I should have sent it to the mayor himself. If I don't get a (satisfactory) response from the director, I'll send it up the chain. Any updates will be posted here. 

I encourage anyone else who has had run-ins with MARTA or other problems with official vehicles to write letters to the governing agency demanding change, or letting me know so they can be compiled.

Edit (sent at 6:59pm)
Subject: Regarding Unsafe Drivers of City of Atlanta Vehicles


Dear Ms. Boone,

I'm writing to say something that should be obvious, so please forgive me my presumption. People who are permitted to drive City of Atlanta cars and trucks are highly visible and should be more, not less, concerned with following the rules of traffic law.

I write this because this morning I was passed too closely by a City of Atlanta truck (license plate GV19746, at 10:00a approaching East Lake Dr on 2nd Ave NE) while riding my bicycle. The driver of the truck may not have seen me, as he was following another car too closely. The other car passed me without incident. The City of Atlanta truck couldn't clear me before reaching the intersection, so he effectively cut me off.. This put my life in danger, as he could have hit me when he passed too closely or when he stopped too short. He also blocked my visibility at the intersection.

It shouldn't need to be said that those driving City of Atlanta vehicles carry the burden of modeling appropriate, lawful, and safe behaviors while driving those vehicles. The city and its employees are liable -- if not legally then politically -- for any accidents that occur. I am an educated, confident, law-abiding cyclist. I ask that you ensure that anyone who is given keys to City of Atlanta vehicles is similarly educated and law-abiding.

Thank you for your time,
Megan Lutz

A timely response from Ms. Boone at 8:30pm that same evening:

We will investigate. Thank you

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ideas for Letters

Mrs. Short (5th grade teacher extraordinaire) was disappointed that I didn't go into writing. I'll throw her a bone today with some brainstorming.

Idea 1: A letter to the administrators of Georgia State University, which has come a long way in reputation.  It has a long way to go in actual education, however, if my own two eyes are to be believed (they are). Evidence: students regularly cross 5 lanes of traffic, against traffic and against traffic signals, like lemmings. They do this en masse, without any regard for the trucks, cars, and bikes barreling down on them along Marietta Street.

I understand crossing against a signal in the absence of any traffic. I do not understand crossing against a signal in the presence of high volumes of traffic. I super don't understand crossing against a signal in the presence of high volumes of traffic in multiple lanes in both directions when one is the straggler in a group and not in the bigger mass. What the hell are you thinking? Are you thinking? This isn't the African wilds, and you aren't a wildebeest. You are going to get crushed.

Idea 2:  A letter to the idiot riding a bike (possibly with headphones, I hadn't time to notice) on the sidewalk along North Avenue just now. I noticed him just in time to not hit him WITH MY OWN BIKE, as he didn't stop to see if there was oncoming traffic (there was, and it was I) before entering the crosswalk across Cherry Street. I was mid-turn and all the sudden there he was right in front of me. I had time to get out "dude, ride on the road", which he didn't appear to register, before riding away.

Again, what the hell are you thinking? Are you thinking? This isn't elementary school, and you aren't a child. You are going to hit someone.

Whenever I see people riding on the sidewalk I want to ask how old they are and what they want to be when they grow up, because maybe they're just overgrown 12-year-olds. Of course, when I was 12 I knew better than to ride on the sidewalk, but not everyone had the benefit of having my dad for a father.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some balance

A lot of the time (it seems to me) I find myself telling cyclists to strike a balance, calling for respect for other road users and to remember that rights to the road come with responsibilities. The rule of thumb I often cite is "If you wouldn't do it in a car, don't do it on a bike." This is an easy reminder for not salmoning, hopping sidewalks, running lights, or otherwise "taking advantage" of the conveniences that seem so easily reached while on a bike. That's not what bikes are for: yes, they have the appearance of convenience and increased maneuverability, but responsible cycling does not allow for such nonsense.

Today, I'm turning that phrase on its head, and focusing on motorists. As I've said, there are multiple road users, and while I maintain that it is incumbent on cyclists to ride responsibly and predictably, the same is true for motorists and pedestrians. Today I say forget pedestrians and let's talk motorists (though it works for pedestrians, to an extent). The paraphrase: "If you wouldn't do it to a car, don't do it to a bike."

What does that mean?

To me, that means not making a right-hand turn in front of a bike stopping at a light in a traffic lane (as happened to me this morning). It means not squeezing by on the right in a single traffic lane to make a right turn (especially when there is no shoulder, like in a city, as happened to me this morning). For pedestrians, it would mean not crossing the street against the signal -- it would probably hurt less to get hit by a bike, but bikes are still part of traffic, still need a few feet of stopping distance, and ultimately it's illegal to cross against traffic. A lot of these things indicate selfishness, selfishness of time and perceived convenience.

There are a few other things I would like motorists to keep in mind when sharing the road with cyclists.

  • People can be startled, some pretty easily
    • a startled motorist may, at worst, swerve; cars don't fall over
    • a startled cyclist may swerve into passing traffic or fall over; this can be dangerous
  • When you honk, you honk at everyone
    • assuming horns carry over from maritime tradition, they are signals for docking and dark passage
    • horns in cars are for signaling your presence (in a one-lane tunnel, for example)
    • car horns may be the single most stressful stimulus for me as a city commuter, whether I'm on foot, in a car, or on a bike. Just stop freaking honking already, we get it. You have Important Places to be. 
  • Cyclists have pretty good situational awareness
    • drive predictably and follow the rules of the road
    • however well intentioned, don't honk as you overtake us, it's startling (we know you're there)
On point one, what startles me as a cyclist? Well, I was startled today by the driver who snuck up on my right between me and the curb to make a right turn onto a street. I didn't expect him there: this goes to predictability. Yelling or honking is startling. Anything unexpected is startling. We expect there to be cars and vehicular traffic, we expect there to be pedestrians. We expect to be treated as respected road users, so when things deviate from that expectation, we are startled. The sometimes open hostility towards cyclists in Atlanta makes me a little jumpy to begin with, so when additional, unpredictable (unexpected) behaviors occur, I am startled, making me less safe and more vulnerable. 

I think that about covers it. I guess the last thing is: don't park in or otherwise block the bike lanes, because screw you, that's why.