Monday, August 10, 2009

Taking Vehicular Cycling Out for a Test Drive

OK, first of all, is it goofy that I set up a blog, make one post, and then fail to post for four months? I'm thinking so . . .

Today was my first day back at work for the new school year. I've spent the summer riding on the multi-use trail in George Bush park building up my capacity to ride 20 miles a day.

However, I knew that I was going to have to figure out how to deal with traffic on the three busy roadways that provide the most direct route from home to my place of employment in Katy: Westheimer Road (FM 1093), Westheimer Parkway, and Fry Road.

I don't know how I found it, but over the summer I read PM Summer's blog, Cycle Dallas. He espouses the practice of "Vehicular Cycling," a term coined by cyclist author John Forester to describe how bicyclists should behave in traffic. Forester sums up the philosophy behind his approach by stating that, "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

Reading about it is well and good, but when the rubber meets the road (cliche' intended), how do I deal with the prospect that I might get run off of the road. After all, I've been clobbered good by a car at least once in my life . . .

One lazy afternoon, while clicking links on Cycle Dallas, I came across this series of videos intended to demonstate how to ride a bike in Dallas traffic. Seventy minutes later, I saw, for myself, how cyclists could safely (and easily) interact with city traffic without having to rely on low-traffic roads or bike lanes to get around.

Still, I needed to experience it for myself, and I was still a bit scared.

I've ridden this route before; the last time was on "Bike to Work" day in May. My morning ride was consistently enjoyable, even in the dark, due to low traffic. When travelling in the morning, I tended to ride in the middle of the lane so that my reflectors and flashers could be clearly seen by the cars and trucks that shared the road with me (usually travelling at speeds well above the posted limit). However, on the return trip, I tended to hug the right side of the road (there is no shoulder) on the Parkway, and the gutter on Westheimer. I got buzzed a lot at 40 mph or more . . . not to mention a lot of horns and profanities.

Today, I decided on this, my first day of the new school year, that it was time to confront my fear of taking the lane on Westheimer Parkway and Westheimer Road eastbound.

Watching vehicles approach me from behind (I have a rear-view mirror on my helmet) at 50 + mph was unnerving, to say the least. At times, I could see that someone was going to have to wait to pass me because there was a line of cars on the inside lane. Still, every single driver crossed over into the left lane and passed me safely. The longest any driver had to wait was about 30 seconds.

When I stopped at the corner of Westheimer and Eldridge, all four lanes were full behind me. Once I crossed the intersection safely, I pulled into the nearest driveway, waited for that group of cars to clear, and rejoined the flow of traffic. My "delay" was less than a minute, I felt more comfortable, and I'm sure I generated goodwill amongst the automobile drivers that would have been waiting at least that long to pass me had I chosen to continue.

Did I have any negative incidents? Yes, three people laid on their horns (out of at least a couple hundred cars that shared the route with me). In the park, a constable passed me without incident, which validates my choice further.

It's going to take time for me to ride my evening route without anxiety, and I'm especially anxious about doing it in the dark once daylight savings time ends.

Somebody told me once that courage wasn't the absence of fear, it was the willingness to act in spite of it. So, I plan to undertake my own little act of courage again tomorrow.

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