The Boyfriend says that bikers throughout the city of Philadelphia know well the hum of my 2000 Land Rover Discovery. You know what I say? I wish they did. Then maybe they’d get the hell out of the way. Normally, my temperament doesn’t really tend toward incidents of road rage. (Extreme Pedestrian Rage, maybe, but that’s a whole other story). Rather, I’m the type to send a grateful prayer up to baby Jesus when I have a close call on the road, rather than curse the jackass who caused it. But years of negotiating city roads with less than conscientious bikers pedaling haphazardly around my moving vehicle like spastic pinballs have more than provided an exception to this norm.
When the city created the first significant batch of bike lanes back in late 2009, I enjoyed the glimmer of hope that this would solve the animosity between drivers and bikers in Center City. A place for everything, and everything in its place, I thought, and they’ll stay in their lanes and we drivers will stay in ours, and there will be set rules we’ll all blissfully follow—and surely they won’t need to go on the sidewalks anymore, what with a home to call their own, now—and we’ll all live happily ever after. The glimmer lasted about a minute.
As far as I could tell, the lanes seemed to validate their existence as bikers—not in the fair, we’re-all-equal-now kind of way, but in a way that seemed to bolster their assertion that they could go where they wanted and do what they pleased upon their two special wheels. They became bolder. They continued to ride in my lane, theirs running parallel and empty beside them. They came up behind me from the left side and made a right turn in front of me, just as the light turned from red to green. I’ve idled in the middle of the road, waiting for a biker to pass me—not just in my lane again, but coming toward me, going west on Pine—and stumbled and gasped as they’ve zoomed past while I teetered down the sidewalk carrying my weight in groceries. I think my favorite had to be when I sat at a light, watching in my rearview as some hipster coasted through the miniscule alleyway between the passenger side of cars parked along the left side of the road and the driver side of cars waiting at the light in their lane, snapping off a lovely collection of side mirrors as he went like some sort of wayward SEPTA bus.
So you’ll have to forgive me if, when in late April, the city announced not only the opening of more bike lanes, but implemented the touchy-feely Give Respect-Get Respect campaign, directed at reducing accidents between cyclists and motorists, I barely raised an eyebrow. Bikers just always struck me as your fifth-grade class clown who could always charm his way out of getting in trouble, or the idiot bobbing and weaving 110 mph down 95 at rush hour, with nary a cop to be seen: Nothing will ever happen to them, I thought. If anything, motorists will start getting tickets more, the mean, much heavier and powerful bullies getting punished, even in cases where it was the little guy’s fault.
I am happy to say that the stats printed in yesterday’s Daily News article chronicling the progress of the whole Give Respect-Get Respect thing have proved me wrong: 803 police stops, 600 of them for cyclists! Not only that, but quotes from cops assessing that it is indeed the cyclists who seem to be breaking the rules. Hallelujah, justice has been served, I thought—at least to the potential 600 drivers or pedestrians who were startled or infuriated or even, perhaps, had their vehicles damaged as a result of whatever those bikers were illegally doing.
I think that biking around the city is a great idea—a great, green, healthy, efficient idea. I think that the city should make it easier for people to implement this great, green, healthy, efficient mode of personal transportation. I know this. And for those biking Philadelphians who do so peacefully, rock on. But for those of you who flail around Philly like you’re Evel Knievel and the cars around you are soft, fluffy blobs of marshmallow operated by people on their best, most alert ten-and-two driving behavior at all times, look alive. The party is over.