Saturday, October 30, 2010

on feeling safe

I've been thinking about how there is a difference between whether an action is safe enough and whether a person feels safe while doing it.

So here's a thought from psychology and parenting. If someone feels unsafe or scared or intimidated or anxious, let's acknowledge it. They own the feeling. Not me/you/us, not the world, not the other people in the world. Let's not say: "Well, you shouldn't be." It may be true, but there are other sides to it: it's kind of rude, it doesn't really work, and there's a good likelihood that they'll be either offended or annoyed.

dunsmuir bike lane

The reality is that when riding on roads on lanes shared with cars, it's not a gigantic leap that many people will feel any or all of the above. Sometimes I am scared. I was more scared in the beginning (by almost everything except the seawall) and now I am not scared as much. I'm still scared when I have to merge across lanes of full-speed car traffic in order to turn left.

A sixteen-year old might be scared the first time they leave the parking lot and drive on a real road. Someone who has grown up in a rural area might be scared the first time they visit a big, bustling city. A grown adult might be scared when they first ride a bicycle in the same space as cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles.

All these people may be scared because they do not feel safe. Within this feeling unsafe is (a) your own comfort level and familiarity with the activity, (b) your knowledge and factual information about the activity, and (c) the environment that the activity is performed in. (Note: not an exhaustive list.)

Cycling may be safe enough in certain scenarios that specialized protective equipment is not necessary. (---with "certain scenarios" being a combination of the environment supporting the cycling and the cyclist's personal skill/knowledge.) There is currently great disagreement about whether this is true and which in what context.

There are many ways we can change whether cycling is safe enough and whether each individual feels safe while doing it. However, while they are related goals, they are not the same.

Do I need to repeat that?

Do I need to bold or CAPITALIZE it or put it on its own line so that I don't forget it?

Safe enough and feeling safe are not the same.

Some of the current initiatives for change are: creating separated infrastructure (thank you, City of Vancouver); providing education and training for those who don't want to build comfort and familiarity independently (thank you, VACC); raising awareness of existing bike cultures with low cyclist injury rates (thank you Copenhagen Cycle Chic). I'm sure there are about a million more and I would love to sit down and do some research and creative idea generation, but that needs to be left for another time.

Today I'm all italicized out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

a story about awareness

I had a funny, positive experience with a coworker today on the way home from work.

As usual, I was carrying my helmet under my arm as we shared the elevator. We don't work on the same floor so I don't see him much-- before today he probably didn't realize I rode to work.

"Riding home?" he asked. (It was dark outside already, and a bit drizzly.)

"Oh yeah," I said nonchalantly, and gave my usual reason. "I live in the West End, so it's quicker even than taking the bus."

He agreed it would be, as he finished retrieving his car keys from his bag. With a bit of a guilty laugh, he said: "I guess I'll pollute for both of us."

"We'll cancel each other out," I replied with a smile. Awareness is my thing-- I'm not into judging or making anyone feel bad for their choices.

We separated when he continued downstairs to the parkade and I retrieved my bike at the racks. But as I headed off on the road, he was just pulling out as well. While we were stopped at the red light, in different lanes to turn different directions, he rolled down his window briefly. "Thanks..." he said. "For cancelling me out."

I think he really meant it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

slow blink

We haven't had a music video in a while.

Hawksley Workman via The City Cyclist.

I especially love how slow they're going -- languid, smooth -- and the variety of bicycles they're riding. And there's nothing quite like cruising around with a group of good friends.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

matinees on rainy days

The weather forecast was looking blah for the weekend, so my friend Melanie and I decided to take in a matinee showing of the movie Never Let Me Go at Tinseltown.

While she hasn't ridden much in the rain yet, Melanie bravely rode to the theatre, even though the skies were threatening to open up. (I did too, having challenged myself to ride through the fall and winter regardless of weather.) By the time the movie was over, the rain had begun. We took refuge in a coffee shop to see if we could wait it out, but it was still spitting by the time our coffee cups were empty.

So we left anyway.

We headed in her direction, along a 98% empty seawall on the south side of False Creek. What a treat! Eventually we split to head in our respective directions home and I enjoyed another stretch of blissfully quiet seawall path on the north side of False Creek. All this while the sky was moody grey and presenting just a medium fall shower.

I arrived home to find an email from Melanie about how positive this cycling-in-the-rain experience had been, despite the fact that beforehand she'd felt like she didn't have the right gear. She been wearing two pairs of tights and simply removed the outer pair after getting home. I'd only been wearing one, but my jacket was longer so compensated for it. Helmets: kept our heads dry. Gloves (the normal kind, nothing cycling-specific): kept our hands warm. Footwear: leather boots were good enough for this level of rain. Shower cap: covered saddle while not riding and covered purse while riding. Dual-purpose!

In summary, she had this to say:
Overall, the experience helped to calm some of my fears of riding in the rain, especially since it took very few adjustments to my regular attire (i.e. throwing a shower cap in my purse).

Experiences like this remind me that even with all the planning and information and advertising in the world, what often makes or breaks the perception of an activity is actually doing it.

Happy cyclists looking just like we always do...even in the drizzle. Ride on!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

on dignity

What is missing from the prominent stereotype of cycling in North America?


This is what I gained when replacing my handlebars to engineer a more upright posture.

I see so many people hunched over, eyes pointed at the pavement, pedalling away like their lives depended it.

How unappealing. Really-- it just looks so hard.