Tuesday, November 18, 2008
DALLAS -- If you have spotted a bike rider dressed in pink looking terrified and holding on for dear life on the side of the road, that was most definitely me.
Last month, Dallas Mayor Jim Fairchild hinted at a City Council meeting that the city isn't "bike friendly." So, with a bike borrowed from my editor's wife, I have been riding around town to see if the mayor is correct. In my experience, the city was satisfactory to ride in, and I'm basing this mostly on the fact that I was never heckled or hit by a motorist.
I prefer to transport myself on two legs in running form. I don't know what it is, but people love to yell out car windows at runners. I usually return their lewd comments with my classic angry face and pick up the pace because the offender could never do what I do, let alone in a skirt.
Now, I am totally guilty of being frustrated by slow bikers, so I was expecting that as soon as I hopped on my borrowed set of wheels and braced myself for battle with motorists of the four-wheeled variety.
However, even though I rode slowly and constantly felt as though I would fall off, I wasn't heckled once. Dallas drivers generally went around the pink cyclist hugging the right side of the road. I was only cut off once by a big SUV that decided he simply didn't want to wait for little ol' me.
I tried to keep in mind that I am a motorist when I am bicycling on the road, and brushed up on my turn signals. Right turns were easy, but left turns into traffic were downright terrifying. Terrified of losing my balance but determined to obey the law, I would quickly throw my left arm out straight, pink-gloved hand open wide to signal. It took my breath away that I was able to cross traffic safely, though not because I was impressed but because I was happy I made it through the intersection alive.
In the beginning, I wandered safely through neighborhoods. Coming down Southeast LaCreole Drive, I spotted a green sign pointing me toward a bike route. I soon discovered that I had no idea why the stretch of road was labeled as a bike route and after following four or five of the signs, they simply disappeared. Were the signs part of some unfinished project? All I knew was I was lost for a bit trying to wind my way through the streets.
I had wanted to do my grocery shopping on the bike, but when I realized that there was no way I could bring home a week's worth of groceries I resorted to a simple trip to rent a movie. There was a bike rack near Safeway, so I locked my bike up out there. However, when I thought about biking to the gym, I realized the closest bike rack I could find was in front of City Hall -- not the best place for me to keep an eye on it. After all, it wasn't my bike.
At work, I was able to wheel it into the newsroom and not cause too much trouble. I could see how those with expensive bikes wouldn't want to come downtown as there aren't enough visible bike racks to constantly know their $4,000 custom-built bike is safe and sound.
Only once was I brave enough to bike Ellendale Avenue. I rode up Fir Villa Road, and held my breath as I made the left turn. For a short stretch there was no shoulder along the road at all and the cars were flying past me at 45 mph. I kept repeating in my head "Please don't hit me, please don't hit me."
When I run, I move against traffic so I can always see the cars coming. However, bikers must flow with traffic and it was scary to not know if I was going to be hit. The cycling guide I grabbed from the Independence Police Station said most accidents occur when bikers ride against traffic, so I kept replaying that fact in my mind.
Eager to get off the road even though the speed reduced to 35 mph, I headed down LaCreole Drive. I'd had enough. Adrenaline junkie I am not. I definitely appreciated the spacious bike lane on Miller Avenue much more than the small-shouldered Ellendale Avenue.
I was impressed with the local motorists' attitudes toward me as a rider, and thankful that it's only 20 mph in the downtown area. But it would be great to have more bike racks downtown than one and a bike lane on Ellendale and the highways.
The Dallas City Council, as part of a $54 million transportation system plan, is looking at adding bike routes, bike lanes and more bike racks and shelters to attract more riders during the next 10 to 20 years. If these plans are followed through, the city would make the roads more enjoyable for bikers and motorists.
I will not be trading in my running shoes and my car for a bike. After my longest ride of 45 minutes, it was the first time I was literally in pain to sit down to write a story.