Monday, April 17, 2017

Taking the Lane

I don't know how to broach this subject without being labeled a traitor to cycling, but please hear me out.  I am not a fan of taking a lane.  My problem isn't really with the concept of taking a lane, it's more with the people who do it out of a sense of entitlement rather than safety-driven necessity.  For leisure cyclists that steer clear of municipal throughways, "taking the lane" refers to the times when a cyclist (or cyclists) ride in the middle of a car lane.  In the City of Philadelphia, bicycles have the same rights as cars, so this is a perfectly legal maneuver.  I don't know the legality of taking a lane in other cities and states, so for the sake of this post, please know that everything I'm talking about is from a Philadelphia perspective.

The reason this is fresh in my mind is that the other day while leading a bicycle tour down South St. near the Magic Gardens, a car drove past us as we pulled up to a light.  This car did nothing wrong and gave us as much space as it could considering the cars parked on both sides of the road.  The car made it through the yellow and we stopped at the red.  Nothing about the interaction even registered in my mind, but a pavement-standing, rage-faced on-looker quickly caught my attention.  He began yelling not so much at, but in support of, us.  "You don't have to let those cars go by," he hollered over at my group, veins bulging from his forehead.  "Cars can't drive close to you, and you have every right to take the [gal-durn] lane."  He continued for a while, furiously preaching the rights of city cyclists to a row of nodding heads.  That light couldn't turn green fast enough.

He was what reminded me of why I hate taking the lane.  There are perfectly valid reasons to take a lane, the most important of which is safety.  Cars are obligated to give cyclists in Philadelphia four feet of riding room.  This seldom happens, often out of the unavailability of space, not from malice, so taking a lane forces drivers to relent.  Aside from granting room, it increases a cyclist's visibility.  Ironically, cyclists can be more difficult to see in the day time, as at night, flashing rear lights typically provide exceptional proof of the existence of an upcoming cyclist.  In the daytime, though, cyclists can easily blend in with the city blur, and a driver preoccupied with expedience or texting can easily fail to notice their presence.  Right-hand turns are the enemy of cyclists, and taking a lane is supposed to prevent this sort of accident.  Taking a lane for the sake of safety is never a bad thing.

But sometimes, lane takers (the infuriated pedestrian included) take lanes as a way to stick it to cars.  Since they have a right to do it, they do it, and damn the row of cars behind them.  And this really pisses me off.  These are the same people that get filled with righteous indignation when a FedEx truck is parked in a bike lane or when cars do a slow-and-roll at a stop sign.  They know their rights as cyclists and they have every intention of following to the letter any laws that benefit them.  They are also the same people that weave through traffic and blow through stop signs because they acknowledge the spirit of the law when that better suits them.

The thing is, regardless of what rules and regulations get passed by the city, the most important is the Golden Rule.  For those so atheistic that the mention of anything biblical causes you to shield your eyes like a vampire in Cabo, it can be secularly expressed as, "Don't be an asshole because you don't like it when people are assholes to you."  Taking a lane without reason backs up traffic.  You don't like being stuck in backed up traffic, so why would you do that to other people?  The same goes for all of the other scenarios.  God forbid someone parks in your precious bike lane forcing you to go around it.  Do you know how hard it is to park in the city?  Sometimes you just need to run in for two seconds.  It's not the end of the world.  Put yourself in the position of the other person for one second before you get all worked up.  Life is hard; stop trying to make it harder for other people.

Really, though, what it all comes down to, is that I don't want your indignant attitude to be payed forward to some unsuspecting cyclist that may not share your point of view.  What I'm saying is, I don't want to get run over by some driver who was stuck behind you for ten blocks with no way of letting you know how they feel so they then take their rage out on the next cyclist passing by.  I'm not saying don't take the lane, I'm just saying to think about yourself as something other than the center of the universe.

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