Thursday, May 14, 2009

481. Bike to Work - Remember to Stop at the Stoplights

Tomorrow has been declared Bike To Work Day, an environmentally friendly sounding idea given the amount of pollutants each car, truck, TARC bus, and other motor vehicle emit as they drive up and down the streets and highways. I am one of those people who love to drive - seeing the USA in my Chevrolet like Dinah Shore said we should do. My car is a small Chevrolet getting gas mileage in the 30s, but it does run on gas and I've polluted counties all across the Commonwealth. Perhaps I shouldn't be too critical of a Bike to Work Day. But, I do have a concern.

My trek into work, on those days which I drive - I also walk or ride the TARC, is a short one - about 16 blocks. There aren't a lot of bikers along the path I take down to Witherspoon Street, over to Bingham Way which becomes E. River Road as you go around the curve, then west to 6th Street and south to Congress Alley. Not much of a trip. It would be an easy bike ride, even for an out-of-shape 48 year old. I should probably take up the idea of peddling my way to work. My health could certainly use the boost.

There was a time I rode my bike a lot. I rode my stingray with regularity all over Okolona growing up, cutting through woods and paths that have since been developed into the drives and lanes of many new subdivisions. I remember getting my first 10-speed from my Dad when he lived in the Camelot apartments in the Highlands, sometime in the early 1970s. It was a warm and sunny day-after-Christmas and me and my brother, whose got the identical bike, took off from Everett Avenue down past the then-unfinished superstructure that later became the 1400 Willow, and from there into and through Cherokee Park and the adjoining Seneca Park. Before we knew it we were in the Bowman Field parking lot, quite a distance from our starting point to which we had to return.

When I was in my early 20s, I used to get up early on a Saturday - early meaning halfway through the night about 3:30 am, and take off from my Camp Taylor home to head into town. I'd ride down Preston to Hill, then walk my bike across the railroad crossing - my friend Dan Borsch would like to see that crossing reopened to traffic by the way - and from there I'd cut over to Old Louisville and head north on 4th Street to the fairy abandoned Fourth Street Mall. The anchoring hotels along the Mall, now known once again as simply Fourth Street, had just reopened. Both the Brown and the Seelbach long stood empty and most of the rest of the mall hadn't yet been revitalized, and some would argue it still hasn't. For the record, they would be wrong and can be proven wrong most any night by driving down Muhammad Ali Boulevard through the 4th Street intersection anytime from 9pm to 1am. The place is packed. But, I digress.

Much of my bicycle riding was done in the middle of the night or early in the morning, with very little traffic. A few times in the late 1970s and early 1980s I rode all the way to Frankfort along US60, staying overnight at a cousin's, and then returning the next day. I do not ever remember riding to work in the 1980s and I quit riding a bike before the 1990s arrived. So, I may not be the best spokesperson on this matter.

I will plainly admit that Louisville's avid bike riders annoy me, especially those who ride to work on a weekday, weaving in and out of traffic, regularly running stoplights, crossing up onto and off of sidewalks, and generally disregarding both the vehicular traffic and the vehicular traffic laws. I am not upset by their presence; I'm upset by their intentional violation of the city's traffic code. And it is upsetting to me that nothing is ever done about it.

Downtown there are two or three bicycle courier services who regularly peddle their business on the city's sidewalks. This is illegal and I've told more than one of them they are violating the law, but to no avail. When people are exitting one of our city's office buildings, dodging a bicycle courier should not be one of their problems. Sadly that is not the case, especially along the 5th Street business district between Liberty and Main. Bikes regularly weave in and out of pedestrians and occasionally tag them with a mirror or handlebar.

If your were tagged with the mirror or bumper of a car, and you took a notion to raise hell about it, your first line of response would be to get the license number. That isn't possible with bicyclists. They are unlicensed, perhaps as drivers, but certainly as vehicles. With a car, you look over and jot down a number. Now, think for a minute, why does that car have a license number anyway? There are two answers. One is to let people know - people meaning the law - who owns a car which may be violating the law. The other far more important reason a car carries a tag is to indicate the car represents the payment of taxes in the form of a license plate. Paying for car tags is one way of paying for streetlights, stopsigns, and asphalt. The other way of doing that is filling your car up with gas. Gasoline taxes in Kentucky account for nearly 37 cents for each gallon of gas you pump - a little higher for diesel. (Federal taxes add another 18 to 25 cents per gallon). Bikes pay nothing into the system which provide payment for roads. Bikes do not provide any revenues, except when they are first sold by the payment of sales tax.

Admittedly there are other things besides roads which are provided by the government for which no payment is made for general use. Parks are one example. I had a great albeit overly libertarian business professor in college, Dr. Bernard Theimann, who suggested that fences be erected around every park facility and an entrance fee be charged each time a person enters. He said that was one way of paying for their use. But most people using a park aren't simultaneously violating traffic laws as many bicyclists do - except of course a handful of bicyclists who ride through stopsigns, cross over lanes, and generally operate their bikes in the parks just as they do on other city streets - recklessly and often illegally.

But, a question. Have you ever seen any of our city police officers cite a bicyclist for anything? For weaving in and out of traffic? For riding on the sidewalks? For running a stopsign, or more dangerously, a stoplight? Or even speeding? The speed limit on most of downtown Louisville's streets is 25 miles per hour, a speed often violated, especially on long stretches of road, such as Main Street between Baxter Avenue and Slugger Field.

All this is not to say I am against bike riding - I'm not. And I wish I had the initiative to go bike riding more regularly. Part of it is fear of drivers, part of it being overweight, and part is just plain old damned laziness. But when (or if) I do, my goal will be to acknowledge, observe, and obey traffic regulations like any other vehicle on the street. That's a goal. I've admittedly fail to attain other goals and this one might meet with a similar end. But, it is a goal nonetheless.

The right to use the road comes with the responsibility to obey the law, doesn't it?

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.