February 11, 2009

Cycles of Doom

The fun has continued all weekend, and up until today, pretty much.  
It's been REALLY nice out... albeit a little windy.  

Last night, the first thunder and lightning of the year... in FEBRUARY?
Weird.  Indeed.  But, awesome.... I love this time of year... (well, assuming the weather holds)

After waking up late and having to help out with the kids, I decided to lay off the bike today and handle the constant downpour from the car.   You know, I've really come to despise driving - really.  Sometimes its a necessary evil, but I really prefer not to if I can help it anymore - despite the weather.  Last night, I had to work over in Missouri, Lees Summit specifically - and riding the bike all the way over there with tools and such just wasn't in the cards.  There's a good example of necessary evil... and in the best form:  I-470 at rush hour.  Nothing will make you loath society more, I nearly guarantee it.  At least I had ridden to my primary job yesterday morning to keep the balance correct.  

Still, one thing I noticed:  I've been a long-time proponent of the Mo/Kan Iron Curtain.  Missouri drivers, for the longest time, should stay on the Missouri side.  When I was a kid, Kansas drivers were better.  Just recently, that opinion has changed.  Kansas Drivers are far worse.  My FAVORITE driver?.... Someone who lives and works in Kansas, but dodges the property tax bullet by registering their SUV or Lexus (or the mighty Lexus SUV) in Missouri.  Your luxury SUV makes me laugh.  People that are headed west on 151st Street during rush-hour, for example.  Surely, you're headed in the wrong direction?  These people not only don't know how to drive (read: drive and shuffle their iPUD and text on their Jackberry while driving).... or be honest about their bills and contribute their fair share to the department of transportation.  OOOO, someones in a cruddy mood, dude!   (yeah, me.)

Honestly, and back to my point (there's a point?) - I'm nearly done with suburban Johnson County.  The attitude, the drivers, the sprawl.  It's exhausting.  Missouri drivers are - from the saddle AND from behind the wheel - far better in traffic from my recent observations.  There are exceptions to everything -- but that's my most recent observation; that there is a cultural shift happening across our borders.  I don't even know where I'm going with this rant.  I think I'm just pissed.  Johnson County.  It's gettin' old.  

From a cycling perspective, I used to be really nervous about heading over into Missouri to do a ride or Brevet.... But, just in the past couple years it's actually been my preference.  They seem more patient, more grounded, and more forgiving on quiet 2-lane roads when it comes to bikes.  Honestly I'm not so sure it's a Missouri vs. Kansas thing as it's a Suburban vs. Rural thing.  But, I tell you one thing -- I HAVE to get outta the general area before I feel like a ride has REALLY started.  Leaving from the house by bicycle to start a ride -- EVEN my commute -- has gotten hairier and hairier in the four short years I've lived at this new address.  Granted, I don't think I've had any more close-calls or incidents... but I attribute that to my observations and ability to predict unfolding situations (like when that guy darts ahead of me and then suddenly slows down - he's turning right, right in front of me without a signal., for example.), managing my own risk on the saddle, and sticking to the rules.  I have a nasty feeling about those with less time on their clock navigating around these suburban speedways.  I worry about people, about new cyclists.  It's a little un-nerving to think that only a few blocks from my house that I usually get run-up on from behind by Suzy-Sequoia with her hair appointment trying to shave a few minutes off her commute by bombing down a residential street to avoid that long traffic light, latte in one hand, blue-tooth headset in her spray-tanned ear -- getting the brush-by from 2 tonnes of soccer-mom starts the heart faster than espresso.  People ask me why I like riding downtown so much.... "It's so dangerous!" they say.... pfffffffffft, please.  Come ride with me at 123rd and Antioch, if you think suburbia is so much more "cyclist-friendly".
Recently, concerning an upcoming night ride, someone was concerned about drunk drivers on a Saturday night -- and I was tempted to ask what the difference was between them and anyone on the road at any time of day anymore.  

Here's a few things I've noticed that are becoming problematic over the past few years in the "kill zone", between 119th and 159th on the north and south, and Ridgeview to Mission east and west.  

Sprawl:  Every nice, rideable road has been peppered with new and poorly-placed neighborhood entrances.  In the interest of reducing speed and breaking up monotony, many areas are beginning to install roundabouts and re-routing straight stretches of road with long, sweeping curves.  The only thing this seems to have accomplished is made impatient drivers better at examining the envelopes of their cars' handling ability.  And, few of them are very good at it.  The double-lane roundabout?  You might as well just remove those lines, because once a car enters the roundabout WITHOUT slowing down (which is standard procedure) , they will use every inch of both lanes to complete their turn.  If you're a bike, and you're in there... hold on tight.  Being a cyclist on a long, big-radius curve, hearing that car coming up - knowing that the driver is off the axis of your taillights, your reflective gear - and even in daylight, he's probably not able to discern you from the background that is just beyond you -- again, hold on tight.  The only thing these long, sweeping boulevards seem to do is confuse people, directionally, and take up more green-space, all in the interest of high property values, curb appeal, and attractive anti-geometric lots.  It plays on a model that was once established in Prairie Village... but it seems the main difference is the speed limits.  In the older neighborhoods, this works well, and was planned well - the streets are narrower, not designed for higher speeds, and the posted limits are 25 MPH.  Further, these streets are lined with residences... the streets that follow this design in the southern part of the county are only lined with entrances to residential areas.... so, in essence they are trying to get a Prairie Village feel on a major collector street that has a posted limit of 45 MPH.  NOT SAFE, for ANY-one, cyclists or drivers - or all the kids that live around here.  It would be one thing if the residential streets went through... but in most cases they do not.  Cul-de-sacs and loop-backs are all too common - and whether or not a street goes thru is usually determined by land rights at the time of build, rather than on good suburban planning and foresight.  This puts more cyclists (and drivers) back out on these collector streets and arterials, all trying to figure out if this super long curved street is carrying them west, or is it a trick?  I just want to get to 175th Street for example, so why am I weaving back and forth?  Should an arterial or collector thru-street DO that?  If drivers are going to be a hazard, I should be able to find a good 25 MPH residential pathway toward my destination, so I can enjoy my ride and stay outta the way.  Just because a neighborhood doesn't extend into "Farmer John's" field yet, does that mean the city shouldn't use their domain to cut a section road through it, so residents (and cyclists) can get through from another arterial road?  If the city couldn't get these rights, should the neighborhood even have been BUILT?  Did we REALLY NEED $300K+ homes out here?  REALLY?  There is a logic that seems to be slipping in the city planning departments - cities so desperate for tax revenue that building plans get pushed through and permits signed without much forethought - it seems.  This is all tendered against my personal notion that in this economy, builders shouldn't be striking out into any more farmer's fields right now ANY-ways... but I do understand the inevitability of it all. 

It's clear - I don't fit where I live, and I'm not going to change much about where I live by simply complaining about it.  But these 45 MPH zones zig-zagging everywhere don't seem to be helping anyone get anywhere ANY faster.  Give them an inch, and they take a mile.... indeed.... 45 MPH posted is merely a recommendation.  If everyone is going to drive 10 MPH over the speed limits ANY-ways, and law enforcement is so understaffed that they can't keep up, that means everyone is essentially going to be doing 55 MPH on these residential collector roads.  When someone screws up, people are going to get injured to a more extensive degree.  Some kid got killed outside a city park because of some jerk in a dual axle flatbed doing 60 in a 40 MPH zone.  Near a park full of kids.   If we know that everyone is going to drive ten MPH over the limits, then why not make that limit 30 MPH?... how about just 25 MPH?  Regularly seeing people bombing down MY collector street at 45 MPH, and it's posted at 30 - and I'm three blocks from an elementary school.  People are rude, dangerous, inconsiderate, tailgating freakshows.  Drop the speed limits, issue more tickets, and everyone will eventually learn to wake up fifteen minutes earlier.  Having 45 MPH speed-limits in-town doesn't get anyone anywhere, any faster.  Do the math.  Slow down; and for pete's sake, get off my tail!   What ever happened to the two-second rule???

After spending a lot of energy yelling, fighting, forum posting, advocating - one thing you may have noticed is that I've essentially stopped ranting on this site about poor cycling habits, how we need to ride by example to get the rights we deserve made into law, to make those ignorant of the existing laws more tolerant by exercising proper road etiquette (riding single file, to the right, not blowing stop signs, etc.).  I tell ya, it's exhausting.  Our advocacy folks need the biggest round of applause we can muster -- because this is thankless, exhausting work.  But the true nature of the beast is, none of us are perfect - and sadly, I think frustrations will only mount more because the fine art of GOOD DRIVING is quickly fading.  60 in a 45 is considered normal.  Four-way stop procedure:  kill or be killed.  Double-lane roundabout:  take whatever line you like, at speed.  Speed bumps:  suspension limit testers.  Cyclists:  in my way.  School zone:  teach your kids to fear the street, and no-one gets hurt.  Double lane change to make the right turn lane, without looking or signaling:  you're lucky you weren't in his way.  Crosswalks on Metcalf:  you can wait until 6pm when all the drivers have arrived at home.  What REAL difference does it make whether or not I stop and put my foot down at a stop sign while on my bicycle if Mercedes S-Class-Jack over there is barely gonna come to a rolling stop at the same intersection???  If Larry so-and-so with his F-350 Dually Power Stroke-my-inadequacy-because-I'm-such-a-diesel-driving-stud drives down the middle of Lamar because he doesn't know how wide his truck really is, who cares if I ride as far to the right as practicable?  Sometimes it's about not getting killed. 

(to be clear, I see an F-350 dually powerstroke covered with mud, huge hunks of leftover hay in the bed and a dented up bumper, with an old guy in overalls driving it -- I tip my hat.  It's the shiny, body-lifted and dubbed up, full King Ranch edition leather and navigation-equipped penny-loafer driven versions that have NEVER been and never will be taken off road, or put to work - to the point that the factory bar-code stickers are still on the axles,  driven in-town, to and from work with usually only one person in them -- that's the one's I have a problem with.)

These behaviors, and worse, are not only commonplace now, but they seem to bridge across generations:  While this used to be something you'd say only about teenager drivers, it's clear that older, established men and women that OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER simply drive like CRAP, too.  

So, you have the bad drivers - and bad drivers make bad cyclists.  Even just yesterday, I was excited to see another cyclist on the road finally - for the first time in months, as I approached the first intersection of my commute home, from the east came a guy all decked out on his road steed... we reached the intersection at roughly the same time, but he was already rolling RIGHT INTO IT, which made all the cars pause for a second while they all tried to anticipate his next move.  He took that as his queue to go, so he did.  Then it was my turn, so I headed thru after track-standing for a second or two.  Being a cyclist, there is a certain recognition on the roads -- if you see another cyclist it tends to stand out more than say, seeing a particular car.  Anyways - I figured he'd seen me, which is my assumption probably getting me in trouble.  As I accelerated to catch up and maybe say "hey", the downhill approached:  he being on a geared up race bike, and me on the fixxie -- well, it was hard for me to keep up as he upshifted and hammered down the grade.  Not after he hocked up a good one, and let a blob of spit fly over his right shoulder..... up, up....duck!... (whew).  At least I was paying enough attention to dodge it before it hit me.  That would have been nasty.  What goes down, must come up:  the downhill becomes an uphill, so I begin to close up the gap, just for sport - and again to say "hey".  Well, apparently he still doesn't see me, because he suddenly, without a twitch, a hand signal, a look over the shoulder, NOTHING - he darts over to the left to head back east on 127th street, nearly clipping my front wheel with his back wheel.  Again, thank goodness I was paying attention.  A quick brake, and retreat, and I save the near-collision.  That's about the time it crossed my mind that this guy, at some point, it getting behind the wheel of a car.  It all fits together.  An older gentleman; and IMHO, he oughta know better.  After reaching the intersection, he then looks over - surprised to find someone had been following him, I guess... "how's it going?"  Ugh.  I mean, benefit of the doubt - certainly he may have genuinely NOT known I was following him --- but he had a few opportunities during his intersection behavior and lane-change randomness to turn his head slightly and make sure he wasn't about to get run over by someone in a CAR, for example - much less piddly little me on a bike.

But, I didn't let it get me down for long -- I just shake my head a little anymore, and carry on with my ride. It's typical, utterly commonplace, and I can't control everything.  
But, I can control where I live, and where I ride -- and more and more I feel like my bike ride home doesn't truly begin until I'm safely on the bike trail - away from the drivers, and cyclists that behave like drivers.  

Meanwhile, closer to home - carefully making my way along 143rd street - ANOTHER cyclist out enjoying the weather!  Cool... maybe I'll fare better this time.... uhhh.... wait a second.  This guy takes the cake.  
Helmet - cool.  Bike looks vintage... cool... But the problem is it's difficult to exchange "hellos" when he's riding directly for my front wheel, in the bike lane, headed in the wrong direction.  I'm hammering along, with the flow of traffic, and here's this guy, diving into a drainage ditch cutout so I can pass.  I didn't turn around to see what his next move was after that -- was my presence enough to reinforce he might have needed to re-evaluate his choice of lane?  who knows.  Whoever taught this running or riding against the flow of traffic needs to be taken out and stoned, publicly.  It's invalid, out-dated, and in Shawnee at least - ticket-able, even for joggers.  Runners:  Seriously... I don't know where this notion that sidewalk joints and cracks are somehow gonna mess up your marathon pace - but knock it off, and get on the sidewalk.  There's a pictogram of a BICYCLIST painted in the bike lane, pal.  Not a picture of Pre Fontaine.
Ride scared, because apparently even our fellow cyclists are out to get us.  Luckily he moved when he did -- with my cycling cap blocking the glare from the sun, and me totally NOT expecting an oncoming traffic threat in a bicycle lane, it would have been an ugly collision - probably resulting in one of us falling sideways into the steady traffic stream that was rifling past us only a few feet away, at - you guessed it - ten MPH over the posted limit.  

I even saw someone riding their bike down 119th Street near the campus at about 10:45am - getting near the beginning of the lunch rush.  Probably because that's where she likes to drive when she's out on her day off?  She looked visibly uncomfortable, riding her brakes down the hill towards Lamar.  C'mon, people.... 119th street is NOT CYCLING FRIENDLY.  The honking alone should have told you that.  Get a map, guys!  

Have we become so lax?  Has the economic crisis focused everyone so heavily that common sense and decency is out the window?  Is there any hope for suburbia?  Will the Dude stop drinking SO MUCH coffee that he fires off into these three hour rants about effectively nothing?  

BAH.   Humbug.   


Nancy said...

Thanks for the rant. I enjoyed it. I bike commute nearly every day but I have the luxury of a 5 mile commute from Fairway to Overland Park and I know all the back roads. I also feel much safer riding to downtown and around the city. The country Johnson County roads (drivers really) scare me.

As for the street runners, I used to run in the street also. Not because of the cracks in the sidewalk - which can be an issue if you're on your 2nd hour of running and tired. It's the cement. It's about 7 times harder than asphalt. And if you run marathons, that's hell on the knees and ankles. BUT, that said, I never ran in a bike lane or a busy street and usually I was done before 7am. So, I cut them some slack.

Thanks for a great blog. Be safe out there. And may the bike gods be with you.

O. T. said...

Makes you wish gas was still $4 a gallon huh ?

melalvai said...

Thanks for the kudos to bike advocacy! I'm a MoBikeFed officer, and my advocacy work is what gets me through the type of day you had, when every motorist seems to have glowing red eyes and evil intentions.

Reading this inspired me to join KanBikeWalk. The advocacy going on in Mo affects Ks and vice versa.