Roads can be a scary place for cyclists
I like to bike, but I seldom describe myself as a cyclist.
The word connotes seriousness, skill and discipline, all of which I lack.
I don’t use my bike for commuting. I don’t race. And I don’t know very much about bicycles.
Like many people, I ride for exercise and recreation, often on the bike path in Albany. I seek out less-traveled routes, and prefer quiet side streets to busier roads.
I try to minimize encounters with traffic as much as possible, but there’s no way to completely eliminate cars from my travels. That’s just the reality of biking in the Capital Region.
Though I don’t consider myself a hardcore cyclist, I take an interest in bike-related projects. This is partly because every year I resolve to ride my bike more, and partly because I think bikes are cool. Also, I have a lot of friends who bike.
Any effort to improve cycling benefits us all, even dabblers such as myself. After all, if the roads were easier to navigate, we might be more inclined to bike.
One bike-related project that recently caught my eye is actually an art project called We Love Bikes.
The brainchild of Albany resident Carrie Will, We Love Bikes entails photographing cyclists from the Capital Region and their bikes using a 4x5 view camera. Her goal is to shoot about 30 cyclists, and self-publish a book containing the portraits.
Right now, a handful of portraits are featured on Will’s website, though she said there are more to come. One of the images depicts a man on a recumbent bicycle, parked on a desolate strip of blacktop near a graffiti-tagged brick warehouse. In another image, a man stands proudly next to his bike, a helmet-clad toddler strapped into a bicycle seat above the rear wheel.
“I really love portraits,” Will said. “They tell you something about a person.”
When I spoke to Will, I asked her what taking portraits of cyclists would accomplish. She said the roads she and her fellow cyclists ride “really aren’t safe” and she wanted to “bring attention to a community that sometimes gets ignored.”
Like her subjects, Will, 34, is a cyclist.
“I commute to work,” she said. “I ride all the time.”
Her main reason for becoming an avid cyclist was financial: “I can’t afford a car.”
A yoga instructor, Will teaches at several different sites, and uses her bike to get to them. One of the biggest challenges she and other cyclists face is “drivers not realizing cyclists have a right to be on the road,” she said. “People yell and honk at us and tell us to get on the sidewalk. They clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Will is right: Anybody who tells a cyclist to get on the sidewalk does not know what they’re talking about. By law, bikes are considered traffic, and cyclists are barred from riding on the sidewalk.
But having the law on your side doesn’t mean it isn’t unnerving when angry drivers yell at you for being in the road. Last spring, a truck driver leaned out his window and yelled at me, and I decided that ignoring him would be less likely to spark a road rage incident than giving a short lecture on state Vehicle and Traffic Law.
I often wonder about the people who yell at bicyclists from their cars. Is a lack of awareness about the rights of cyclists really the problem? Or are these people just jerks? I drive a lot, and I’ve never rolled down my window to yell at anybody, for any reason. Why do bikers inspire such anger?
One reason, I suspect, is the number of poorly behaved bikers out there. These people are not exactly helping the cyclist cause. This summer, I found myself cursing a biker riding the wrong way on a one-way street; as I waited at an intersection for a light to turn green, he came flying around the corner and nearly took me out.
So, yes, some bikers can be obnoxious.
But this doesn’t explain or excuse the aggression sometimes directed at bikers who aren’t doing anything wrong. Among cyclists, stories about angry drivers abound. These drivers make the roads a scarier place to be. And the roads are already a little scary. Cycling accidents are common, as are encounters with hostile drivers.
A recent New York Times piece examined the safety of cycling, but a lack of good data made it difficult for reporter Gina Kolata to draw any conclusions. She notes, “No one has good statistics, for example, on crashes per mile ridden. Nor do the data distinguish road cycling on a fast, light bike with thin tires from mountain biking down dirt paths filled with obstacles or recreational cycling on what the industry calls a comfort bike. Yet they are very different sports.”
Will is trying to capture this variety with her photography project.
“The cycling community has lots of different shapes and looks,” she told me. “There are mountain bikes, there are road bikes. There are winter commuters, there are fair weather riders.”
There are also a lot of people who don’t bike. And this is fine. But by introducing us to some of the people who do, Will is doing her small part to make the roads safer for cyclists. When you understand the people who ride bikes are parents with children, or people who are simply trying to get to work, it becomes harder to scream at them out your car window. At least, that’s my hope.
To learn more about Will’s project, visit www.carriewill.com/welovebikes.
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