Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loose screw

The temperature was just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when I passed the bank sign just after seven o'clock. It's dark out at this time, this time of year. I've begun taking a slightly different route to school just this week due to a new bike lane installed last week.

Previously, I'd pedal one block over to the slight downhill grade into town on the four lane highway where traffic speed is reduced from 40 to 30 to the left turn only lane at the traffic lighted intersection. It's an uninterrupted downhill grade to the lights, a distance of maybe a quarter mile on smooth four lane concrete Kansas D.O.T. maintained highway. It's quick and convenient.

This week I've altered my path. Now, I go straight, down a similar grade on the street adjacent to my house. It's a similar distance, but it's city maintained streets. This means dips for drainage; potholes where the blacktop has been broken away and the old brick below it is exposed; two stop signs (I take an Idaho stop approach to these stop signs, which means I treat the stop sign as a yield sign, slowing with caution, then, if clear continuing on without stopping). Also, there is a slight uphill grade to climb to reach the stop sign where my left turn is. This is where the bicycle lane begins, after the completion of the left turn, once I am on the former state highway. From this point I am going downhill again and building speed until it flattens out a block or so from the same lighted intersection I used to encounter when I took the other route.

The new route is not quite as quick, due to all those reasons I mentioned. However, I have begun taking this new route in order to show my appreciation to the city for installing the bicycle lanes. Plus, I figure using the bicycle lanes is slightly safer than riding the other route which has no bicycle lane. I say using the lanes are only slightly safer because whether you are aware or it or not, there are some design flaws involved in bicycle lanes which on occasion make them more unsafe than simply riding in the lane as a vehicle.

The most potentially hazardous design flaw found in the idea behind bicycle lanes, from my perspective, is how the bicycle lane cuts through the path of a right turning vehicle. This is from the perspective of a cyclist who pretty much attempts to operate his bicycle as a vehicle. Since I try to operate as a vehicle, and do things which a vehicle driver would expect out of a vehicle, I abstain from staying completely to the right on a road which provides a right hand only turning lane.  This ordinarily is not too big a deal, because vehicles will sometimes go ahead around me on the left, using a portion of the oncoming traffic lane to pass. This becomes problematic when there is a raised, separated median between opposing traffic lanes. So, imagine it: I am on my bicycle staying generally on the right hand third of the lane, in the right lane of  a four lane, median separated road. The righ hand lane I have been traveling upon has now become marked as a right hand turn only lane. I have no intention of turning right because just beyond the right hand turn in question the bicycle lane begins. I must then signal to vehicles I'm moving into the left lane, stay in the right hand third of the left hand lane while vehicles turning right are passing me on the right hand side, and vehicles behind me are breathing down my neck because they can't pass me on the left because there's a raised concrete median preventing them from doing this.

Luckily, the stretch in question in truth is only a hundred yards or twice that, but it seems like more when I am trying to be a friendly, considerate part of traffic who also expects courtesy and respect in return. Part of showing courtesy and friendliness is recognizing the fact that every vehicle out there can travel faster than me on a bike, and trying to slow them down as little as possible, without placing myself in any  danger.

These are some thoughts about bike lanes and thoughts behind commuting by bicycle. My two sons are right now requiring my assistance so I must stop this entry.

Oh yeah, the reason I titled it loose screw is because I lost one of the screws which holds my chain guard in place. I stopped by the lumber yard and hardware store and replaced it with a longer one which I additionally double nutted and used a lock washer.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

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