I mean, we really do. But to a recent Treehugger article advocating commuting by bicycle as a form of stress-relieving exercise, many bike commuters (me included) responded with warnings about the seriously stressful rides they endure to get to work and back.
Though the responses at the Treehugger site were light, the responses on Treehugger’s Facebook page were more illuminating. Riders complained about anti-bike car drivers, bad roads, lack of bike lanes or road-sharing arrangements, and lack of office clean-up facilities (or just plain hard weather) as highly-stressful biking realities.
I admit to similar feelings, in the supposedly bike-friendly Washington, DC. Despite the (sporadic) evidence of bike lanes in the city, in fact few of them are safe, mainly because very few of them are physically separated from the main roads; and drivers of every motor vehicle regularly ignore the unseparated lanes, block them during loading, cut across them while turning without looking for bikes, or use them to park or double-park. My ride to work, which consists of 50% (all unseparated) bike lane roads, might as well be on roads with no bike lanes at all, given the total lack of consideration and attention given to the lanes that are there.
And on this last Friday, which happened to be National Bike to Work Day, things were even worse. Extra traffic in Washington significantly increased the amount of bike lane blocking and ignoring throughout the city. I’m sure many a Washingtonian who decided to try out bike commuting on National Bike to Work Day found many a reason not to continue the practice on Monday.
And as bad as Washington can be, my suburb of Germantown, MD is even worse, having fewer bike lanes (all shared with cars or pedestrians), and a culture of drivers who pay more attention to their cellphones than their surroundings, jump lights, make turns without looking or signalling, wander across lanes and make sudden “confusion” stops with no warning or hazard lights used. Honestly, I’ve had more close calls in a week of Germantown bike riding than I have in a month of riding half the distance in Washington.
So, as much as I (and many others) would like to advocate bike riding to work, the reality is that most major cities and outlying areas are simply not configured for safe bike riding, and need serious improvement done to make bike riding a viable commuting option for all but the most brave, vigilant and dedicated bikers. Clearly marked and separated lanes, better intersections (with bike crossing signals) and clean, well-maintained roads are essential. Workplaces should also make sure bikers have a safe place to store their bikes and a place to change or clean up after a ride if needed.
Most importantly, drivers need to be cognizant of bikers and accept them as roadway sharers, not as interlopers, and drive appropriately and alertly.
And as the future progresses, and we see self-driving automobiles joining drivers on the roads—and possibly, ultimately, replacing human drivers—it will be even more important to make sure bicycles will be safe sharing the roads with self-driving cars and pedestrians. There’s a lot at stake, and so many ways in which we could get it wrong. We need to work with more dedication to getting it right.