Me: Hey Jim- How was the weekend?
Jim: Great – I got engaged!
Me: What? To that woman you split up with a few months ago?
Jim: Yeah – that’s right.
Me: So what happened?
Jim: Well I found out the reason she was so crazy when we were living together was that she thought I wasn’t committed to the relationship.
Me: Uh, yeah, that makes ….. uh ….. sense.
Jim: That’s right. So when I proposed she realized I was committed.
Me: Wow – that’s great. How long were you guys dating?
Jim: 9 years
Me: Man – I can’t see why she didn’t think you were committed – dating someone for 9 years sounds like commitment to me.
I’ve had bike commutes from 6 to 20 miles before moving to Utah – some on narrow mountain roads around Santa Cruz and some on busy Silicon Valley streets both with and without bike lanes. I’ve ridden after dark on narrow 2 lane roads and some of my best memories are the ride back from Watsonville to Santa Cruz at 7 or 8 pm in the Winter with just a few cars on the road and a bit of a chill in the air. Larkin Valley on a crisp winter morning is particularly memorable. Even commuting this narrow road late at night wasn’t scary since the traffic was light and with my bright lights on I was probably more visible than in daylight. Plus I always assume drivers thought I was a bit deranged and gave me just a bit more room.
I’ve ridden busy Silicon Valley roads mostly with bike lanes but some without. Some drivers seemed unconcerned with my safety and drove too closely or pulled out in front of me but mostly I felt fairly safe. I think the reasonably large number of cyclists was a constant reminder to drivers that we were out there and although they might not have liked us they figured they had to accommodate us.
So I’m fairly comfortable around cars in a variety of conditions. But I still surprise myself with the level of trepidation I feel every time I do my 2 mile commute to work. I finally understand the fear that others feel when riding in an unwelcoming environment. I also realize the importance of numbers – just having more bike riders on the road makes us all more visible and I think drivers pay a bit more attention.
The main road to work is a 6 lane feeder to Interstate 15. There is a bike lane but speeds on the road are 40-50 mph and I’m just one lone kook in the way. In California, I felt like drivers actually acknowledged me and acted with some sense of caution. In suburban SLC, I feel like I’ve gone back 20 years where car drivers have all the rights and cyclists just need to stay out of the way.
Just past the highway overpass shown above is an exit ramp from the Interstate. Those lucky drivers have their own lane coming onto my road but that is right where I have to move right to re-claim my bike lane. I’ll slow down in my lane before getting to the ramp then signal right – sometimes people give me a break and sometimes they don’t. Then the next issue is the disappearing bike lane below (ironically right after the ‘Right Lane, Bikes Only’ sign where my bike lane disappears into a right turn lane right where the right-hand car lane behind me disappears at the same time. I’m not really clear what the message on the sign means since the right turn lane is clearly meant for cars. So I have the occasional idiot using the disappearing lane to pass drivers in the middle lane all the while my bike lane is being consumed by a right turn lane. So I carefully take the lane while signalling and just hoping people look up from their phones long enough to see me. Once I make the right turn I do a quick u-turn so I can use the traffic light to cross my busy road. The thought of using the left turn lane in this direction of travel would be suicide. So then I get to sit at the light for a minute or 2 and count the red light runners – there are always a couple.
So that’s it. Literally not even a 2 mile commute but it’s a hairy one.
In defense of Utah government, I do have to say that one of the pleasant surprises moving here is the large number of bike lanes on arterial roads and the seeming willingness to include them on new construction. However, as regular riders everywhere know, we rarely have continuous bike lanes and mixing uses on very busy roads is off-putting to many. A separated bike lane would go a long way towards encouraging others to get on a bike to commute and run errands. As the roads are today, the barrier is pretty high for many people – thus the low participation rates in Utah compared to California.
‘Worse than California drivers…’
But now I’ve lived 9 months in Utah and even my 2 mile commute scares me. It seems that I start or end way too many sentences with that.
I’ve lived in California for over 30 years except for a 2 year stint in the West of England and now I find myself moving to the Salt Lake City area. I’m curious what I’ll find there for commuting cyclists. There seem to be a few long distance bike paths and a fair amount of bike lanes especially in the newer developments so I get the feeling that the folks in Utah are investing in some bicycle infrastructure as they expand. As a mountain biker I’m pretty well covered. I’m stoked to see quite a few trails in Corner Canyon just east of Draper very close to where I’ll be working. And of course, Park City is renowned for some 400 miles of trails and just a few hours south are Moab, Fruita and other destinations for mountain bikers.
Along the Wasatch Front, there is an Amtrak service as well as light rail that seem to run fairly frequently so that will give me some options for getting around. Still, I don’t see any dedicated bike/ped crossings over Interstate 15 in the Draper area so getting across may be challenging as the interchanges crossing I-15 are wide and very high speed.
Have you lived in Utah? Any comments on how cycling will compare to the Bay Area are appreciated.
awesome sign courtesy of http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/
Riding through downtown Mountain View the other night I had an encounter with an aggressive motorist who just couldn’t lose a few seconds behind me. I was ‘taking the lane’. It’s an expression that many of us cyclists know but I would wager that only a small percentage of dedicated motorists have heard. I started midway through one block as the road narrowed due to parked cars on either side. I signaled as I moved over and when he came up behind me at the first stop sign he honked a couple times. When I didn’t move over after leaving the stop sign he laid on the horn continuously. So at the next stop sign I put my bike down in the middle of the street and walked back to his car (yeah I’m one of those guys without a kickstand). His window was open so I yelled ‘The law says bikes have the right to the full lane’. His incredulous response, ‘The whole lane?’. ‘Yes – the whole lane – read about it’. I then walked back to my bike, picked it up and rode the 20 feet to my destination. His parting words, yelled through the window – I kid you not – ‘Share the Road’.
So it’s been a couple of days now and I can’t help thinking about this. Mostly drivers aren’t that aggressive around here. I get clueless drivers, distracted drivers, but rarely threatening drivers. When someone is honking at you just a few feet behind your bike you can’t help but think that the next step the driver will take is to push you aside. If you drive a car please understand this.
Besides the obvious threat to me, I was riding in a fairly dense urban area where pedestrians are constantly crossing in the middle of the block and I would guess the average speed of a car is only 10-15 mph due to all the starts and stops. So even if he got past me he would be stuck behind another car at the next stop sign and I’d probably be riding HIS bumper for the next few blocks.
Here’s a street view shot of the stop sign where our ‘discussion’ took place. The blocks are about 100 yards long and at 7 in the evening there are cars parked in every available spot – sort of like you see here. It’s a 4-way stop sign so everyone should wait his turn and in the next block is a stop light where he will likely get caught again.
So I have to wonder – How much time would this driver have saved if I hadn’t been ‘in the way’? This line of thought lead immediately to the realization that he didn’t care. He was doing something important and I was on a BIKE so I must not be doing anything as urgent. He owns a car to GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE and I was interfering with his plan. So my not-very-fast-moving brain then thought, ‘I wonder if a sign could fix this?’. We’ve all seen the ‘Share the Road’ signs
And we see the occasional ‘Bikes May Use Full Lane Sign’ like this
However I realize that the problem with the sign above is that it implies to many motorists that it is an exception that applies only where the sign in posted. If they don’t know the law, how would they know that bikes are allowed to use the full lane when the cyclist deems it to be the safest option?
So my little brain then said ‘Maybe we need a new kind of sign posted at various places around the city’
That sign would look like this