Today, in the mood to be active and eco-friendly, I decided to ride my bike to yoga class and other errands that I had to do in lieu of driving. Instead of the universe supporting me, I was honked at about 5 times and even had one woman physically get out of her car when we were at a stoplight to inform me that I was blocking the flow of traffic. Why? I was doing what is called “taking the lane,” wherein a cyclist rides in the middle of the far right lane instead of the far right of the far right lane. According to California state law, one is supposed to take the lane when there is no bike lane and there is not enough room in the lane for a bike and a car to be side-by-side. Have you ever encountered riding your bike in the far right of the far right lane, and a car will scarily try to go around you by being one foot into the next lane and one foot away from you- as opposed to properly switching out of the lane in order to pass you? Yeah, it’s scary and unsafe. Taking the lane prevents this from happening, so that vehicles that want to pass you must do so properly.
Riding around on these Southern Californian streets, lacking in bike lanes and not wide enough for a vehicle plus me, I took the lane- and confidently so! Yet, I was apparently a nuisance to all of these drivers who are unaware of the law and/or dislike cyclists who “impede their flow.” Instead of encouraging cycling, which tackles global warming, rising gas prices, and American obesity, cyclists in the U.S. are bullied out on the road and put into dangerous situations; I certainly feel less inclined to ride my bike now, knowing how ruthless and unaccommodating motorists are as well as how few bike lanes there are in my neighborhood. I also forgot to mention the fact that I had nowhere to lock my bike at any of the places that I went to today- I had to improvise by, in one instance, locking my bike up to a pole that was in some plants, and then another time to a gate that caused my bike to block the entrance to yoga class. It’s hard out there for a cyclist. (Check out this video that a Dutch man made about this topic, where he describes how much more accommodating The Netherlands are to cyclists than the U.S. is)
Why do Americans- and Southern Californians in particular- love their cars so much? Yes, Southern California is very spread out and suburban, and for someone living in a suburb that is far from his or her work, riding one’s bike or taking the bus for an hour plus is not always feasible. Don’t even get me started on our pitiful public transportation system- wherein going somewhere that takes 15-20 minutes via driving is oftentimes 1 hour or more on two different buses. We in the greater Los Angeles area thus know how much harder it is to ride one’s bike instead of driving; simultaneously, we are supposed to be so eco-friendly and health-conscious. Yet, again, instead of encouraging cyclists for their eco-friendly and health-conscious behavior, people in giant SUVs regularly whizz by scared cyclists just trying to do the right thing.
Ultimately, being a physically active and happy person in America is not normal. I read a fantastic article in Experience Life magazine on this topic- how, given that “2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese,” and, “the top-selling prescription drugs are meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, and heartburn — all lifestyle-related conditions that can be greatly improved or healed through lifestyle changes,” and “about 70 percent of us regularly take at least one prescription drug. More than 50 percent take at least two,” it is literally not normal to be healthy and happy in this country. Our “new normal” is being overweight and on a prescription drug or two for blood pressure and depression. Thus, a person trying to be more active by riding his or her bike is quite radical and a threat to the overweight, angry people sitting in their cars.
Yet, what is particularly interesting in this article is how the author, Pilar Gerasimo, frames it as a sociological problem instead of a “if you’re fat, then you’re lazy” problem. She says, “What does it mean that our society reliably produces more unhealthy, unhappy, vulnerable people than healthy, happy, resilient ones?” As Krishnamurti once said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
So, if you are trying to ride your bike out there and feel hurt or angered by mean motorists, just remember that you are the one making a positive change for yourself and society- and they are not. And you are quite brave for navigating streets that have little to no bike infrastructure! Go you!