Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Waiting for Trucks, Shooting Gaps, Glimpsing Dandelions

Stats in the 2012 Bike / Ped Benchmarking Report hint this is what Americans think cycling streets is like

This is what walking, and cycling, the 44th Street bike route looks like. Traffic speed is 40+ mph.

On first glance, these scenes look like terrifically challenging settings for a cyclist, or a pedestrian, for that matter. And I admit, they are not pedestrian perfection or cycling heaven. Most of the Ten Lessons from Great Cycling Cities have not been learned in Phoenix yet, at least by most people, it's true. The motor vehicles roaring past the elbows of the pedestrians on this sidewalk are not going to land this stretch of bicycle route on any tourist brochure.

Yet after that truck backed into the empty lot where it was dropping off or carrying away fill, that street at the top was quite excellent to ride on, quiet and easy.

I can't say as much nice stuff about 44th Street at commute time, except that you wait for gaps created by the distant stoplights, hope you are a good judge of the 100 to 200 feet of stopping distance the oncoming traffic will require, and make your move. There's always the sidewalk, and I'm grateful it's legal here, a slow and deliberate bail-out for me when no gaps in traffic appear, but don't pedestrians have it tough enough through here? And the numerous driveways are blind and busy. The corner where this second shot is taken is a common spot to see cyclists who are riding from Lafayette down to Campbell, as well as runners who are connecting with the canal, which is just behind those pedestrians. 

There is actually a tiny little park off to the left of this photo, to the pedestrians' right, one of those little slivers of extra leftover land that the city has seen fit to plant with grass and some great old shady trees. I pause in that park sometimes and watch the world go by. Most of it driving a car powered by gas that looks on its way to $4 a gallon again (and what lessons to be learned there, now, and in the future). Five minutes here and you get to see the best and worst of motorists, the sweet and the sour, the super-polite and the aggressive hungover maniacs, from waving to honking, it's all there.

Somehow, I've worked it out that I don't mind waiting for the trucks. Somehow, I look at shooting the gaps in the 44th Street rush hour mania as a worthwhile challenge. Froggering across these three lanes into the center left turn lane on a bicycle at dusk, then floating a bit to wait for a gap going the other way between traffic flowing at 45 mph in opposite directions, is diving head-first into dirty space that on other roads is kept incursion-free with Jersey barriers, steel retention cables, or crash barriers. There may be validity to the suggestion that at least some of my confidence and inner calm is just the endorphins working. 

Then I look over and catch sight of the January dandelions. I want to lay among them, and ponder the lessons of real cycling in the city. That's me, in the city I live now, with the bike of the moment, and this life. And possibly some traffic endorphins. Oh well.

Oh my ephemeral Jandelions, whisper some lessons into my ear before the trucks blow us both away.


  1. I hate 44th Street, I don't like CROSSING it, let alone riding ALONG it in a right-land lane that's more death trap than bike friendly.

    I set yet another reason to ride a low-flying recumbent: you could scoot right underneath the trailer of that truck ... with room to spare!

  2. Thanks for the Ten Lessons link, looks like a good one!

  3. I have only done a little biking in Phx, mostly with my cousin and she tends to stick to routes with bike lanes and avoids busier, less car friendly streets by taking side streets with less traffic. It adds a little time to her ride but also cuts way down on stress.

    Looking for dandelions probably helps.

  4. BluesCat, recumbent bicycles are sadly underrepresented in action movies. Perhaps your big break will be the chase scene where you leave the peloton behind by flying under a semi trailer.

    veesee, you're welcome. Let me know if you see any evidence of any of those lessons in your area.

    She Rides a Bike, there are indeed some good places to ride in PHX, I think where I was going with this was into the realm of understanding the perceptions of the vast majority of Phoenicians who believe otherwise. People who see the city through the windshield of a car tend to see a city made for cars.


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