As a city dweller, I count myself fortunate to rely on walking for my daily commute. A half-hour stroll is the perfect amount of time to organize one’s day or unwind before getting home, while enjoying a podcast or favorite playlist. It’s a relaxing and introspective experience except for one unpredictable matter—navigating the crosswalks increasingly popular with daredevil cyclists.
Now don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that people are biking instead of driving or riding already crowded public transit. It’s environmentally aligned and promotes good health among those commuting via two-wheelers. But for whatever reason, most cyclists simply don’t obey the rules of the road. They ride through red lights, weave in and out of pedestrian traffic and zip through walkways in parks and other areas. And yet this same population demands dedicated bike lanes and free storage racks, not to mention office buildings with showers to enable transforming from the peloton to the cubicle.
I’ve wondered if it’s the impatience factor that makes cyclists feel above the traffic laws, or having to assimilate the behavior of the car they’ve just left in their driveway. Whatever the cause it’s actually rather dangerous for pedestrians simply trying to cross the street. When rogue riders consistently run red lights, we walkers must run or freeze in place to let them swish by. Maybe it’s the helmets favored by American cyclists that offer that feeling of invincibility? (If you’ve traveled internationally, you’ve likely noted that city cycling is common, but helmets and fancy gear are unusual, with cruisers the bicycle of choice.)
On a few occasions, I’ve shouted “Hey—it’s a red light!” when a cyclist interrupts my attempt to cross the street. And once I actually got a sheepish “Sorry!” in response. That was nice but it certainly doesn’t solve the problem.
I guess it takes a lot of nerve to ride through a city relatively unprotected and competing with couriers, Uber and taxi drivers, not to mention buses and trucks. However, if you’re on wheels, you’re on wheels, so those traffic signals apply to you regardless. And if you cycle around me on your ride to work, please be extra careful if I’m carrying my coffee.
This weekend was our first encounter with a snowstorm as boomerang city dwellers. We were pleasantly reminded that it’s a more timid urban event, as places remain open and are quieter as it’s just the locals. With no windshields to scrape or driveways to shovel, we had free time. So what did we do during the storm?
Before the snow started, we headed to the Y, along with a significant percentage of the membership. (We think many are still in their New Year’s resolution mode.) By midday it was snowing pretty hard, but we went out for lunch anyway at a local cafe — and were fortunate to snag the only open table. I had scheduled a hair appointment for that afternoon, but of course, the salon was open as all the stylists live in the neighborhood. No emergency snow closings during this so-called Nor’easter!
We met extended family for dinner at a little place around the corner and thanks to the storm, we didn’t have to wait for a table and were able to linger and enjoy our meal and good company.
Oh – and how can I forget the wonderful realization that we didn’t have to fear power outages as in the city, all the power lines are buried.
So the moral of this story is that winter is a relative experience. I hadn’t appreciated that geography isn’t the most substantial variable; zip code matters and I’m liking my odds for the winter of 2017.
It’s ironic that being in public often encourages us to remain in our own private space. When we ride public transportation, for example, we ignore those around us while waiting on the platform. And once aboard, we focus on our phones, listen to music or simply stare into space, always trying very hard not to make eye contact with the other passengers.
This irony recently motivated an American optimist living in London to encourage social interactions on their subway. He went as far as printing buttons and brochures proclaiming “Tube Chat” and recruited other friendly volunteers to help promote subway conversations. However, the locals were not impressed. London commuters were simply not interested and that’s the last I’ve read of his campaign.
I couldn’t help but think of his failed attempt one evening when I was riding the local subway after work. Most of us boarded the crowded train, tired from a long day and already thinking about the evening ahead. Seated directly across from me was a young woman with an incredibly happy baby girl perched on her lap. Within moments, a middle-aged man several seats down was making silly faces to engage the child. His antics were welcomed by the probably weary mother, as her daughter laughed and clapped, so she began chatting with him. Before long, nearly everyone around the baby was also making faces or smiling at her, or joining in the conversation.
So because of a cute baby, the usual quiet zone rules were disregarded. We humans are naturally social beings, but we learn to be cautious around people we see in temporary circumstances. Even though it would probably make the commute seem shorter, and who knows, maybe introduce us to a new friend or two, as the American in London learned firsthand, our nature is to be private in public.