CONFESSIONS OF A BURLINGTON, VT BICYCLIST “SIDER”
While those favoring walking and bicycling daily add converts, the bulk of the population knows well the lack of walkable and bikable infrastructure still rules the real world of American urban and town center streets—truly incomplete streets. For walkers this means endless waits at high-injury-rate signalized intersections and for bicyclists it means being relegated to the “sider” class.
The “sider” bicyclist by necessity only travels by carefully negotiating trips along sidewalks, side streets and “backways.” When you bicycle at my advanced age or very young, less skilled on two wheelers, or wish to avoid the risk of mixing on streets with at most unprotected bike lanes with hordes of traffic—you become a sider by default or just put the bicycle away. We do not partake of bike parties, bike rides, and other group activities taking place and bikable busy streets--these remain to us the dream of the future. We do not fool ourselves—American bike infrastructure development trails Amsterdam or Copenhagen by decades (well, yes, the Burlington Marketplace is the one walkable corridor in Burlington but no bikes allowed !).
Being a sider means the shortest distance between two points has nothing to do with the shortest distance between two points—one is more like a thief on foot taking every which way to avoid capture. A sider can end up taking a dozen different streets and backways just to go a few blocks to a favorite coffee shop less than a mile away. Even after a dozen trips or so you have to take a moment to recall the sider route which on paper looks like a treasure hunt through a maze.
Thanks to churches, parks, and housing developments all kinds short cuts abound. (And without the alleyway behind Macys from Cherry Street in Burlington connecting with a left, right left through the People’s Bank to Pine Street it would be impossible to move north to south in downtown for the Burlington bicycle sider.)
Now for a long time also was a salmon—biking the wrong way on a street with a one way bike lane the wrong way (yes, during light traffic times I will use a bike lane for a block or two). But after hearing that this is really not safe (and experiencing wrong way bicyclists from the opposite, correct, direction, must agree) gave up salmoning on my bicycle for life, something far easier than quitting smoking.
On sidewalks I follow some simple rules. First, travel no more than a few miles an hour as you never know what will suddenly appear from a driveway. Second, one travels across crosswalks at about walking speed (four miles an hour) and with the same attention to traffic as one would on foot—and be prepared to dismount at any point. Generally, I for one never pass a walker on the sidewalk- period! When a walker is approaching towards me I dismount about 50 feet away and walk my bike until past the walker traffic. A person walking has a right not to be bothered by bicyclist—nothing irritates a person walking more than bicyclists rushing past from behind or approaching in front regardless of the speed.
Some day us siders will get the new protected bike lanes and roundabouts with paths which together promise to put our sider days into history—like life without safety belts. Our major urban streets—like Amsterdam and Copenhagen—some day will become places for all to walk and bike in safety and comfort.