Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No sooner posted than ...

In my last entry I praised the overwhelming majority of Seattle drivers for their attention and their general consideration in sharing the road with bicyclists, pedestrians, and each other. There are bad apples, of course, as I acknowledged at the time, just as there are bad apples in every city, but of all the major cities in this country that I've ever bicycled or driven in, Seattle has some of the most attentive and polite drivers, generally speaking.

On the theory that once you make such an unambiguous judgment the sky is sure to fall in on you, I posted that last entry with some trepidation. But I was mostly concerned with my own responsibility as a driver to stay attentive to bicyclists and pedestrians. I hardly gave my behavior as a bicyclist a second thought. So it was with some surprise that two weeks ago, when I made my last bike commute, just before the first big snowstorm hit Seattle (but after a smaller one from which a little ice was still on the roads), and just before I posted my last entry, I had myself a little run-in with one of those bad Seattle apples. Not so bad that someone got hurt, but certainly what I consider an exception that proves the rule.

I was half a block from home, having taken a bus most of the way back from work, complemented by 3.5 miles of bicycling in between. I rode more that morning, but coming home it was dark as well as cold and still a little icy. I turned right onto my (residential) block, noticing as I did that there was a car coming from my left, which I expected would soon catch up. It seemed to be going a little fast for a residential street, but it was also coming into a big intersection planter that would check its immediate speed, so I was safe in turning ahead of him, and as I reached the unsigned intersection a couple seconds ahead of him I clearly had the right of way.

Because I knew there was ice on the street, and also because I would be turning left into my driveway half a block later, I didn't want this driver speeding past on my left, so I rode down the middle of the street, probably going 12-15 mph. A quarter of a block later, the driver starts honking.

I stop in the middle of the street, placing my bike perpendicular to our direction of travel, turn back at the driver, and give him the universal "slow down" signal by pushing my palm downward. He's driving a BMW. Then I give him the "hang loose" sign, waggling my thumb and pinky finger, and turn to continue home. The driver rolls down his window and starts yelling.

He's not profane, but he's really mad. Doubtless he'd been continuing through the neighborhood faster than the speed limit while bypassing traffic lights on the parallel arterial just one block away. This happens a lot on my block.

I'm really angry myself, to the point where it's hard for me to actually talk. I point to the street in front of me. "That's ice!" I manage.

He's quiet for a moment, then says "I take it back."

Got It?!" I ask, probably unnecessarily.

"Got it," he replies. I continue with him following, and two houses later signal my left turn, then pull over to the left side of the street in front of my house to watch him pass.

He stops, rolling down his window to say "What you're doing is illegal. I talked to a cop about it and he backed me up."

"You're wrong about that," I say, thinking of RCW 46.61.770, "and besides that, this is a residential street," referring to what I expect is his cut-through driving.

He drives off. I can't help but imagine that we'll meet again. I should probably print out a copy of RCW 46.61.770 and put it into my bike backpack in case we do, as I figure he still has no clue about what's legal and what's not, and is probably still feeling aggrieved about being made to slow down for a few seconds that day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Awright, it's friggin' cold

I rode downtown from North Seattle in this morning's 25ºF, wearing sweats over my usual shorts for only the third time this year and even wearing a polypro toque under my helmet for the first time ever. I wore double socks with my usual sandals; thermal socks underneath and thick rag SmartWool socks on top. I've already been wearing fleece between my t-shirt and dayglo vest for the past several weeks. But I didn't wear anything more on my hands than my usual fingerless gel gloves. And my fingers got COLD!. They warmed up again when I could put them into my pocket for half a minute, but simple physics was going to defeat anyone's bony little fingers in this freeze, no matter how good their circulation, especially when I was riding downhill into a stiff apparent wind. I admit to riding one-handed for a minute or two on my half-hour ride, maybe not the safest thing to do, but having completely frozen fingers wasn't too happy an alternative.

I did see about a dozen other bicyclists on my way downtown; not as many as usual but still surprisingly many for such a cold day when the bike lane was icy in many places, forcing me into the regular traffic lane to mingle with cars on several occasions.

OK, I gotta say something about Seattle drivers here: no matter what you might see in the media, and no matter what horror stories you hear from pedestrians and bicyclists (including me) about the close calls they've had, if not the injuries they've sustained in collisions caused by inattentive or outright malicious drivers, Seattle drivers are still, by and large, awesome when it comes to sharing the road. Every day I'm reminded of their acceptance of bicyclists in their midst when those bicyclists aren't abusing their privilege to ride on the same roads with other traffic.

Yes, I've seen drivers abuse their own privilege to use our public roadways, including last week at a 4-way stop when one car at right angles to me skipped right through a four-way stop on the bumper of the car ahead of it rather than wait his turn behind me, to say nothing of more egregious abuses such as the driver in Renton last week, just two miles from my office, who turned left into a bicyclist who, like me, was doing everything right. If that bicyclist had been in a car instead, it would have been a fender bender, but as it was a bicyclist died because of a driver's inattention. It could've been me in his place. It could even have been me in the driver's place, though I like to think that I pay more attention to everything going on around me when I'm driving than that driver did. This is at least manslaughter in the second degree ("when, with criminal negligence, [someone] causes the death of another person"). This a class B felony, and it should be enforced in this negligent driver's case, plain and simple.

But I've seen a vastly larger number of drivers who were happy to cede the right of way to me as a bicyclist when they could see me ahead of time, when I signaled my intentions clearly, and when it was safe and reasonable for them to do so. Heck, I've experienced many cases where considerate drivers gave me the right of way through an intersection when it was clearly theirs, which can make me a bit impatient since it slows both of us down, but I appreciate the intent nonetheless. Whenever it's safe to do so I'm also careful to signal my appreciation for a driver's generosity. I do the same when I'm driving and someone allows me to merge ahead of them, which is something I and many others appreciate when others do it for us. Would that more of us did the same.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Like a full moon

It's getting on toward mid-December, and I'm still bike/bus commuting. A lot of other people are still bike commuting, too, I've noticed. I've waited at stoplights at Mercer & Dexter or at Fremont & Westlake with as many as 10 other bicyclists at a time this past month, and pass or am passed by several bicyclists every day, to say nothing of the bicyclists I see riding in the opposite direction. I saw at least two dozen more bike commuters yesterday, for example, and that wasn't even at peak hour.

I also saw a bicyclist being apparently ticketed by two Seattle police officers, at 3rd Ave right at the entrance to the Pioneer Square bus tunnel station. I have no idea why he was being ticketed, if indeed that's what was happening, though the canary and rose copies of something that one officer was separating and apparently handing to the bicyclist certainly looked like something official and not particularly fun. That bicyclist was young and not wearing a helmet, so that might have been the reason. He wore an expression that told me he thought whatever was happening to him seemed kinda weird.

A couple minutes earlier, while I was waiting at another stoplight further up 3rd Avenue in the left lane behind a line of cars, a bicyclist shot past on my right between the two lanes, followed closely in the right lane by a bus. He promptly blew through the red light. From the direction of the bus driver I heard a woman's voice yelling, apparently at the bicyclist. It might have been the driver. It would've been the first time I ever heard a bus driver yelling at someone, but if anyone deserved it, that bicyclist did.

The two bicyclists might have been one and the same, actually -- I didn't get a particularly good look at either incident.

Exciting morning, nonetheless.

A few minutes before that, I arrived at Westlake Station neatly between two of the buses that I would've liked to ride and a 10-minute wait until the next one, so I decided to ride further downtown and explore other tunnel stations and their entrances for future reference. Which is why I was on 3rd Ave in Pioneer Square to see all this stuff in the first place. I learned a better entrance to the Westlake Station, and also ended up using the Pioneer Square Station for the first time -- it was the last station that I hadn't used yet. Walked myself and my bike right past the two police officers and the kid getting a ticket while I was at it.

Then, on my way home, I missed my return bus in Tukwila. Well, not so much "missed it" as watched it pull up to my bus stop with two bikes already on its rack -- I got waved off. I decided to ride downtown rather than waiting for the next one. A few miles later, while I was riding past a Boeing facility at about 6:30 PM, I passed a woman who was standing beside the trail and having a smoke. The Green River was just on the other side of the trail. She said something in a voice I thought sounded accented as I passed, which I didn't piece together until a few seconds later: "Would you like to date?"

Zowee, I'd been propositioned by a hooker while riding my bike.

I didn't stop, of course, or even respond, but I did start to wonder if maybe there was a full moon. The sky was cloudy, so I couldn't tell. Turns out this month's full moon isn't until Friday.

Two ambulances passed while I was riding the rest of the way home, between downtown and North Seattle. Both changed the light sequence, which combined with the 5-minute wait for the bus that waved me off and the Fremont Bridge being raised just as I approached -- I actually came to a screeching halt as the bells started ringing and the lights started flashing when I was riding up to the gate -- made my 22 mile ride home tonight take quite a bit longer than usual. That said, I don't mind waiting a few extra minutes behind a light changed by an ambulance or two -- I hope they made it in time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Training for the holidays

OK, so I'd been training for Thanksgiving. Bicycling more than usual in November and trying to eat less. This year I was determined that it wouldn't take me half the year to recover from my usual holiday weight gain. So I kept riding through October, and while I gained a few pounds at Halloween, I lost them again by mid-November, and then I went for more, losing another five pounds and, by the day before Thanksgiving, getting to within about 1 pound of the lightest weight I've been all year. I did more bike-commuting in November than in any other month this year except May.

Yes yes, I was very proud of myself (pats own back).

Then Thanksgiving happened. We had more than 20 people at our house, and most everyone who came brought something yummy. Five amazing desserts. My good friend the former chef did the turkey and stuffing, ably assisted by my nine-year-old son. My wife did the ginger-lime yams. I did the potato gatto. There was ham and even Alaskan King salmon, albeit in the Swedish style. There were mashed potatoes and parmesan broccoli. There was homemade cream of mushroom soup. There were cranberries and a traditional (for some) relish tray. We plain forgot to make the green beans, and the carrots never made it out of the fridge. I suspect there were a couple more dishes that I can't even remember right now. There was wine, wine, champagne, beer, everywhere wine. It'll take a month to go through all the leftover libations now that the great day has ended. Way too much of everything, but it was fantastic, possibly the best Thanksgiving dinner I've ever had, and I've had quite a few.

Then, next day, 10 of us drove out to Yakima for a restaurant opening, where there was plenty more good food and drink, and not much opportunity to work it off what with all our kids (and sometimes others, too) to look after. We got back Sunday night, in time for the Gonzaga game, the Old Spice Classic final, but only just. The Zags won. A truly amazing holiday, all around.

Yesterday I weighed myself. I'd gained weight, not surprisingly.

But the good part is, I hadn't really gained all that much, just four pounds. For me, this is a single (large) meal, and I will often lose this much just during the course of a work week. It's where I was two weeks ago.

Now to lose it again in time for Christmas, repeat the cycle for New Years, and then hopefully ditch some of the 50 or so extra pounds I could lose from there.

I biked to work again yesterday, supplementing my ride from North Seattle to downtown with a bus boost to Tukwila on the King County Metro #150, and then, since I stayed late at work, beyond convenient return hours for that bus, biking back to Denny & Dexter on deserted, wet roads and trails before another bus boost on the #358, and then forgetting to have dinner once I got home and got busy helping my oldest son with his writing homework. I might have lost the rest of those four pounds already.