Monday, November 17, 2008

Late in the season

After two weeks of being unable to do my bike/bus commute because of rain and time commitments, many election-related (result: woohoo!), I was back at it again last Monday. I don't recall that in nearly 25 years of bike commuting, I'd ever bike-commuted past the change from Daylight Savings Time, but in recent years as I've geared up with lights and high-visibility clothing, I've started feeling more confident about riding in the dark and rain, though I still don't like riding in both.

So with the switch from Daylight Savings Time in the rear-view, when the pavement's dry and the forecast not looking too bad, I'm still riding. Some others are, too -- I've seen at least 10 other bikes headed downtown each of the last three days I've ridden since last Monday.

Two weeks ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more auto traffic on the roads than I've seen for most of the year -- I suspect that as gas gets cheaper, people are getting back to driving. The resulting congestion has been adding about 10 minutes on the occasions when I must drive on my commute between North Seattle and Tukwila. Heck, one day two weeks ago, as I started down Aurora Ave south to the ship canal, I saw that traffic on that road was completely stopped, so I took to the side streets and on getting down to Leary Way in Fremont, I saw that it was totally jammed in both directions toward the Fremont Bridge and Ballard Bridge. So after 10-15 minutes of fruitless driving, trying to get across the ship canal, with the radio telling me that I-5 was jammed, too, I actually drove back home so that I could switch my car for my bike, even with rain in the afternoon forecast, so that I would be able to get to work without sitting in that much more traffic. 'Course, once I got home I learned that traffic on the freeway wasn't so bad after all, so I got back in the car and drove the rest of my otherwise uneventful commute. I learned later that traffic had been stopped on Aurora Avenue due to a jumper on the bridge. Rest In Peace, fellow traveler.

On my bike ride home from downtown last Monday, a Vespa-like motor scooter rode along on the sidewalk/bike lane ahead of me across the Fremont Bridge and in the bike lane through downtown Fremont, skimming past all of the traffic in the lanes, which were packed because the bridge had just opened. What's up with that? Even stranger, when I politely asked its rider to keep it off the sidewalk, her reply quickly rose to full volume, screaming that "MY [garbled] IS BROKEN!". I was already past by that time and starting up the big Fremont Ave hill, and she didn't seem to be in any distress (other than yelling at me), so I didn't stay for details.

Another funny thing is on 3rd Ave downtown during rush hour, where that street is supposed to be closed to everyone but buses and bicyclists during rush hour. Twice last Friday, both in the morning and evening, I was riding there with cars which totally ignored that law, once even when a police car was present. The second time, Friday evening,  it was a pair of motorcyclists. There was a big jam of buses, I think at Pike, which I rode past in the left lane, and when I'd gotten most of the way through I started hearing loud motor noises behind me. When I got all the way past and was looking to merge right again I heard those loud motor sounds get into the right lane and then blow past me. It was a pair of large guys in black leather on large Harleys. One leaned over at the next, inevitable stop light and told me "You're holding up traffic!"

The irony was a bit much. Here he was riding illegally, but going out of his way to tell me that that I was holding him and his buddy up. Friday night, I guess.

"No I'm not," I said back to him, and that was pretty much that. They went tearing away at the next red light, but of course there's lots of traffic on that street so I remained right behind them until several blocks later when I turned right and they went on.

More and more I find that riding as if I'm driving, taking the middle of the lane when there's any doubt about whether it would be dangerous for someone to pass me, is the safest way to go, a few morons on motorbikes notwithstanding, especially when I'm wearing high-visibility gear and lit up like Christmas. And especially when I'm riding downtown, where all anyone is doing is moving to the next red light anyway, so average speeds are very close to bicycling speed.