Traffic Troubles

FACT: Maricopa County, Arizona, where I call home, is the fastest growing county in the United States. That is not me talking, that is the U.S. Census Bureau. The data says we add an average of 222 people every day.

FACT: Arizona has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the nation. Again, that ain’t the Bluescat merely bloviating, that is a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Reading the report, it is clear that bicyclists are classified as sort of a pedestrian. According to the report, 224 walkers were killed in Arizona in 2017, along with 30 bicyclists.

So, common sense and facts should tell us that traffic has become worse and more dangerous in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona. Right? Well, realizing how disdainful Americans have become about truth, facts and common sense in the last year or so, I shall result to deferring to a totally redoubtable authority in this matter: my wife.

“Honey, do you think traffic has gotten worse and more dangerous in Phoenix lately?”

“What? Of course! YES!”

(At least she didn’t give me her typical look when I ask a stupid question; think of how the damsel in distress looks at the thing which has just exited the alien pod.)

I agree with her, of course, and not just because I’ve learned it is vital to agree with her, but because she should know. She travels over 30 miles every weekday, through some of the most freeway intensive space in the state. She has had two accidents in the last 18 months, both involved trying to get into a proper lane in order to make a turn which would allow her to reach her desired destination. Luckily, there were no injuries, but I could have purchased two brand new bikes with what we paid for in repairs.

I’ve taken some photos to support our position. In one of them, we see the rear of my recumbent parked on a sidewalk next to a bike lane. A steady line of cars is streaming by us, all the way up to a stop light which has just changed to yellow. Just ahead of my bike we see a driveway entrance, and just beyond that – in the shadow of a tree – we see that the striping for the bike lane ends; over a block from the right-turn lane at the intersection.

Danger at the End of the White Line

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of bike lanes, but this represents one of my biggest beefs with them: they are oftentimes implemented horrendously. The picture shows how a cyclist is entering a no man’s land for over seven car lengths. I’ve travelled this stretch of road many times, and can testify to witnessing a few near misses with cyclists trying to get into the traffic lane to head straight ahead through the light, or almost getting mowed down by drivers who whip over into that “right lane” there figuring it is open to pass all that traffic.

My strategy here has always been to stay in the bike lane until I get to that driveway opening, and then glide up onto the sidewalk and take it all the way through the light. I can do that in Phoenix. I guess in Tucson, Arizona, you can’t do that unless there is a sign posted allowing you to do that.

One of the alternatives is doing what this brave fellow is doing:

The Brave Soul

He’s staying to the right, letting the traffic squeeze by on his left. This isn’t, of course, what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to “take your lane” because the Arizona Revised Statutes say your bicycle has every right to be there.

In reality, very few motor vehicle drivers believe that. They believe that the road belongs to them, and that bicyclists “don’t belong out there.” I had a Phoenix cop tell me that himself, using those exact words: “You don’t belong out there!”

I had been waiting at a stop sign, the cop pulled up behind me, honked and gestured for me to move over to the side. He then pulled up next to me, buzzed down the front passenger’s side window of his big American branded SUV, said “You don’t belong out there,” and pointed over at the sidewalk.

Let’s think about that sidewalk for a second, and while we do lets take a look at that same intersection less than a minute after The Brave Soul rode through it:

The Grand Ballroom Crosswalk

Not a pedestrian in sight, and the crosswalk is big enough for two bikes and a whole Cub Scout troop ushering a dozen little old ladies across the street in opposite directions onto the sidewalks. Still, the masters of bike safety claim bikes don’t belong on sidewalks and pose a danger to the poor pedestrians.

Well, yeah, bike roadies blazing down the sidewalks at full throttle do pose a hazard … to themselves and everybody else, but the typical bike commuter is in much greater danger if he tries to occupy the hostile environment of a traffic lane of a two-lane street at rush hour.

And in one of my previous writings, I’ve even addressed how in certain circumstances communities require bicyclists to ride the wrong way on sidewalks: Sidewalk Salmoning: It’s The Law.

I do think the idea of bikes on sidewalks is starting to gain some traction. If you look closely at the picture of that grand ballroom of a crosswalk, you’ll notice the ramped curb returns. These features invite bicyclists to glide up onto the sidewalk. Heck, they even replaced all the vertical curb returns at all the intersections in my little middle-income neighborhood!

Welcome Ramp

I don’t think there are enough wheelchairs or power chairs within a one-mile radius of my house to justify the expense.

Yes, the traffic has gotten bad, and I bet it is only going to get worse. I would also bet we will never be able to convince motorists to share the road with our bicycles. It is up to cyclists to stay out of their way and move at sedate speeds when we venture onto the walkways.

I still believe bicycling is a pretty safe way to get around. I’ve been hurt worse simply lifting heavy stuff than I’ve ever been hurt riding my bike.

We just gotta remember the last thing police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) always said at the end of his roll call on the old Hill Street Blues television show:

“Let’s be careful out there!”

BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He’ll share the sidewalk and even his bike pump; he will not share his beer.

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