Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA


Progress! (Sorta. Kinda. Maybe.)

So, as I mentioned before, the City of Lowell has recently painted bike lanes and sharrows on a bunch of our streets. This morning, on my way to work, I noticed this new signage that clearly states that bikes have the full use of the lane. And I was happy. Until…
…This ironic (in the Alanis sense) interaction took place.

Me: On my bike, on the road, at that very light prior to taking the picture. You’ll notice the sign is right next to the light, so basically right where your gaze would rest while waiting for the red light to turn green.
Fifty-something male driver in some kind of late-model sedan: “You should be on the sidewalk, honey. Roads are for cars.”
Me,using a friendly tone: “Check out that sign!”
Driver: “You can’t believe everything you read.”
Me: Totally and completely speechless.
The light turns green, and we go our separate ways.

The moral I took from this interaction: signs are great but education and outreach is better (also, jackasses are everywhere!) This was an annoying blip on an otherwise lovely commute to work – cue a picture of said loveliness:


And the fact that I love riding my bike to work, and I am confident when I ride because I’ve been riding in cities for 20 years now, means that an interaction like the one above will become a blog post and a funny story that I tell to my co-workers when I arrive in the office: basically something I can roll my eyes and laugh at. I’ll keep riding, and not worry about the jackasses.

BUT. But, but, but, but, but. If things were different, if this were me trying out my first commute to work or school because seeing all of Lowell’s new bike-friendly infrastructure made me feel like ‘Hey, I can do this!’ and this is what I experienced… Well, all the signs, sharrows, and lanes in the world probably wouldn’t convince that riding a bike for transportation is something that is either safe or fun to do. And that’s a problem.

If Lowell is serious about encouraging people using bicycles as transportation, there needs to be education for both cyclists and drivers. Riding on roads is neither easy nor intuitive, and that needs to be recognized and those skills need to be taught. Drivers need to understand that bikes can (and should) be on the road and what sharing the road means. Boston, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland have all done a lot of visibility events and provided educational materials along with their infrastructure improvements, and more people are cycling in those cities. And while Lowell is not nearly as large as those cities, if someone from one of them were to come to Lowell after hearing that it is bike-friendly, they would be disappointed.

Signs, lanes, and sharrows are great – they raise visibility and get people thinking about the implications of sharing the road with cyclists. But they are not enough: without outreach and education attitudes won’t change, and we’ll have spent a lot of money for no reason. If Lowell really wants to become more bike-friendly the education piece won’t get left behind.