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Letter to Tucson Cyclists - 1/13/2003

Tucson, Arizona is, for the most part, a bicycle friendly town. It is laid out in almost an exact checkerboard for one thing and the city proper contains virtually no hills, bodies of water, or major freeways to complicate the matter of getting almost anywhere you need or want to go on a bike. Goliard staffers who have lived in cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Buffalo, Honolulu, Portland, NYC, Detroit, Salt Lake, Philly, and St. Louis can attest that logistically, it is easier by magnitudes to navigate the old Pueblo on two wheels than it is in any of those other places. Throw in the mild climate, wide streets, low humidity, and the fact that in the last twenty years or so, major bike lanes have been added all around the city going both East/West and North/South, and it becomes almost inexcusable (that is providing it's not the middle of a summer day) to not mix a bike into one's weekly maneuvers. It's cheaper, better for you, and better for the rest of us in about ten different ways. Enough said.

There is however, a certain amount of common sense that needs to be applied to any endeavor. Perhaps because of all of the above mentioned attributes, Tucson cyclists seem to feel like they can ride down any road they want with equal impunity. While legally this may be true, we don't know how many times we've been driving along and suddenly come upon a traffic situation caused by some idiot with a wide spandex ass who is jittering along down the side of one of the major narrow streets with that "I have the right to be here" look on their face. At that point, a simple outing that should be benefiting us all indirectly, immediately begins making life more dangerous for anyone in the near vicinity. When confronted with these fearless, witless pedalers, many motorists will choose to zip past them, coming dangerously close to grazing the protruding ass with their mirrors. Others will brake to a near stop causing folks behind to change lanes unsafely or lock their own brakes. Still others merely veer slightly towards the middle of the road to get by, causing a chain reaction of near collisions and mayhem. And the infuriating thing is that there is almost always a bike lane a street or two over.

If you normally drive your car down say, Campbell to Grant and then follow Grant to Stone to get to work, do not just blindly take this same route on your bicycle. Even if there is a bike lane on the larger streets, rest assured that there is a safer, much more scenic and pleasant route nearby that you will find replete with fellow cyclists and that will be lacking busses and haul trucks. And on a calming pedal through the orange blossoms of Third St., a gentle climb up Mountain Ave, or a smooth and sweeping ride along the Rillito River Parkway, you will most likely not be cursed, jostled, honked at, flipped off, or spit on.

However, if you find yourself teetering along, hugging a curb, and jutting a cheek into traffic on one of the few main roads that doesn't have a bike lane, what you should be, along with all of the above, is ticketed. If the stated purpose of law enforcement is to keep us all safer, then anyone wobbling unnecessarily down the side of a busy, narrow, shoulderless street should be cited on the spot. We would also recommend that they have their bicycles impounded and that they be thrown to the ground very roughly. Instead what happens when one of these jackasses takes to the road is that passing motorists inch by and begin seething with anger at the entire cycling populace. Either that or they chance it by taking some needless vehicular risk and nearly hit somebody else who is immediately irritated. And since most of these people feel guilty on some level anyway as they sit on their dumpy cans, getting fatter, and detracting from the common good by cruising solo every morning in a big belching automobile, that sense that they have no right to be upset with someone on a bicycle makes them even madder still. And invariably, as the motorists arrive at the next light together with the offending cyclist, motorist's mouths will drop open as they watch the cyclist ignore the light and peddle on through at a break in traffic forcing them to go around them again on the very next block.

Since some of us at the Goliard try to cycle as much as we can and perpetually wish that we were cycling more, you might think we would be in full support of others doing the same but nothing steams our collective beans more than when we spot one of these nincompoops fouling up traffic and giving the rest of us a bad name. Just yesterday, we were forced to confront a gentleman on Country Club. A snowbird in a monstrous key lime colored boatcar brought the situation to our attention when she couldn't or wouldn’t get around him for nearly two miles which caused numerous near misses, tire squealings, honkings, and other dangerous unpleasantness.

     "Hey bonehead, there's a bike lane a couple streets over." We said, when we were finally able to pull alongside. He pretended not to hear.
     "Where are you going anyway? If it's not far you might just cut through that neighborhood there and pop out on the other side." Ignored again as we waited for a light to change.
     "You look like you could be going downtown for some sort of hearing. Why not do us all a favor and just cruise over onto Treat, head up to Third, and ride pleasantly across campus. Then you can take University down to Fourth but watch out for the trolley tracks if you decide to cross over. It's easy to get your wheel caught in the ruts and take a header into a parked car." He refused to acknowledge us and continued pedaling and peering straight ahead.

We then followed along in amazement as this dauntless stooge pedaled slowly down to Broadway, took a wobbly right, and headed straight towards downtown with cars braking, skidding, signaling, merging, and accelerating around him all the while. He was no doubt following the exact route he would have taken with his car or that somebody told him to go when he asked directions. Finally, as he emerged from the underpass, we saw no other alternative but to pull ahead, pile out, and collectively straight arm the gentleman off of his ride. We then dragged him off onto the shoulder and lectured him for several minutes about general decorum and acceptable public behavior. Finally, when he refused to acknowledge the ridiculous inconvenience his actions had caused so many of the fine people of the great state of Arizona, a passing hobo helped us lift him overhead and deposit him into a nearby dumpster. As has become our practice, we supplied him with a Tucson Bicycle Map which we dropped into the trash bin on top of him. The hobo was last seen riding off through the desert on his new bicycle.

Taking the position that seemingly harmless members of the citizenry should be knocked from their mechanical steeds, pummeled, and hauled safely away from the road to be spoken with sternly by a vigilante force may seem to run contrary to many of the positions taken by this publication but we've had it. The city spent a good chunk of our tax dollars to install and improve an intertwined system of bike routes that would allow for safe and healthy commuting for all. And besides how else are these folks going to learn? It is inevitable that they will be hit eventually anyway, quite possibly resulting in a much more serious injury to them, and most likely involving, and thereby traumatizing, someone without insurance or that is an elderly person with enough other problems. At least this way they can look forward to a calm explanation and a dose of common sense. Not to mention the free map.

Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.