Saturday, August 09, 2003
Another Man’s Commute
By: Frank Raymond Cetera
Pedaling out onto Bridge St in New Cumberland, after warming up on a few side roads, I enter a steady push to the I-83 interchange area. The road here is wide and easy to share with cars and other vehicles. My body is definitely warmed up by now, with any morning chill or stiffness long gone. As the light nears, the right hand lane narrows to accommodate a left-turning lane. I occupy the whole lane for the first time on this commute, as there isn’t enough room for a car and bike side-by-side, and come to a stop at the red.
According to Pennsylvania Law, a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is governed by the same laws. This fact actually benefits bikers, for “cyclists are the most safe when they act and are treated as operators of vehicles” according to John Forester of Effective Cycling. According to Lauren Cooper of Cycle Media, National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration statistics indicate that only 15% of all bike accidents involve collisions with cars. And within that 15%, 9 of 10 accidents involved traffic at driveways, intersections, and bike lanes when bicyclists were not traveling within normal vehicular traffic flow.
Now its time to buckle down and climb the overpass from a standstill at the light. Keep an eye on the entering cars that have to yield from the I-83 ramp. The lane widens again here, so cars are passing as I push over the top and begin descending the other side. Parked cars are up ahead on the right, so I have to signal and merge left into the traffic flow. The next light is green so my speed stays steady and I push a little harder for momentum up the railroad overpass in Lemoyne. A few cars are backed up behind me now, but as I cruise through the right turn lane onto Market St, we get to two lanes again and anyone behind can overtake me once again.
Cyclists have the right to the full traffic lane when it would otherwise be unsafe to ride as close to the right hand side as possible. This includes when passing parked cars and when traveling narrow, or single lane, roads. This can have the effect of delaying motorists for a brief time (the average delay has been estimated at no more than 15-30 seconds), and cyclists should make an attempt to allow cars to pass if they are holding up traffic for more than a reasonable time.
The right hand lane is mine as I top out my gears and keep an eye on the road. Usually hit the red here before the Market St Bridge and today is no different. After the light changes, I start over the bridge and feel the wind that usually accompanies crossing the Susquehanna. Tail wind today though. That’s good cause I like to push steady while in bridge traffic. Cars whip by me on the left, a few a little too close over into my lane. Fortunately, traffic signs at the bridge ends and city island ramps remind the drivers to “Share the Road” with bicyclists. I signal left arm bent, hand up to exit right onto City Island.
Bicycle safety and proper cooperative cycling techniques are not adequately taught either in school or as a part of many driver-training courses. Drivers should be aware of basic hand signals that bicyclists use daily. Using the left hand: straight out to the left signals a left turn, bent up at the elbow indicates a right turn, and held downward indicates slowing down or stopping.
A few stop signs, through the parking lot, and I’m up onto the old Walnut St Bridge with the other pedestrians. From here on out I can relax if I choose, no more major road lengths between this point and the office. I weave through a few folks, then call out “passing left!” to a group three abreast so they’ll provide a lane. I pass the mounted police officer slowly and steadily so as to not spook the horse, then swing a left past the coffee trailer and parallel the mighty Susquehanna through Riverfront Park. A quick cut across Front St and I follow a side street through Second and up to Third where the State Capitol building comes into view. Up onto the sidewalk briefly, then down the building’s gated side alley to park for the day.
Most people balk at the idea of commuting armed with a bevy of excuses. But the benefits far outweigh any barriers. My commute actually shortened from 27 to 20 minutes after I began bicycle commuting. And a free workout that doesn’t require additional time at the end of the day is a big plus too. For beginners, practice your intended route on an off-day, get fenders to protect yourself in wet weather, and work a few minutes in at the workplace for cooling down and changing clothes if necessary.
At the end of the day I am eager to pedal after being in the office for so long. Starting on Third, I swing onto State St. and work my way back down to Riverfront Park. A light drizzle is falling now so I am careful on the slippery metal grid of the Walnut St Bridge. I make my way back onto the Market St Bridge next. Past the signal light on the West Shore, I hop off of the roadway for the only significant sidewalk-riding portion of my commute. I only do so here because this sidewalk is so sparsely used, I’ve only encountered five pedestrians in a few months. But also, because the traffic in both lanes through here at rush hour is very thick, and the lanes are very narrow.
Bicyclists are not prohibited by law from riding on sidewalks except within business districts, though as indicated earlier, it is safer to ride the roadways within the flow of traffic. When on sidewalks however, bicyclists will yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal before passing.
Since I’m already on the sidewalk, I use the crosswalk at the 3rd Street intersection and then wait for the green light to continue on the road again. The road from Lemoyne back to New Cumberland is wide but lots of parked cars dot the right-hand side. I merge a few times with traffic, getting back to the right when I can, but I need to keep my momentum going too, and stopping for a parked car is not in the game plan. A lonely honk from the car trailing me signals some impatience, but isn’t able to speed up my progress. Eventually the right side clears out and traffic can pass me again. As I cruise down Bridge St on the way home I marvel at how much quicker, cheaper, and healthier my bike commute is, and why more people don’t give it a try. Personal choice as it is, I am just thankful for the opportunity myself, and for the cooperation of the other drivers I share the road with.
For more information, read the Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual online at PENNDOT’s website (www.dot.state.pa.us). Special thanks to Frank Krygowski and the Bicycling Life website (www.bicyclinglife.com) for permission to adapt this article idea for the local Harrisburg audience.
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