I’ve wanted to write about the happy existence I lead biking around Santiago for some time. Truth be told, I do ride around the city most of the time. Another truth is that only sometimes is it happy. The newest legal development would make it even less happy.
While cycling, I have been hit by a truck (owie + months of physical therapy, and my shoulder is still off). I have also hit a pedestrian (she said, “oh! my lunch”, and I ended up at the orthopedist for back pain). I have also cycled probably thousands of miles up and around the city and had a lot of interactions with people, many of them negative (shouting, honking, irresponsible driving). But recently things have escalated. As the proliferation of ciclovías (bike paths) continues, and motorists and pedestrians learn more about them, more and more, people have taken to shouting “ciclovía” at me.
Yes, ciclovía. First of all, while there are some bike paths around the city, not all bike paths are created alike. There are many that have trees in the middle of them (woe is he who misses that side-jag, Simón Bolívar), mystery (invisible) ramps (Alameda), hops from one side of the street to the other (Brasil, Simón Bolívar), bumps (Santa Isabel), potholes (Curicó), sewer grates (Costanera), dangerous dividers hemming you in (Santa Isabel), and places where businesses have taken out the dividers and built a ramp, essentially making your ciclovía into a free right hand turn into their locale (Santa Isabel). Some of the paths are wide, and are for two-way traffic, and many of them are narrow, and people still use them two-way. One (Rosas) is so narrow that if you had wider-than-normal handlebars, you’d be hard pressed to use it. One near my house (Alameda) goes through what I consider to be a dangerous tunnel/cage with a sharp blind 90-degree turn and no mirror to see if someone is coming.
Also, while these marvelous ciclovías are sprouting up, beside and in between (in the case of the trees), they are not everywhere. Therefore, shouting the word “ciclovía” at me serves little effect. Just the other day, I was heading down Manuel Rodriguez (the service road for norte-sur, or Panamerican highway), and a taxi driver tooled up beside me and said, blablabla (insert actual words here) ciclovía. And so I dutifully caught up to him at the next light, and said in my very sweetest tone, “Sir, I would love to use the bike path. But as you can see, there is no bike path here, and in order to get to one, I either have to fly or bike there. I have chosen to bike there. I hope that doesn’t upset you too much.” Except all he heard was “Sir, I would love to use” blablabla because he rolled up his window and pumped up the tunes.
I object to the insistence that cyclists should use the bike paths for a variety of reasons. In many cases, they are not safe or convenient. There is one (Pocuro) where every time you get to an intersection there is this traffic-calming technique that involves a turn and a ramp. It makes it very likely for me to hit a pedestrian (they use the path, too), and causes me to lose speed. More on hitting pedestrians in a minute. There are others, like the cage one, where I have judged the path to not be safe. Equally, going down the bike path down the center of the Alameda in general after dark is not a good idea. There have been assaults, accidents, etc. Trust me to be a good cyclist. I use a helmet and reflectors, don’t dart into traffic, and signal (and thank people) before I change lanes. As an aside, I also don’t need you to honk when passing. I can hear you clearly, as I (unlike you) am outside.
The latest development in the cyclist-motorist free-for-all involves a proposed law requiring cyclists to ride on the sidewalk in the case that there is no bikepath (see: hitting pedestrians). The point for many of us to riding a bike is to get from one place to another quickly and safely. Riding up and down sidewalk curbs (as there are no ramps in many places) is idiocy. Expecting us to ride alongside people who walk so densely in some areas (Downtown, Providencia) that it’s difficult to even walk faster than the crowd, never mind bike between them, is sheer ignorance. It’s easy to assume that this law was proposed by someone living and working in a place where there is low population density, and few people walk. But for most Santiaguinos, who will certainly set foot on the corridor from Las Rejas to Las Condes on a daily basis, riding on the sidewalk would be torturously slow, and dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists alike, to say nothing of the dogs. Also, because cyclists advance more quickly than pedestrians in crosswalks, they’d be more likely to get hit by turning vehicles.
I have held off on saying anything about this law (until goaded to do so by a friend) because I simply cannot believe that anything so irresponsible, inconvenient and dangerous would be perpetrated on Santiaguinos, among them people who make their living delivering electricity bills and gas bills, to say nothing of the mailmen and gasfiters (plumbers) who get around by bike. And what about the guys who deliver gas and move fruit and vegetables and other items in their triciclos (cargo bikes), should they ride on the sidewalk, too?
I do not believe that this law will be passed. I think it’s another case of disconnected lawmakers acting on an inkling of an idea that is not well thought-out. But if this law goes, oh, if it goes, I will call for a giant taking to the sidewalks of street after street, a critical mass so vast and so cumbersome that it will cripple the city. I expect thousands will join in. I’ve got an extra bike if you want to play.
Maybe on that day the pedestrians can take over the street. And the motorists can drive down into the metro. And the ten senators behind the proposed law? Well they can just take the ciclovías. Shouting optional.