Welcome to my speed.
The other morning, I rode my bike for about two miles at a speed of 15 miles per hour. Sounds like an ordinary bike trip, right? There was something different about this ride though.
A line of 20 cars or more joined me, driving at or slower than my speed.
They didn’t do it by choice, of course; there was a street-cleaning vehicle serving as pace car at the front of the pack. Still, they did it.
They did it without tailgating, honking, or yelling mean things out the window. To be fair, I don’t know what the morning commuters were saying or doing inside their vehicles. In truth though, I don’t care.
That ride was one of, if not the safest, least stressful, and most pleasant I’ve had on a city street.
Normally, a city ride for me entails holding tight as cars pass me illegally (three feet of space is the law in Colorado), maneuvering around parked cars, craning my neck to re-enter a lane, and cursing under my breath the motorists who won’t let me back into traffic.
It also often involves one or more motorist honking at me (which is physically jarring to cyclists and, therefore, dangerous for all involved), yelling rude things at me, or lecturing me at stop lights about how I shouldn’t be on the road.
Instead, we all drove the same reasonable speed, and we all got to our destination safely.
Only one or two cars needed to pass me, and they did so at a safe speed and distance from me. I even had to put the brakes on a few times in order stay in the line of traffic. Because everyone had no choice but to chill out and slow down, I not only felt safe, but I felt respected, acknowledged, even dignified.
I wonder what my life would be like if the speed limit in Denver were 20 miles per hour, a comfortable flat-land cycling speed. We wouldn’t be the first city to create such limits, you know. I’ve heard that places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have set cyclist-sensitive speed limits in their urban centers.
Instead of expecting cyclists to speed up or get out of the way, they expect to cars to slow down.
I realize that the ubiquitous expressways, fast-paced lives, and general impatience in the United States may make laws like this seem ridiculous at first glance. But what seems more reasonable:
A. Asking someone to flex their calf muscle, press the brake, and add five minutes to their trip
B. Asking someone to engage nearly every muscle in their body to accelerate rapidly, weave in and out of moving and parked vehicles, and add significant percentage points to their likelihood of head trauma?
Am I being melodramatic?
I don’t think so—and if you’d been on that ride with me that morning, you probably wouldn’t think so either.