I am sick of writing about my struggles to ride a bike without getting killed, injured, or harassed in the place I call home. But I know that every time I do, I get emails telling me how I have helped save a life — maybe even yours or your loved ones. I hope to leave this topic behind in 2022 here on this blog. As a road violence survivor, it triggers me. I prefer to focus on joy as an act of resistance.
As a multiplatform content creator and journalist, I consider myself a cultural anthropologist. I pay attention to trends I’m seeing and try not to take actions against me personally (although I’m still working on that). Here’s the latest.
If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve been traveling at the speed of bike forever. Lately, I have noticed a significant uptick in harassment while I am operating legally in our shared public space, including yesterday while riding home with four poinsettias in the basket on my upright bike (on which I average seven miles per hour). I think folks are lashing out because they are not okay and I am an easy target as a 59-year-old woman trudging along. I know it has been a hard time for many. Mental health issues are soaring. I understand. I experience them myself, and riding my bike saves my life on a daily basis.
Here are three things I’d recommend right now:
- Please check on your loved ones. Folks are really not okay. Most of my harassers seem to be around parents-of-schoolchildren-age (none have children with them) — about the same age as the man who wrote this* on social media when I rode my bike legally in the road. Also, add more self-care to your own day if you are feeling rage or are the recipient of it in our shared environment. For me, bike-riding, rollerskating and shuffledancing help. In fact, I did this** when I stopped at a grocery store right after the encounter, as it was extremely upsetting to me. If you are in crisis, the new national suicide prevention hotline 988 can connect you to resources. You may also find my recent year-long project, Healthy You in 2022 — for which I served as the project leader and head writer under contract to the State of Alaska with the CDC Foundation — helpful, specifically the mental health tab and the suicide blog post;
- When in public space, consider only using one headphone (which is what we are required to do legally as people on bikes when on the road) or otherwise increasing your awareness of your surroundings;
- This is an obvious tip but every single one of my recent harassers hasn’t done this — Learn the law. It is legal to ride a bike at any age on the sidewalk where I live, with preference given to pedestrians and those in wheelchairs (which I do***).
I don’t like being on the sidewalk. It is not my preference, and in fact contains specific dangers and a 40% time tax***, but the roads where I live are deadly, our hospitals are at or near capacity, and I am legally allowed to use the 65 miles of sidewalks in my city to get places I go as one less car. (I ride on the roads and/or in actual — not greenwashed — safe-access-for-all infrastructure where I go in Atlanta, Decatur, Clarkston, NYC, Boston, Pittsburgh, or other truly bike-friendly places.) (Fun fact: I ride 5-15 miles a day as transportation and usually encounter maybe just one or two people who are not in cars where I live except on Saturdays on a road with a synagogue where congregants walk to services, which I usually avoid — which is why you almost never see me at the local farmers market because that is its day and the route to the park where it is held). (FYI, I survived a hit-and-run while riding my bike on that road almost directly in front of that synagogue.)
Note that I did not see any of my harassers at the multiuse path meeting at City Hall this week. Okay, I guess that’s a fourth recommendation:
4. I strongly encourage anyone who does not want people on bikes on the sidewalk to get involved with making our city safer and more accessible for all. You may find my post prior to this week’s meeting, as well as the update at the end helpful to catch you up to speed. You may also find my User’s Guide to Riding a Bike for Transportation in Dunwoody, GA helpful.
And that is it, team. There is literally not another thing I can do to try to help this city. As I’ve said before: I failed. You are needed.
Anyone want a pointsettia?
* The social media comment below kicks off the Epilogue in my book. ALL proceeds are used to help more women and girls ride bikes.
***I stop and wait in the weeds for those sharing space as a pedestrian if they are walking toward me. This used to be a time when I’d have a nice little conversation with another human being but lately I’m getting harassed while simply standing there. I give audible signal and pass with appropriate clearance if coming up from behind (and yesterday’s “poinsettia passing” was after I confirmed the woman could hear me and I had sufficient clearance in a wider-than-usual business-area — I was about to friendly- wave to her as the exchange seemed positive when she started in on the illegal harassing. I do have a camera running at most times but the poinsettias were covering it or I’d share the exchange with you). If I notice you have two earphones in and can’t hear me despite multiple warnings via both voice and bell, I do try to wait until we are at an intersection to pass or a place with as much clearance as possible (but I will still most likely seem like a surprise to you), move temporarily into the road if I have my BikeNoodle attached to my bike and deem it safe to do so (although it’s never safe as the video from my hit-and-run demonstrates), or even cross the road if it is a place where I can do that safely and there are sidewalks on the other side. Oh, and yes I try to talk with them to educate them about the law but most cannot hear me and just keep screaming and pointing to the road.