Separate but equal

3:15 PM, Thursday, August 27, 2014: I’m riding home on the stretch of Western Avenue in Brighton a hundred yards or so short of Market Street. I’m riding outside the door zone of parked cars. This stretch is narrow enough that the City of Boston hasn’t even seen fit to install its usual door-zone bike lanes, where an opening car door would fling me out into the street.

A horn honks behind me. There isn’t any oncoming traffic, and the vehicle immediately passes me, without any difficulty. It is a large white pickup truck with tool chests in the back. The door carries the logo of the Boston Traffic Department.

I catch up with the truck at the traffic light at Market Street. The weather is pleasant and the right-side window is open.

“What was that honk about,” I ask.

“You should be riding over there.”

“That’s the door zone. If I ride over there, and someone opens a car door, I go under your truck.”

“Bicyclists should ride over there. That’s the law” (The driver is talking over me. He doesn’t hear most of what I’m saying.)

“That isn’t the law.”

“You are supposed to ride over there. This is the space for cars.” He is yelling at me.

I’ve lost it. I’m yelling back. But soon the light changes. He drives off and I ride off.

The driver is, need I say, an employee of the City department which installs bizarre bike boxes, door-zone bike lanes, coffin corners and misplaced bicycle actuators and markings, and allows bicyclist booby traps to be placed across streets.

The driver is, let’s get to the heart of the matter here, vehemently instructing me to be a compliant, meek, passive, defenseless second class citizen: to put my own life at risk for the sake of, at most, a few seconds of his precious time.

Boston’s Mayor Menino announced in 2007, with great fanfare, that “the car is no longer king”  — but the City’s program since then has put bicyclists out of the way in door-zone bike lanes — also establishing the public perception that this is Your Space, so Stay out of Ours.  Now that the coffin corners have killed a number of bicyclists, the City has determined also to put the coffin corners out of sight until the moment of collision, behind a row of parked cars, on “cycle tracks.”

There are parallels to these developments in the history of our great country, and I’d think that an African-American — like this driver — or for that matter, a Japanese American, or Native American or Hispanic, or…you name it, any reasonable person might be especially sensitive to those parallels. It didn’t happen this time.

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One Response to Separate but equal

  1. Martin Pion says:

    A distinctly unpleasant experience, but one which could have led to some valuable dialog if followed up with City Hall. Did you happen to write down pertinent details of the vehicle and encounter and pursue this?
    I know in the heat of the moment we don’t always do what we think of subsequently, but I hope you did, John.

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