I was bicycling home from church on a Sunday afternoon recently.
The church I attend, First Parish in Waltham, has a parking lot on either side, but also the public school parking lot across the street doesn’t get much use on a Sunday, and handles any overflow.
As I rode home, I headed south on Eddy Street and turned right on a green light onto Weston Street, a two-lane main street with a moderate uphill grade and single-family residences on either side.
Weston Street is wide enough for easy bicycle-motor vehicle side-by-side lane sharing if there is no parking. If vehicles park along Weston Street, it becomes too narrow for safe travel at the 35 mph speed limit even with motor traffic only: parked vehicles block sight lines for residents pulling out of their driveways.
So, parking is prohibited at all times along Weston Street, mostly.
A Lutheran church stands on the corner of Eddy and Weston Streets, and it has only a small parking lot. The special exception, indicated by signs which are faded by now almost to illegibility, allows parking in the block in front of this church on weekends. Many people attending its services park on the street. Some of the faithful park in the next block too.
The Google Maps satellite view below was taken on a Sunday. The marker in the image is at the intersection of Weston Street and Eddy Street. Cars are parked in the church parking lot, and front of the church, and in the next block. You might also go directly to Google Maps to look around, though the satellite view you see then might be from a different day.
I turned right from Eddy Street onto Weston Street. A few seconds later, the traffic signal changed and traffic started up Weston street behind me.
Here was my choice as I saw it:
- Ride in the door zone and risk being flung out in front of overtaking traffic by a car door opening in front of me or a person walking out from between cars —
- or control the travel lane and be safe.
There was oncoming traffic too, so the drivers behind me couldn’t pull out partway across the double yellow line to pass me.
I chose to ride outside the door zone and walk-out zone of the parked cars, not wanting to collide with any good Christians, or be flung out into the path of an overtaking car.
The first driver in line behind me honked the car horn at me.
After I’d passed the parked cars and merged over to the right, the second driver honked while passing me.
I was going about ten miles per hour. That is as fast as I could go. I might have delayed the people in the cars behind me by 15 seconds.
The safe choice is becoming more difficult. Boston used to have an “every man for himself” sort of traffic culture. Drivers were used to other drivers who bent the law to get ahead. (It was always, of course the other driver…) This was somewhat of an ego thing, I think, with origins in the Bluebloods vs. Irish cultural and political struggles of a century ago — but also, drivers often had to edge out into narrow and congested Boston-area streets, failing to yield right of way, sometimes blindly, to avoid waiting interminably for a gap in traffic. In a somewhat perverse way, this was an egalitarian culture, and it worked well for assertive, law-abiding bicyclists. Yielding to a visible, predictable, law-abiding bicyclist was less of an annoyance than yielding a motorist who was butting into line in traffic.
That is changing. More and more drivers have been trained that bicyclists belong in the door zone, by the dozens of miles of door zone bike lanes which cities and towns in the Boston area have been installing. And, every year there is a new crop of students at our colleges and universities, who don’t know any better than to fall into the trap which the cities and towns have set for them.
Oh, and now, rethinking the situation, there was a third possible choice: I could have waited at the green light on Eddy Street, then through the red light so I could start up Weston Street on a new green. I’d then get past the parked cars before the traffic behind me on Weston Street started to move. I wouldn’t be delaying anyone except myself — unless, of course, there was other traffic entering from Eddy Street — and there often is.
What would you choose?