Despite my daily devotion to urban bike riding, I do own a car. I drive a lot of miles too logging between 12-14,000 miles per year over the past five years. While most of it is highway, I figure though the riding I’ve done extended the life of my last car at least a year. The fact the driving I avoid is the city driving which is the hardest on my car in wear and tear and the worst for mileage only helps that case. Anyway, let’s get to the title of this piece and examine how riding my bike has changed my driving.
First understand I’ve been a resident of Boston since 1981 and I grew up in the suburbs during the frenetic period of constant highway construction. I know Boston’s streets as well as anyone. The same goes for just about anywhere on the South Shore or Metrowest. While I’ve only lived in the Fenway or Dorchester, my kid went to schools and programs in Hyde Park and Brighton so traversing the city is old hat. Most of that time I would compete with just about everyone to get to the next light first and be the first one in line anywhere. Short cuts, u-turns, slides down lanes that are closing, honking often, sliding through lights and Stop signs all done as a matter of course like a majority of drivers. Outside of town I traveled for work calling on customers from Woonsocket, RI to Lawrence, MA. We know a lot of variations on how to get just about anywhere in between.
Today however I find myself going the speed limit in the city at the most, even 25 or 30 on roads that ‘feel’ like you could go much faster. I use my encyclopedic knowledge of light cycles and variable routes instead to glide to a stop without my foot being on the gas or break pedal. Yeah, coasting. Just like riding my bike.
This gliding creates a new kind of interface with my fellow drivers. In other words the rushers who climb up my butt in the vain hope they might persuade me to go faster. Yeah dream on. I know if they find a way to pass me I’ll be sure to return the butt hovering favor at the next light. At least 90% of the time anyway. And folks do find remarkable ways to pass. I’ve had them pass on the right in a bike or parking lane. I’ve had them go around lane dividers down the wrong way. Seeing that I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents in Boston than there are now.
On the highway the gliding continues, although I will speed it’s never more than 5-10 over the limit. Then I defer as much as possible to using the cruise control (more coasting and better mileage) as much as possible. I’m always looking ahead of the folks directly in front of me trying to ascertain how to gauge my speed in the case a sudden stop is required. In jams I’m the one who has loads of space in front of me where folks cut in and out. I always seem to be the one moving though. I’ll also get off the limited access highway and take an old state road with a slower speed limit if I can save enough distance. Knowing how to go pays off.
I still slide through most yellow/pink light as in my riding coming to a complete stop is the enemy of making good time. For my motto in riding is the same as in city driving, “It’s not how fast I go, it’s how little I go zero.” Of course I can often avoid that on an open street by knowing to speed up or just slow down and coast as my chances of making the light are slim.
One other way my driving reflects my riding is that I rarely, if ever, pay for parking anywhere in town. While riding is easy in that you pull up to your destination and chain your bike to what is handy, there’s no way I’ll reveal how to Park for a Red Sox game or down town show for free. I can say where it’s different is that free car parking is never right in front. However, knowing where the spots are is actually enhanced by what I see when I’m on my bike. Often I notice a soft spot one day on my bike, only to use it for a show at the Huntington or elsewhere.
So the advantages of being a daily rider pay off in a lot of ways, even when I’m driving.