Monday, December 14

Laying Down the Law

So I'm biking home from work a couple of months ago. I get out of work around 1:30, two o'clock in the morning, and I bike through the little downtown area. If you don't know Portsmouth, it's a tourist town, and our economy is sustained by alcoholism. Just to paint the picture, we have a lot of one-way streets, drunk people, and out-of-towners. Toss smug, indignant bicyclists in to the mix and it starts to get interesting.

Anyway, I'm riding home on my bicycle, coming down Congress Street. That's the one-way main drag, from Market Square to the old library. Now, since the speed limit throughout downtown is only 15, I always claim my right to take up the full lane, since that is a speed which I can easily maintain, so I'm not an impediment to traffic. So I'm riding down Congress street, and I see a pair of headlights coming right at me.

Those with weak constitutions might have the initial reaction of swerving out of the way. This is wrong. This is letting the offending driver know that they have more right to drive the wrong way than you have the right to take the lane. Even if the situation were reversed, and someone was biking up the road the wrong way and I was driving, I would not move for them.

Headlights coming at me. I angle my own bicycle headlight up slightly, so it's straight in the face of the driver, and let a few blasts rip on my bicycle's air horn. They roll to a stop. The driver gestures his desire to continue forward, the wrong way up Congress street. I simply shake my head, no, and . Several seconds of this head-to-head stand-off tick by. Eventually he puts the car in reverse and turns around, the right way. There were a group of locals nearby, on the sidewalk, and they cheered for me. It felt pretty good.

Well I don't know what the point of that story was. I guess it just pays to be doing things right. If I didn't have my headlight (which is legally required after dark) I wouldn't have stopped the car. I always say, as cyclists, if we want the rights of the road, we have to accept the responsibilities. Accepting my responsibility with my headlight and ubiquitous red-blinky rear light, I've earned the right to not be ignored or marginalized after dark. I stop at stop signs, I wait at red lights, and I never ride up one-way streets. In going the extra distance of getting a loud horn, have I have earned the right to be occasional traffic enforcer?

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