ON THE AVENUES: Hmm, that was a close one.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
It was a fairly deserted Saturday afternoon in downtown New Albany. At around 12:30 p.m., I was afoot near the northeast corner of Spring and E. 5th Streets, walking westbound. Doing so strikes me as perfectly ordinary, but in “Drive Thru City”, nothing’s ever as simple as seems.
I’ve recently concurred with suggestions that in L’America, walking by choice rather than fiscal constraint is a revolutionary act. Here in New Albany, there are further innate complications, such as determining where those relative few who do walk the city streets actually place their feet.
One might sensibly imagine that sidewalks, which are conceived, constructed and maintained to accommodate walkers, would be the proper venue for walking. But in New Albany, the minority of bipeds not otherwise engaged in driving cars and motorcycles has an alarming tendency to wander onto the asphalt, often pausing in mid-avenue for lunch, cigarettes, high tea or random sex acts.
Of course, the garbage generated by these activities is deposited onto the street, although that’s another topic, for another day.
The old Coyle Chevrolet property basked in its peculiar open-air limbo to my immediate right as I drew closer to the crosswalk at 5th and Spring. I thought to myself: If the city father and mothers weren’t so busy fluffing and re-fluffing the penniless Mainland Properties cadre, something actually might become of the critically positioned Coyle acreage, which now is being used only as temporary housing for the fire museum (which probably can’t afford to buy it), storage for family yard-sale heirlooms, and as mute testimony to our eternally misplaced redevelopment priorities.
It is highly doubtful that any of these idle considerations were in the mind of the driver, southbound on 5th Street, whose sporty convertible approached the intersection just in front of me. Owing to the generalized distracted cluelessness of local drivers, I’m conditioned on a daily basis to personal vigilance and assumed the car would block my path at the crosswalk. Amazingly, it came to a stop behind the line. The driver was spot-on. He looked east, made eye contact with me, and then studied the one-way traffic on Spring coming toward him from the left.
However, he failed to look west (to his right), at least until he began to ease out onto Spring Street, when I saw his head suddenly jerk to the right as he spotted the blithering idiot on his bicycle, merrily traveling eastbound in the westbound bike lane, against one-way vehicular traffic, despite the plain – if locally unobserved – fact that bicyclists are bound to observe the same traffic rules as motorists.
In truth, I’ve personally seen this particular vagrant bicyclist (he’s not out there for the exercise, boys and girls) traveling the wrong way on Spring Street so many times that I’ve lost count of them. I’m guessing the policeman who lately has been standing idly across Spring from my house monitoring traffic (is he intending to jog after the chronic speeders?) has spotted the wrong-way cyclist, too, but of course nothing ever happens, because after all, this is New Albany (“Enforce Not City”).
Fortunately for driver and bicyclist on Saturday afternoon at the intersection of 5th and Spring, nothing bad came of it. There was a good ten-foot gap between them, and both had time to stop and reassess the situation. The driver completed his right-hand turn onto Spring, and the bicyclist, a fiftyish man who lives in an apartment up the street from me, continued cycling the wrong way, just as he’d been doing prior to nearly causing an accident that would have injured him far worse than the convertible.
As for me, I just couldn’t take it. I called out at him: You know, dude, you’re going the wrong damned way, and it isn’t safe for anyone.
He merely laughed maniacally, rather like those folks who’ve long since ceased taking their meds, and kept right on going in the same direction.
So did I, so do the police, and so does City Hall. In reality, had this wrong way cyclist heeded my advice, it is likely he would have moved his two-wheeler to the sidewalk, which is yet another place an adult bicyclist should not be. Maybe that’s why the walkers end up lounging in the bike lane.
We all routinely dismiss near misses and minor occurrences like the one recounted here, and because we do, nothing is done, and consequently, minor problems gradually escalate into bigger ones. Inevitably, there will be a collision, and when there is, all recent prevailing evidence in the metropolitan Louisville area indicates that the driver of the car won’t be prosecuted. The culture of automotive non-accountability will thus be perpetuated, to the further detriment of those who try to share the road.
And when this inevitable tragedy finally happens, I’ll rush to the laptop to channel my outrage into words, but something will nag me, namely my dozens of memories of similar occurrences, and the realization that however much I prefer denouncing incompetent, distracted and unfit motorists, who richly deserve censure, it’s also true that bicyclists and walkers are part of the problem … and the solution.
Ideally, we all should be able to share our use of city streets and sidewalks with some semblance of equality, but in order to do so, there must be a shared sense of responsibility – and as my own experience has shown, one person acting alone, trying to engage the chronically addled and errant, stands little chance of deterring non-constructive behaviors.
Right now, there isn’t any prevailing notion of responsibility when it comes to how walkers, riders and drivers interact, and no obvious plan to improve the prospects for it. New Albany streets are designed and maintained almost exclusively to appease the automobile, and so adult cyclists who either don’t now any better or are plain scared of traffic pedal against the grain, or get on the sidewalk. But the sidewalk is for walkers. When is the last time anyone in a position of authority (i.e., wearing a uniform) made any of this clear to anyone?
Meanwhile, I still dream of the day when we, as a city, decide that humans are more important than their cars. Unfortunately, we may have to run out of petroleum before the discussion can begin.