Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes we can.

I was working for a newspaper when I was 15. The city elections were coming up and I wasn't old enough to vote, but I was working on the section of the paper that detailed the candidates' stances on various issues. I followed everyone's campaigns by the second, and when election day came, I wrote all my choices down on a piece of paper and gave them to my mom, hoping she would use her vote to represent me.

My grandmother's funeral was the day of the 2004 elections. I left the family party early; it would be the last time I'd ever step foot in the house I grew up in. My dad rushed me to the airport so I could get back to Ohio in time to vote for John Kerry. It was my first presidential election. My flight got me in with thirty minutes to spare before the polls closed; I cast my first vote. I would find out the next day, sitting on the steps in my college surrounded by all my liberal hippie friends that he had conceded.

I woke my husband up the day Barack Obama announced his intent to run for President of the United States. It was a Saturday; it was cold. I happened to turn on CNN and he was talking and I made John get out of bed to come watch it with me. I sat cross-legged on my couch and cried.

I got a yard sign the second they were available. I voted early for the primary. I rushed home from work every single day there was yet another state primary so I could watch the results roll in. I ordered pizza on Super Tuesday and sat there for hours balancing the numbers in my head.

I moved to California without a television, so I went to a bar for every single presidential debate. I slammed beers and screamed and high-fived strangers and agreed that Joe Biden's smile could convince me to do anything. I found it only appropriate to rush out of downtown to that same bar on the night of the election so I could see the results as they happened. I maxed out my text messages sending notes to everyone I knew.

I called my mother in Kansas and woke her up and it's a wonder that she could hear me over the noise of the bar when Barack Obama was named President-Elect. I sobbed as soon as they announced it. 

I walked in to work this morning and the television in our lobby was playing it. A few assorted co-workers were huddled around, so I pulled up a square of couch and joined them, skipping the first hour of work. CNN announced that Barack Hussein Obama was officially the president; I hugged my messenger bag in order to not cry in front of co-workers that barely know me.

Yes we can; yes we did. I have never cared so much about politics in my life as I did about this election. President Obama, you have an obligation to not make me look stupid. I've done as much as I can for you. Now it's your turn. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday love list.

I've been in a kind of negative mood this week since The Roommate has been wicked sick. Also, since it's gotten warm again, all the cyclists that were scared to get on their bikes when it was 40 degrees outside in the morning are stoked about riding, which means I have had to miss three stupid CalTrains this week because they were already full of bikes. I'm a little grumpy. 

The thing is, though? I live in San Francisco and I bought a new bike and the weather is gorgeous, so I should probably shut the fuck up. I'm really good at negativity, people, but I'm sort of sick of it. So here are the things that I have loved over the past few days:

  • Dolores Park on a Sunday afternoon. I don't have a dog, but I really like watching puppies play. The Roommate's family came to visit and brought their giant mastiff along. I got to sit on a blanket and watch puppies play all afternoon, and I got to watch people react to a dog that is their size. Amazing.
  • Living in the Mission. I know I've remarked on this before, but I literally don't have to leave my neighborhood. For anything. Ever. Grocery stores, bars, restaurants, bike shops. There are three bike shops visible from the bottom of my hill. Three! I don't get to ride all that much unless I'm going to work, because everything's too close to my house to justify even getting on a bike. That is incredible. (Also, no drunk driving, ever. And I don't get drunk enough to be arrested for drunk walking.)
  • Cyclist unity. When you come from a town with two million people in it, and your Critical Mass has 40 cyclists in it, the unity is strong, but doesn't do much. Here? The Market/Octavia bike lane has caused a huge stir. When Caltrain is full and we can't get on, we all stand and bitch together because we get each other. Cyclists here have a shared cause, and there are enough of us to do something about it. I was bitching today about getting bumped from my train on Twitter, and a friend in Cincinnati reminded me that he'd kill to have my problem - trains and too many cyclists. It was nice to gain that perspective again.
  • My Safeway has a killer wine selection. Don't get me wrong, the midwest has the occasional really great grocery store with an awesome wine selection. But I can walk across the street after I get off the train and get an incredible bottle of wine that was made less than 50 miles from my house.
  • Transportation options. This week, I have ridden to 4th and King. I also needed to pick up a new bike, so on Tuesday I took the BART to Millbrae to Caltrain, and then did the same on the way back so I could stop in Daly City. 40 miles of transportation with lots of different travel options, all just using my feet.
  • Local blogs. I know blogging is wicked trendy and now everybody has one, but I live in a city big enough to have its own spin-offs of the really popular ones. Eater, Curbed, -ist, Streetsblog - all with SF branches. Also, if I need to figure out where I can get brisket at two in the morning, SOMEONE out there has already asked the question and answered it in some form I can find by googling.
So, there you go. Hope you all have found things to love this week. Enjoy the sunshine! (But if you see a redhead on a tiny blue bike on the train that looks super angry, it still might be me. I'm still sick of getting booted from trains.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Removing Market/Octavia bike lane.

I kept thinking about doing some 2008 re-cap blog post, but now it's the 8th day of the new year, and we're pretty much over talking about that transition. A friend of mine asked the other night when the last day you could wish someone a happy new year was, and I think we can all agree that we're starting to push the limits. So, I'm done. 2008 was full of a lot of great moments, but overall was a pretty terrible year. Notable: re-connected with The Roommate after four years of not seeing one another, made some amazing new friends, graduated, moved to San Francisco. Those are the good things, and they are what I hope to remember years down the line. Done. 2009, you need to be better. You should be my first full year in San Francisco, and now that I've gotten better at riding a bike again, we're going to explore the hell out of this place together.

The road to recovery after the collar bone incident has been a terrible one. The physical limitations were pretty awful for awhile, but they're mostly over. The ones that have still lingered are the mental ones. As in I had a pavlovian response every time I heard a bicycle changing gears, because when I geared up, I broke my collar bone. So I was completely unable to change gears for a solid two months after getting back on a bicycle. Yes, I am serious; yes, I know that's really pathetic. 

But lo and behold, The Roommate went out of town for most of December, and I didn't have anyone to try and show off for, so I very slowly learned how to switch gears again. That meant I could finally ride up the massive hill I live on. It was a pretty major breakthrough. And now? Well, now, the world is my fucking oyster. Riding up Guerrero to Market? Hard when you're geared high. Magnificent on a geared bike. So now new places are in my range (please note, anyone unfamiliar with the area: this is seriously an intersection that's just over a mile from me). I've been getting a lot more exposure to the upper Market area. 

It is for this reason that I'm all fired up about the impending removal of the bike lane at Market & Octavia. Let's start out by watching this video.

In that video, you can observe a few things. You can also feel free to look up the intersection of Market & Octavia at Google Maps or something so you grasp the layout, but the gist is this: the entrance ramp to the highway is on the right. Making a right turn from Market onto said highway is illegal. It is very clearly marked that you cannot make a right turn there. Market Street, at this point, is a downhill slope where it's fairly easy to build up a little bit of speed. The bike lane is separated by a small divider in-between the lanes. There is also a sign warning bicyclists to watch for cars turning illegally. You know when you have to warn someone to watch for idiots doing something illegal that you've got a somewhat large problem.

The problem is that people in cars want to get on the highway, and they can't do it there, but other than a sign telling them not to, there are absolutely no barriers. So people do it anyway. And the cyclists are in their lane, going straight, and people turn illegally without looking and hit cyclists. So the problem is people doing something illegal. Done. The city's solution to it? Remove the bike lane, which was put there with the intention of protecting cyclists.

When there are issues of cyclist safety in San Francisco, it's really easy to shake your fist and blame the damn kids. Damn kids, with their disregard for laws, not watching where they're going, riding on the sidewalk, not wearing helmets, riding fixies without brakes, etc. And, fair enough. There are a lot of incidents that CAN be attributed to cyclists breaking the law. But this is not one of those things. Sure, if someone was riding a bike wearing a helmet, and their bike had brakes, it would be easier for them to stop and not get so injured if someone turned illegally in front of them. But the fact remains that none of this would be a problem if people weren't turning illegally.

There's a lot of debate about this subject, and I really wish the solution could just be education. Educate drivers and cyclists about how to get along. Unfortunately, that just doesn't work. There are signs on major streets around here reminding people to share the road, reminding people that bicycles are allowed to take up an entire lane. That certainly doesn't keep cars from passing too close in the same lane. Cars want to go 40 miles an hour, and most cyclists can't. So the solution is to pass them. I get that. I pass cyclists that are going too slow in front of me when I'm on a bike, so I get it. 

But every single day I have to deal with the honking, and people passing too close, and drivers generally acting like assholes because I have the nerve to be on the road. Removing this bike lane on Market means I'm now going to have to try and take up the whole lane. I don't have a problem doing that, but it certainly isn't going to keep anyone from speeding up behind me, swerving around me on the left, and cutting me off to turn there illegally. The only thing it will do is make cyclists have to watch traffic more. It is making us the problem, when we really just want to ride bikes. 

It's easy to say "well, do you have a better idea?" in these situations, and the truth is that I don't. I don't have a degree in transportation and city planning, and I certainly don't get paid to sit in an office every day and come up with solutions that cater to a host of different people. So I certainly don't understand all the challenges this task faces. All I know is that I ride a bike, and I'd really appreciate not getting hit by a car. I think it's pathetic to say "the bike lane isn't working, so let's remove the bike lane", rather than coming up with a different solution. I can't blame someone for not wanting to ride a bicycle considering how people react to cyclists in this town. It was easier in the midwest when you just knew everyone hated you and no one was looking, ever. Now you have to consider whether or not someone's looking and whether or not they hate cyclists that day. The "are you going to kill me" dance is the least pleasant thing about my daily commute.

I'm interested to see what the SFBC's official statement is going to be on this. I hope they come up with a better solution and push for it. They're much better at all of this than I am.

Oh, and even though we might be past the time where it's okay - Happy New Year, everyone. I rang in midnight at my favorite bar in the city, Inner Mission. Dave and Tom poured champagne for everyone, I got a kiss from The Roommate, and slammed a Young's Double Chocolate after they flipped the lights on. It was a good way to ring in 2009. Hope yours were equally fantastic.