Riding on the Sidewalk

I had an encounter with a local journalist today, a man who is notorious in Philly for his articles bashing bike lanes that give over precious streets for just 2% of road users. He did not introduce himself as the person I later deduced it likely was; so I’m leaving his identity and his publicly held beliefs out of this.

I learned two things from the impromptu discussion we had.

1) If you politely brush over areas on which you will never agree, you can find a real middle ground that I think is helpful for moving the larger discussion forward. When you steer the conversation away from ideology and stop talking in terms of preëxisting political narratives and stereotypes, you can communicate like two human beings.

2) I’m always right and anyone who thinks bicycling in cities is a bad thing is an idiot.

OK, so here’s how the conversation started. I ride my bike west on Arch street from Old City coffee on 2nd & Church to my internship at WHYY on 6th. As you can see from the map below, 6th runs south, so I’d need to go three blocks out of the way to get to my destination. Yes, this calculation makes me lazy.

Yesterday, I decided that I could ride on the sidewalk on 6th for half a block, on a huge sidewalk that I’ve literally never seen anybody walking on before. This was my second day doing this. I almost always walk, not ride, my bike on the sidewalk. I get pissed at people riding on the sidewalk while I’m walking too.

So this guy stopped me as I was locking up, in a totally cool manner, and asked if I ride on the sidewalk often, and what I think about it. I said no, that I normally walk. But I noticed yesterday that this particular stretch is never used. He went out of his way to ensure that he wasn’t busting me or calling me out or any tough guy bravado like that. I still had my u-lock in my hands: “what if this guy was a nut?” I was less-than-subconsciously thinking.

He asked me if I thought a higher fine for getting pulled over for riding on the sidewalk would help deter people (it’s now $50; there have been proposals to hike the ticket price up to $300). I said no, we need equal enforcement for all vehicles; targeting bikes for moving violations while drivers get off doing the same in a 2 ton speeding hunk of metal is ridiculous. He seemed to agree, sort of, and the conversation waned off.

I get the sense that this guy has started off with every argument against biking he could fathom (they slow down traffic!; hipsters suck!; only socialists ride bikes!) , and the only one that has stuck is the sidewalk thing. Which is a pretty pathetic concern, in the grand scheme of things.

We exchanged simple pleasantries and went on our ways. After I got to a computer and checked out the guy’s picture online, I was sort of kicking myself for not being more in his face about stuff, and for not calling him out on his past anti-bike rhetoric. But at the end of the day, two complete strangers had an educated and civil conversation about bikes, police enforcement, the roles of government and non-profits, which is a good thing. We can yell at each other some other day.