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A Biker's Plea

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By Greg Karpinski 

I used to hate SEPTA, and still kind of do, but it was the mess that resulted during last year's strike that gave me second thoughts about the full scope of utility mass transit provides.

Being a biker at that time was like posting invites of a huge party on Facebook and having everyone confirmed actually show up-- drunk, really drunk. It seemed like everyone in Philly had bought a car for just such an occasion because Hole-lee-Cow, rush hour turned into every hour.  The staggering increase of bikers didn't do anything to help the problem, either. The Cirque du Shenanigans lasted for seven days, the length of the strike, but it seemed like forever. No one knew how to handle this influx; the influx didn't know how to drive.

Further complicating the problem was a greater invasion of opportunistic cabbies, all of whom suck at driving, and the continued invasion of Jersey plates, all of whom can't help but suck at driving).

In short, during those strike days, I never ever, had so many close encounters of the finality kind. Just wave after wave of cars, trucks and vans (mini to grande) straddling the edge line of the road pushing me into parked cars; McCain-Palin glued to the bumper. And I don't ride with a helmet--which is my fault, I know. Worst was the flood of people yelling at me to hit the sidewalk. The thing is: legally, a sidewalk is only for walking. The only people who ride the sidewalk are Hispanic men --guys who can't afford or don't want health insurance-- and kids. After a few days, I ended up just driving to wherever I needed to go.

Tension boiled over like nothing else then, but it didn't materialize straight out of the ether. Anger substitutes for understating between bikers and drivers. The problem is our ability to relate and communicate with our fellow road users.

Orban biker.jpgI consider myself in a privileged position when it comes to driver-biker relations because I have done both in the city for quite some time. I know that being a biker is to live in a state of  trepidation, always on the defensive, haunted by cabbies and the paradox of Jersey driver. It's a Napoleon complex, but a justified one. I weigh about a buck sixty and my bike a lot less. Your Kia, however, can plaster me on the pavement given the chance. Helmet or no helmet, bikers are screwed in this respect. And it is because of this that the driver must take greater responsibility.

I'm not to say that all the drivers here are terrible. Most of the time most of the drivers give off an impression of awareness on the road. The SEPTA strike was a unique situation which I hope will never pop up again, at least while I'm living in Philly.

Most drivers tend to recognize where bikers are at on the road and do an admirable job of driving with the riders. I'm usually allotted enough space to ride my bike. There still exists close calls, but they don't turn into accidents. Most accidents, or by my count what would have been accidents if it weren't for my evasive actions, can be prevented easily.

The one thing that permeates driver behavior time and time again is their phobia of using the turn signal. Out of respect of the toughness and grit of the city, I call it the Only Philly Phobia. OPP affects all those with a car, usually men, me included.

When I'm about to turn onto another street I first turn into the twilight zone and forget that other people exist. I don't know why, but I'm driving  -- so screw it. As a biker, I'm yelling this while typing: "I do not know where your car is going to go! Throw me a damn bone and put your signal on."

Now that that's off my chest, let me admit that to think that use of turn signals will alleviate all tension between bikers and drivers is silly, but it will take some of the chip off my shoulder and I know it will take one off of most other bikers.

Making others aware of what you're doing is a principle which should apply to everyone who wants to use the road, bikers included. So drivers here's a hint: When you're turning onto another street, before you look in the mirror and see some hipster on a bike going like gangbusters, put your turn signal on. It will help us avoid ending up with your paint job tattooed to our bodies.

Greg Karpinski is a South Philadelphia writer who bikes and drives.

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