A blond woman in a Volvo XC90 passed me on the left while crossing Williams Street. I caught up with her at the next set of lights at Crown Street. “Typical,” I thought. Except this time, I wasn’t on my bicycle or even the Nihola tricycle. I was in a car. Why? Because the Nihola was at Omafiets Dutch Bicycles for a service. And it was good that I did because the motor failed while in the capable hands of Ali, one of the lovely mechanics. I take the Nihola in for a service every three to six months. The Nihola is our workhorse as our nannies and I ride it to drop off and pick up the kids nearly every day. My husband Justin and I try to avoid unexpected break downs by getting our bicycles serviced regularly. This was day two without the Nihola.
As a result, I was taking my son Julius to childcare in the GoGet Car. GoGet is the car-share program to which Justin and I belong. We even took one when I went into labour with Julius. http://www.drive.com.au/roads-and-traffic/families-give-the-green-light-to-carsharing-20110913-1k7th.html There are about ten cars all within five minutes of our home. We pay for the time and the kilometres driven. GoGet pays for the petrol and insurance and each car has dedicated street parking.
It took some thought to get everyone to their destination without the Nihola. Choosing a car from the bottom of Surry Hills, where we live, would result in trying to find parking around school which is impossible. In the end, we all walked up the hill to vacation care at school. My daughter Ofelia and Julius held hands while I pushed my bicycle up the hill behind them. I locked the bicycle next to the car on Riley Street and continued onto school. Julius and I kissed her goodbye and then we sang a favourite song on the way to the car. I drove him to childcare. Kissed him goodbye. Was passed by the thoughtless woman in the Volvo and then re-parked the car next to my bicycle. I was in the office in fifteen minutes.
I thought about why the thoughtless woman passed me and at such speed. I was probably driving too slowly for her taste. Why? Because I now drive like a cyclist and at the speed limit. Despite the airbag-filled-bar to the right of me blocking several degrees of my vision, I have become hyper aware of the cars, bicycles, buses, motorcycles around me. As a bicyclist, I use all of my senses to determine the size and type of vehicle coming up behind me, how close it is and potential problems ahead. In a car, hermetically sealed behind glass and metal, my hearing is impaired. As a result, I use the mirrors more frequently now. I look at bicyclists to determine if s/he is a confident rider and following a line. I will wait to pass. If there is no opportunity, I have been known to follow behind. When I am parked, I look and then look again before slowly opening the door, especially when the unsafe bicycle lane is in the door zone. Bicycling has profoundly changed the manner in which I drive. While many male friends, my father-in-law and my husband have all commented on my excellent driving skills, I don’t enjoy it as much as I did as a teenager.
When I was sixteen, I passed the drivers test in Minnesota on the first attempt. I felt so free in my parents Oldsmobile Delta ’88 which would be the first and last car that I would drive regularly. I felt free because it was one more step toward independence. Now, having lived in Chicago, Manhattan, Central London and now Surry Hills, the idea of owning a car seems like the opposite of freedom. How do I feel free on the bicycle? I never search for parking. I’m never stuck in traffic queues. I am rarely subject to others poor driving skills and the associated stress. I can spend money on my children, lovely cafes and restaurants, dresses and bicycles instead of on the car loan, petrol, insurance, parking, parking tickets.
Ironically, my bicycling skills have also benefitted from driving in Sydney. I bicycle with intent. I follow a line beyond the door zone. Swerving between parked cars is a recipe for confusion for cars behind me. In the tricycle, I have been known to take the entire lane because of the width of the cabin which holds my two children. I signal clearly. I make eye contact with drivers next to me and behind me. I have been known to wave them through and to wave “thank you” when they exhibit virtuous patience behind me. I shout from the diaphragm to avoid becoming a victim of bad driving. I ride as fast I can to keep up with the traffic (and to stay fit as part of training for races and long-distance rides). I anticipate the inevitable bad driving which has been borne from experience driving in Sydney and other cities. I ride my eZee Sprint when it rains because it’s heavier, more stable and has better brakes than my Gazelle CityZen.
When I drove in Melbourne a few weeks ago in another GoGet Car to return a friend’s bicycle, I noticed that the vehicle and bicycle lanes have the same width in Fitzroy North, Abbotsford, Clifton Hill. The width of the lane means that bicycles have equal footing to cars in that part of the world. Amazing.
I’m teaching my children to share as are most parents. What has happened to us all where it has now become so difficult to share the road?
Today’s ensemble: Tahari dress, J.Crew infinity scarf, Witchery sunglasses, Cartier Santos, Aerosole boots, Yakkay rain cover helmet, BBB gloves, Lululemon rain coat, Po Campo Bag, Gazelle CityZen S9 c/o Omafiets.