Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lower Class Bicycling

I went for another bike ride last weekend: 42.5 miles (a new single day record) to Falls Lake and back. Here is the SportyPal log and map for those interested.

Taking the direct route to Falls Lake involves driving through some of Durham's more, well, historic neighborhoods. Normally that's no big deal - I've done it before - but this time around, I noticed that the drivers were a little less considerate than usual, especially on Angier Avenue. Most drivers gave me the bare minimum amount of room, and there were probably a couple of instances where if I bobbled just a little bit, there would have been a hit. Drivers in this area are generally considerate, but I couldn't remember encountering so many inconsiderate drivers in a row.

So...what's the deal? Well, before I talk about why drivers seem to be less considerate towards bicyclists in older neighborhoods, I should clarify a couple of things. Because we're dealing with socioeconomic differences, and people often associate those differences with race, this discussion has the potential to get a little sticky if I'm not careful. So, I'm going to make these statements right off the top:
- "Poor people are jerks" is NOT one of the reasons drivers are less considerate towards bicyclists in poor neighborhoods.
- Even though poor neighborhoods are often associated with African-Americans, this is NOT a discussion about race AT ALL. If a phrase like "these people" happens to slip out, please remember that in this context, "these people" simply means "people who live in poor neighborhoods" and is not meant to be a derogatory term.

So, anyway, here's my take. People who live in poor neighborhoods just don't know any better when it comes to sharing the road with bicyclists, and it's not really their fault. Bicycling is more of an upper-class thing, is it not? It's also more of a recent development - only within the last 10 to 20 years have things like bike lanes, dedicated bike paths, and bike route signs started popping up. Upper-class, recently-developed towns like Cary have "share the road" and "bike route" signs everywhere. Poor areas of Durham which haven't seen much development to speak of in the last 60 years do not. Back then, roads were built without bicyclists in mind - very narrow, with no shoulders or anything. There aren't that many bicyclists to begin with in these parts of town, so there is no "share the road" culture to speak of, either. So, drivers probably aren't used to seeing someone riding their bike on a road like Angier Avenue. They don't know what to do. Before I started riding my bicycle on roads, I thought giving bicyclists the bare minimum amount of room was fine. As long as you don't hit them, it's okay, right? Now I know better, of course.

Note that this only applies to more rural neighborhoods. The areas around downtown (for example, Old North Durham) may or may not be poor - hard to tell, because property near downtown is generally of higher value, even if it's old. But regardless, bicycling in the older neighborhoods around downtown is fine. The speed limits are lower, the roads are wider, and there are more bicyclists to be seen in the downtown areas. It's when you get away from the city center and into these isolated pockets of poverty that things get interesting.

I wouldn't say that I feel unsafe riding through here. Durham isn't exactly crime-free, and crime is more common in lower-class neighborhoods, but I've never felt threatened. Riding through poor neighborhoods isn't particularly pleasant, though, and I don't plan on making a habit out of it. The end of the ride at Falls Lake was quite rewarding, though, so I'll probably make this particular ride again at some point.

One more bicycling note, related to my phone's SportyPal app. Sometimes, SportyPal will get stuck on "Initializing GPS..." at load, preventing me from tracking my route. This happened a couple of weekends ago, and I got impatient, so instead I tried another tracking app called "My Tracks", made by Google. Does My Tracks measure up to SportyPal? Uh, no.

View Track 2 in a larger map

This ride was a 38-mile ride to my old apartment in Cary and back. But according to My Tracks, my ride was over 100 miles long, ascended to an elevation of 61,502 feet, and magically teleported to Umstead State Park, then to north of Butner, then all the way south to Lillington. Or, to put it another way....Fail.

1 comment:

James Allen said...

I know the reason:
Poor people are jerks.