A few years ago I lived in a 100-year-old parsonage in a small town in central Illinois. The stairs creak, the stained-glass windows rattle with the slightest breeze, doors open and close spontaneously. The halls are dark and narrow, because of the crooked walls and floors and cracks in the walls and ceiling, they have a crazy-house look. Ominous moaning sounds issue forth from the vicinity of the chimney, and invading critters occasionally make a ruckus in the attic, within the walls, or in the basement. Gurgling noises occasionally come from the ancient plumbing.
The biggest tree in town is in the front yard of this house, and the branches of this and other trees constantly scrape against the side. The big trees surrounding the home also ensure the house is constantly in shadow.
Because the town funeral home is directly across the street, tales abounded of dead bodies stored in our parsonage and of embalming fluid or blood leaking from the pipes. The guy we bought the house from was untalkative, pale, reclusive and a bit strange.
Consequently, every kid in town thought our house was about the creepiest place in the whole world. My son's friends would come to spend the night in "the haunted house" on a dare, and in every instance we ended up having to drive the kids back home by 10 p.m. It probably helps that this home is on the edge of town where the huge cornfields surrounding our farm town butts up against our fence. Have I mentioned that kids hate the movie "Children of the Corn"?
My children, though, lived in that house since birth. They were familiar with every creak, every moan, every gurgle. To them, there's nothing at all frightful or dangerous about the home.
This fear that my children's friends have of our haunted house not a rational fear, but the fear is very real nontheless. In the same way, many cyclists are fearful of riding with traffic, even if rationally you understand that riding in traffic is not all that dangerous.
My teen years were spent in Japan, where I biked all over the congested streets of my town outside of Tokyo. As a 13-year-old it was no big deal at all that I rode within inches of truck traffic right on the highway. Today, I ride right in the midst of heavy traffic and I'm teaching my children how to do the same. I'm familiar with riding in traffic and it's no big deal to me and many other road cyclists. I spent my college years and most of my working years cycling in large cities, over rural farm roads, and through sprawled suburbs.
I've discovered, though, that many people can't imagine riding with traffic. My city and nearby Boulder, Colorado have wonderful wide bike lanes all over the place, but I see several cyclists riding on the sidewalk right next to the bike lane. Many mountain bikers that I know who jump cliffs and break bones doing what they love absolutely refuse to ride on the road because it's "too dangerous."
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On my ride to work Wednesday, I was facing south at a red light waiting for the left turn traffic facing north to turn so I could continue heading south. The driver of the lead car in the left turn lane made most of the turn, swerved into both lanes of west-bound traffic, stopped, rolled down his window, honked, and shouted at me, "Be careful!" oblivious to the fact that he nearly caused several rear-end accidents and had caused a minor traffic jam. I ignored him and he began driving again. I motioned for the man in the car on my right (who was waiting for the left turn only traffic to complete the turn so he could turn right on red) to roll down his window. I said, "That guy just told me to be careful, but he's the one causing a traffic jam and nearly causing accidents." The man said, "People are crazy, aren't they?" I said, "Yeah, they sure are. Have a good day!" He said, "You too...Ride carefully." I laughed and said, "I always do."
I don't understand people who tell me to ride carefully, as if I would ride recklessly unless I was told to ride carefully. What do they want me to say? "Gee, thanks for the reminder, I was just about ready to ride against traffic with my arms outstretched and my eyes closed. Thanks for saving me from myself."
I feel safe in traffic. It's all a matter of getting used to the traffic patterns in different areas/on different days/at different times. I know what I am doing. I stay aware of my surroundings. I signal my intentions. Now, if motorists (and everyone else) did the same, then there would be no reason for them to shout, "Be careful!" because they would no longer be a threat to everyone/everything around them and would recognize that stopping traffic to yell at a cyclist is not being careful.