I began my tuck near the top of the quarter-mile luge of Cedar Hill. I lowered my upper torso to my pumping legs, brought elbows closer to ribs. I became aerodynamic and sliced through the air and the traffic, reached the point where pedaling no longer made a difference and my bike and I, melding into a single inseparable unit, hit critical mass, our velocity left to the laws of physics. We accelerated at a rate of -9.8 m/s2.
Downhill was the easy part. My speed carried me at a rate constant to the cars sharing—albeit reluctantly—the road with me. At the bottom, I disappeared for a second under a railroad trestle and entered the right-turn only lane that always gives me trouble. This segment of my morning commute is tricky. Traffic backs up from a stoplight that controls the five-way intersection of Cedar, MLK Jr., and Carnegie. Usually, I ride the turning lane to its terminus and cut off cars that are turning, jockey to reenter traffic and cut off a few more cars going straight. Aggression is necessary to the biker looking to maintain momentum when transitioning from a steep downhill to a gradual climb. So I piss off a few motorists every day. That’s what they get—they’re motorists, they can take out their aggressions safely within their air conditioned bubbles. Some percolate enough as to wind down their window and call me asshole. In my defense, I always look for turn signals from the cars in the straight lane, just in case they get caught and can’t move over fast enough.
When I am wronged by a motorist, I am vocal with my frustration. I scream and people hear me. Pedestrians hear me. Motorists hear me. The very people that wrong me, they hear me.
When the CRV cut in front of me at the Cedar-MLK-Carnegie intersection that Friday morning, I slammed on my front and rear brakes and my back tire kicked out from behind me and I skidded sideways and drew parallel to the SUV as it skittered past me, a gasping 24 inches from collision.
All the while I yelled, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Signal! Signal! Signal!’ Then I corrected, recorrected and rerecorrected. I couldn’t adjust enough to get back onto Carnegie and jumped a curb onto the sidewalk and came to a stop. My temples throbbed, adrenaline pulsing from the downhill and the exertion and the near-death and such. I saw the CRV come to a stop a hundred feet up the road. The driver had already rolled down his window.
‘Fuckin’ asshole!’ he yelled.
‘FUCK YOU!’ I rebutted, ‘USE YOUR FUCKING TURN SIGNAL!’ I pointed at him across the swath of grass and trees that separates and Carnegie and MLK as the two roads veer away from one another.
I got my bike up to speed, hopped off the sidewalk and continued my morning commute. About a half mile down Carnegie, the reality hit me. I smiled to myself, thought,
Yelling obscenities at a motorist, getting the last word: +200 Indie-Urban points.
After about a month of biking downtown, I (along with help from Thed Ferringer of the urban-design blog rockitecture.) have conjured a points system for accruing urban cred. Indie-urban points are awarded based on one’s utilization of sustainable and socialized systems in place in any city. You can award them to yourself or others can award them to you.
Taking public transit, for instance, is one IU point per ride. Biking, because it is more independent and sustainable, is five IU points. You can also garner points when other indie-urbanites recognize your sweetness.
-- While leaving for work a few weeks ago, some kid with black-rimmed glasses, tight T-shirt and cut-off
slacks remarked, ‘Nice bike.’ He was obviously a biker and could appreciate my classic ride.
Compliment on your bike: + 25 IU points
-- I was checking out at Bruegers, clad in my normal commuting closes (cuffed jeans, T-shirt, fingerless
gloves, messenger bag) when the woman ahead in line asked if I was a bike messenger. I told her that I
was not a bike messenger, though I felt that if a situation presented itself in which a package needed
delivery, I could perform such a task. She told me to ‘Be safe.’ I told her I’d try my best.
Being confused with a bike messenger: +50 IU points
-- As I rolled onto the sidewalk in front of my building, sweaty and panting, a bike messenger slid into the
bike rack next to me. I gave him a nod and began getting ready for work (uncuffing my jeans, pulling a
polo over my T-shirt). He asked me what messenger agency I worked for. I told him that I only worked
for ‘one man’ and pointed at myself. He nodded, though still looked confused. I explained that I actually
worked in the building and we got to talking about my job and his. I thought more and more about
becoming a bike messenger in the early morning hours. But I’m not a morning person.
Being confused with a bike messenger by a bike messenger: +100 IU points
This points system is obviously very bike-heavy as it stands now. It is still open for interpretation. Hopefully, rockitecture. and NOMENCLATURE can combine forces to make this an equitable system for everyone in the city. That is, naturally, except for those who drive. Nothing can save them.
When last week’s morning training session ended, I resumed my normal schedule of working from 1:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 at night. The roads at those times are less congested. Due to my experience with the CRV, I ride more cautiously, especially through that intersection. I signal more and try to ride in the correct lane. I’d like to think that the CRV driver is likewise more conscientious around bikers.
I feel more confident and less dangerous, both to myself and motorists. For this, I am going to award myself some points.
Growing increasingly comfortable with not driving to work: +30 IU points