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Bicycle Commuting

Like Wind in Your Hair: A Chronicle Columnist’s Refreshing Bicycling Decree

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Move over, Nevius: The San Francisco Chronicle's latest bicycle-friendly declaration from columnist Caille Millner is a breath of fresh air, giving voice to the need for safer streets and setting the record straight when it comes to anti-bike rants.

For readers weary of the Chronicle's regular bicycling coverage -- a space mainly filled by a victim-blaming former sports writer with an irrational fear of bike lanes -- take a break and enjoy watching Millner hit the nail on the head:

My heart sings every time I see a new bicyclist in San Francisco.

The more, the better, I say. I want to see 10-year-olds riding to school. I want to see middle-aged women on wheels, wearing long coats and pedaling slowly so as not to disturb their full baskets on the way home from the market. I want to see old men, even if they're a little wobbly, heading out to the senior center on old two-wheelers.

You should want this, too - it means a better city for all of us.

In writing this, I can close my eyes and picture the avalanche of hostile e-mail that will pour in. Nothing gets people around here more worked up than bicyclists, and they love to screech out their reasons for why the rise of bicycles in San Francisco represents a crumbling of civilization.

They write letters that are full of righteous indignation, presuming that bicyclists are the only uncouth people on our streets - as if they've never rolled through a stop sign (if they're drivers) or (if they're pedestrians) never waded into the street without looking, expecting the flow of traffic to magically cease in their presence.

There's something unseemly about these letters, about the affront their writers feel at having to share the road with bicyclists. How dare they claim space that used to belong to me is the undertone of all of this sentiment. How dare they slow me down or force me to pay attention when I'm trying to get through traffic.

It's tiresome, it's whiny, and it's wrong.

It's also the rump sentiment of people who are increasingly out of pace with change. Cities - even change-averse San Francisco - are slowly getting denser in this country, and for social and economic reasons, density is what we want.

Cars don't solve mobility problems in dense cities. They don't add any social value, either.

So, more bicycling will be better for the city as a whole. What a refreshing change from the bike-hating diatribes that try to marginalize people who bike.

As Millner goes on to elaborate, the bad behavior of some people on bikes isn't inherent to all travel by bicycle, and encouraging a broader range of people to take up cycling is key to fostering better behavior. As bicycling becomes more mainstream, and norms are shaped by average San Franciscans trying to get around safely, a more courteous bicycling culture develops.

Now I know that there are obnoxious bicyclists out there. Believe me, I see them even more clearly when I'm on my bike - always young, disproportionately male, plowing through traffic with their iPod earbuds plugged in, jumping up on sidewalks, ignoring stoplights and salmoning (riding in the wrong direction) up streets. They endanger themselves, and they endanger the rest of us, too.

People who use bicycles strictly for transportation, rather than as an act of machismo, will be the ones to discourage this kind of madness - because we have no interest in being killed.

So hold your fire, angry drivers. When you honk and scream at a bicyclist, it's getting you nowhere. We figure that what you're really mad about is the fact that the big SUV you bought isn't making you the most powerful person on the street, or that you're jealous because you're not fit enough or brave enough to bike with us. Either way, it's something to be shrugged off.

But a dirty look from another bicyclist? That, my friends, feels like true shame. That's where the real change is going to happen, new rider by new rider.

So I say to anyone thinking about a bike - sally forth, brave soul. The more of us there are, the more we can pressure City Hall for better infrastructure, and the safer the streets will be. (More bike lanes = slower streets = fewer pedestrian deaths. Everyone wins.)

Though I may pedal past you with my hair flying freely in the wind - while you struggle to gain momentum and cling to your safety helmet - I've been there, and I am thrilled to see you. Together, we can make this city a better place. Ride on.

Hear, hear. The question now is whether Millner's column was a one-off for the Chronicle, or has the editorial leadership also gotten on board with the growingly popular vision of a bike-friendly city? A forward-looking ownership would join the ranks of publications like the Examiner, which has stepped up over the past year to embrace the bicycle movement, put street safety in perspective, and call for better transportation options.

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