We went to Michigan for the weekend to see family and meet our new baby niece, and by the time we flew back on Sunday, the time had changed, the weather warmed up, and spring was here. This might still be false spring, yes, but I already feel safe leaving my gloves and lights at home for my work commute. And for now, it’s darker when I leave home in the mornings, which means a whole new kind of light as I pedal downtown to catch my bus out to work.
Tuesday’s ride started just a few minutes early, because I was excited to get back on my bike after five days off of it, and because more than anything, I dig routine. The morning was still a little chilly, but it promised a warmer afternoon. I rode south then west then south again, found myself behind a couple of other bike commuters. We were all stopped at the red light at Maryland and North Avenue, and I said good morning! Spring is here! And one of them looked back and nodded a quick hello. They weren’t interested in my morning cheerful shenanigans, which bummed me out, because let’s just all celebrate the fact that we can be out here, riding, a beautiful morning! I get it, we aren’t all morning people, I guess. They zipped quickly ahead of me on green, and I continued south, yelling good morning at all the dog walkers and joggers and bus-waiters.
Leaving just four minutes earlier than usual meant there weren’t as many cars lined up to drop off kids at the Baltimore School for the Arts. I am not the only one in a routine around here. I popped out of the bike lane and took the car lane to my right on Monument, left on Eutaw for the downtown stretch of the ride. I stopped to snap this picture just across Centre Street as I let the line of cars behind me go ahead. That light, that sky, those trees–just such a beautiful morning. I can’t believe my good fortune at being able to ride a bike, and somehow managing to negotiate the fear of riding with cars. Drivers are awful and impatient and just a few minutes later one passed me so closely I gasped.
I understand why people don’t ride in the streets. Baltimore has only the beginnings of a protected bike lane network, and there is so much resistance at every level to put in new lanes. There are so many arguments against them, that they slow car traffic too much, that they impede emergency vehicles, that they are the harbingers of gentrification, that installing them tramples on the rights of people who live near them and don’t want them, that we should be doing more to expand public transit instead.
I understand all of these arguments, even the one about slowing car traffic. For people getting paid by the hour or by the delivery, that’s an expensive proposition. I want more reliable transit than I want anything else in this city. I’ve said this before, but again, the number one indicator of one’s ability to get out of poverty? Commute times. And affording a car or having the physical ability and flexible schedule to commute by bike is out of reach for a lot of people. I believe neighbors need to have input on what their streets will look like, though streets are a shared resources, not just the property of those who live along them. Gentrification means racialized displacement, and bike lanes are too often white lanes.
And yet. And yet. I want protected infrastructure and a world where biking is a viable transportation option, especially for short trips. I want this for the gas savings–for people and for climate. I want this for the freedom that comes with an inexpensive transportation option that leaves when you want to leave. I want safe streets for all users–drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and all of us.
On a personal note, I think about how my life has been transformed by riding a bike as my primary mode of transportation for nearly 15 years. It has helped me understand the places I live so much more fully. I have ridden all over Baltimore, even as many of my rides are this same up-and-down work commute. I have shared so many hellos and reminded myself so many times how many different lives are being lived in this same place–different everydays, different logics, different needs, but all sharing this world right here. Riding a bike has changed how I understand the ways we live in the world together.
And then I was downtown, locked my bike up, took the bus out to UMBC, and by the time I was ready to ride home it was downright hot out. I took off my sweater, unbuttoned my coat, pulled up my leggings–wind on bare legs is coming soon, my friends. I can’t wait. And I can’t wait to say hello to everyone emerging from buildings and making new life outside on the streets and sidewalks of Baltimore. It’s not quite here yet, but spring has most definitely sprung.
Love this piece, Kate! I’m definitely that person who might not say hi until I’ve had my coffee…but I’d like to think on this SPRING morning I would have responded with a cheerful hello back to you!