Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gassholes


Let's start with the disclaimer: roads are for cars. That's why they're paved and marked the way they are. Engineers design roads to accommodate drivers, not walkers, runners, or cyclists.

Now for the rant.

This morning at 7 a.m., I headed out the door of my suburban home for a summer run. Amy and I live at the far north end of Bethany, an unincorporated area within the Beaverton School District. Running or cycling, it takes me just a minute to leave the spec houses of my neighborhood and be on a lovely country road, looking out across pastures, fields, and valleys to the hills beyond. This morning I surprised a trio of young bucks, and snapped pictures of one before continuing my run. My runner's high was kicking in early as I breathed the fresh air, drank in the long sunrise shadows, and celebrated all the best things about rural life.

I was planning a run around the "block," a loop that includes Kaiser Road, Germantown Road, NW 185th, and finally Springville Road. All told, it's about seven miles, chockablock with pastoral scenes. Unfortunately, the north side of the block--Germantown--has some issues.

Germantown Road should be a beautiful experience for anyone traveling it, whether on foot or on wheels. Starting at Cornelius Pass Road, it runs through farms, past a beautiful white-steepled church, then climbs up to Skyline before descending through Forest Park to the St. Johns Bridge. That last leg is, unfortunately, what makes it far too deadly to enjoy. I've had good runs and rides on Germantown, but only in the middle of the day or on weekends. In the morning, in the evening, the road is dominated by commuters whose sole purpose in life appears to be shaving a few seconds off their record for getting to work.

I had barely turned onto Germantown when I was reminded of this reality, as car after car roared past me at 45 miles an hour, not yielding an inch to the red-shirted runner struggling to maintain his balance on the tiny strip of gravel that passes for a shoulder. Occasionally a driver would steer wide of me, giving me a chance for a deep breath. Two, not able to pull into the opposite lane because of oncoming traffic, courteously slowed down, as I would have done had a been overtaking a cyclist or runner in a similar situation. Most just didn't care. This was especially worrisome on those stretches of Germantown where there is no shoulder at all, meaning one must risk jumping into a ditch if a driver will not yield.

This was not my first time in this rodeo. I've run Germantown many times, cycled it as well; and in fact, many of these drivers seem to save their worst manners for cyclists. I've had truck drivers blast their horns at me and yell obscenities as they roared past, furious that my presence on the road cost them a second or two; worse still, I've had vehicles shoot past me with just inches to spare. Running against traffic, as I always do, I at least have the chance to step off the road into a ditch. Cycling with traffic, even if I spot the car in my rearview mirror (which I watch assiduously on Germantown), I can't safely get out of the way of a vehicle overtaking me without crashing my bike. So I grit my teeth and hope I don't get clipped, and shout loud obscenities as the car zooms by.

If you've driven at all in rural Washington county, you've seen signs like this one:
I heartily approve of the message on this sign, that cars and bikes (and runners, too, though they're not depicted) should be careful and courteous of one another on these back roads. As I said earlier, they are designed with motor vehicles in mind. There's another thing to consider, though: many of the rights-of-way these roads follow predate the internal combustion engine. There was a time when traffic moved much more slowly on them, and much of it was on foot. Such modes of transportation didn't cease to exist with the invention of the automobile, and while paved roads may not have been created with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, we never stopped existing; in fact, traffic laws still give us the right of way for the simple reason that there is no question who comes out in a collision between a car and a pedestrian. We who walk, run, and ride on country roads understand this, and are probably overly sensitive to the risk of using these roads. I never force my right of way on a driver when I'm out in the country, because I don't trust them.

It's a strange thing: people move out here, on the edge of the urban growth boundary, because life is less hectic and schools are better than in the city. And yet, put us behind a wheel, and many of us forget all that: suddenly it's all about getting from A to B in the least time possible, and to hell with anyone on foot or on two wheels who gets in our way.

Maybe it's that, even knowing our address is a matter of choice, we resent the fact that we still have to drive into the city to work. Maybe it's that gasoline and commuting are a combustible mixture, and we just turn into angrier people when we're behind the wheel. Or maybe some of us are always there, in the hot zone, fuming at every slight delay, resenting every second we have to be on the road, ignoring all the beauty around us, ignoring the fragile body struggling to climb a hill under its own power that we could so easily zoom up in third gear. Maybe it's all of these things, rolled into one nasty mixture of rudeness and momentum that's itching for a manslaughter charge.

All I know is, as lovely as this run around the block is, I really shouldn't attempt it on a weekday morning.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately there are too many who believe roads are for cars, not least of which are planners and engineers. They have forgotten there are other modes of travel - including walking, running and cycling and in so doing taught drivers through (auto-centric design) that cars are king.

    As long as drivers believe the road is theirs, they will continue to risk our lives for the sake of their new record commute each morning and afternoon (or any other time). They see those who walk/run/ride an intruders on their rightful space, and malign us for only seeking to get to our destination safely.

    The laws were rewritten for the gassholes, to give them primacy in their cars... Problem is, once they get to their destination, they too become vulnerable road users too as they scramble from the parking space to the door.

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