Friday, September 12, 2014

Of Handlebars and Wheels

Pedestrian Only (HA!)
"Get a bicycle. You will not 
regret it if you live."
~ Mark Twain

I'm thinking that if I make it out of Bologna without getting run over by a scooter or bicycle, I've had a successful trip.  Seriously. Buses and cars do not scare me half as much as the scooters, and those don't scare me as much as the bikes.

You can see a bus or car coming down the street more easily than you can see a scooter or bike.  That said, some drivers don't pay attention to lights and signs, so they can be dangerous, too. Just last night, a bus driver decided to run a red light and turn while I was legally crossing the street. Feeling that little wind a bit too close to my leg was not pleasant, and I'm sure the bus driver realized I wasn't happy by the string of words I threw his way as he completed the turn.

But, I digress. What makes the bikes the most dangerous is that there are no real laws governing them, although the cyclists are supposed to follow the traffic laws.  (Please excuse me for choking at that one.)  They are supposed to stop for lights, signal turns, ride in bike lanes, and stop at crosswalks.  Most importantly, they are not supposed to ride in the pedestrian lanes (top photo) or under the porticoes (photo below),

 I've invented a new game and hope to market it my next trip to Bologna:  Dodge the Cyclists.  I play it everyday, and it's very easy.  You can play it solo or in teams if you travel in groups. The basic rules are that you walk through a piazza or down a street in Bologna and see how close a cyclist can get to you without running you over.  If the cyclist is eating, smoking, checking his/her watch, or talking on the phone, you get an extra point. If the cyclist is doing two of the above, you get five extra points.

I'm not against cycling at all, by the way.  I think it's great that so many Europeans cycle.  In 2009, the Italian government offered incentives for Italians to hop on cycles and give up their wheels. So many did, that bike—not scooter—sales outpaced car sales here for two or three years.  Given the cost of gas (upwards of 2 euro/liter), insurance, and upkeep, it's really not a surprise.

 In Bologna, 20% of the people use bikes daily to commute to work, school, shops, etc.  Compared to Copenhagen (55%), Amsterdam (40%), and even Ferrara (34%), that might not seem like a lot, but compared to the US where less than 1% regularly commute via bike, that's huge.

 I think that about 95% of those Bologna bikers have whizzed by me at one time or another over the past six weeks. The scariest thing is walking through a piazza and having two simultaneously pass you going in opposite directions. No, wait. The scariest thing is walking down a sidewalk and moving to avoid something only to have a bike swerve to miss the same thing and almost hit you.  No, wait. The scariest thing is crossing a street on a "Walk" signal and having a cyclist ignore his/her stop and almost plow into you.  No, wait.... Well,  you get my drift.
I'm thinking that the Italian government might consider requiring cyclists to take a road test and get a license to ride.

 Of course, if the government did that, I'd have to rethink my game.

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