A little personal space (the separated bike lane)

While the number of people commuting by bike has risen over the last few years - in New York City, commuter cycling grew 35 percent between 2008 and 2007 - a fear of accidents prevents many potential commuters from venturing onto the roadways.
The danger is real. In 2007, 698 bicyclists were killed. This may seem small, considering how many people are killed in car accidents every year, but proportionally bike riding is more dangerous. While two percent of traffic fatalities are bicyclists, less than one percent of all transit is made on bikes, so cyclists are killed more frequently.
My father is an example of someone who is too scared by traffic to commute to work. I asked, him, last time I was visiting my parents at home in Washington State, why he prefers to take the bus or carpool with my brother. With lovely and spacious bike lanes, extremely courteous drivers - at least by New York standards - and relatively mild weather, wouldn�t it make sense?
It just wasn�t worth the risk, he told me. In the last few years, a number of his acquaintances had been hit while cycling. While no one was killed, all had been injured pretty seriously and one had been hospitalized for months.
Later that visit, I was in the car with my mom driving through the Evergreen State College campus parkway. Formerly a four-lane drive, the college had recently spent a good chunk of taxpayer dollars converting one of the lanes in each direction into a bike lane, separated by a curbed and grassed divider from the traffic lane.
"Waste of money," my mom commented. "There was already a huge shoulder." That was true, the parkway did have an ample shoulder. But cars traveling on the parkway, which connected the college to Highway 101, were often traveling 50 or 60 mph, and from my previous experiences biking there, had no qualms about using that generous shoulder as a passing lane.
I'd never been on a truly separated bike lane before - the one on New York's 9th Avenue hadn't yet been built - so I borrowed my dad's dusty mountain bike and went for a ride to check it out.
It was incredible. I felt invincible. And I started to fantasize, imagine how many more people, people like my father, would feel safe enough to bike to work if every street was like this, if every bike lane was clearly marked and separated from speeding and reckless drivers?
Photo: The separated bike line on Everygreen State Parkway, Olympia, Washington

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