One of the major hurdles to getting more people commuting by bike is their fear of riding in traffic. Just the other day, I had a conversation with a young woman who was working the express lane at my grocery store. I rode down to pick up something for dinner, wearing my awesome and current favorite Fred shirt, the one with big, goofy penguins. She commented on my shirt (she loved it) and she asked me if I rode a lot. When I exuberantly told her I rode almost every day, she wistfully said she would love to ride her bike more but was terrified of traffic and getting hit. I understood her fear but took the opportunity to be a good bicycling ambassador and explained that with trails, bike lanes, and Bellingham being a fairly bike friendly city, getting around by bike in many areas of town was pretty safe. The key, I told her, was to be seen, be aware, and follow the rules of the road.
We are a society that has been conditioned to think that we are safest traveling in our cars. The truth is, more people die or are injured traveling by car or truck than by just about any other form of transportation including airplanes — and bicycles. And that’s per capita. We get in our cars and head out jabbering on our cell phones, texting, eating our lunch, putting on mascara, or zoning out to the radio without giving it a second thought. However, we’re much more concerned with getting on a bicycle (or in an airplane). Sure, accidents involving bicycles and planes are more dramatic and newsworthy, but people die everyday in their cars and we hardly bat an eye.
I didn’t get into all of this with the checker as the guy behind me was already getting his tighty-whities in a wad because our conversation continued for about two seconds after she handed me my receipt. I also think he had an aversion to both penguins and bikes and I didn’t want him to spot me out on the road and take me out in a fit of grocery store checkout lane rage. But I hope I was sufficiently supportive and encouraging of her desire to ride more because from my perspective, the awesomeness of being on a bike far outweighs the risk.