Brave the City: An Essay by Katie Fisher
We decided to take a different approach to our November Rider Profile after we received an email from Katie Fisher. We met Katie on Twitter of all places. We shared a couple of tweets about bike riding in Dallas, but had never met in person. She emailed us an essay about her experiences with bike commuting in Dallas. Her words were moving to the point of giving us chills. We could relate whole heartedly to the explanation of what keeps her riding her bike everyday. Katie was kind enough to let us tag along on her daily commute from North Dallas to Downtown that included a stop at Method Coffee, a jaunt through Exhall Park, and ride on the DART. Take a few minutes out of your day to read her essay. It might change your mind about how you see people who ride bikes as a mode of transportation.
Follow Katie on twitter: @katiefisher_km
Katie’s website: www.katiefisher.us
Brave the City
by Katie Fisher
Catastrophe threatens me every time an extended cab pickup truck rumbles by within two feet of my left shoulder at 40 miles per hour. I ride a re-built 1973 Japanese made road bike. Single speed. Red. A woman’s bike at that. As a commuter cyclist who frequently uses the DART rail the obnoxious part about getting around in the DFW metroplex has little to do with the hassle of actually biking, or the sporadic train times. In my commute, I’ve endured honks, profanity, and near crashes caused by drivers wanting to prove a point, all because my two wheels only travel so fast—or so slow. My bike impedes the multi-lane roads, blocking cars from making the next light. Few acknowledge the recommendation to give bikers a cushion of three feet on all sides and that, legally, I can take the full lane when needed to protect myself. Bad roads, rude drivers, rain, heat, life-endangering-car-and-cyclist encounters—so, why do I bike? Why do I take the DART rail? Community.
People who get around Dallas and its suburbs by car probably don’t know this little secret. Bike commuters wave at each other. My daily route takes me on Pearl Street downtown. From the far right side of that five lane road I frequently get waves from bikers I’ve never met or seen before on the far left side. Why? Because we brave it together—the danger of not making it to our destination because a texting driver failed to look right before turning right on red.
People who talk the most to each other on the DART rail trains often stand in the middle with their bikes. We chat about re-taping our handlebars or what type of tires we like. Sometimes we share the pain and frustration of flat tires, accidents, and hospital visits caused by careless drivers. If the DART ride extends past this small talk, and the pain still real, we’ll speak about other cyclists—our friends—who have died while biking in Dallas.
I met a young guy, a courier for Jimmy Johns. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the DART rail train doors. “I still think about it every day.” A few months prior to our conversation he and a friend, another Jimmy John’s courier, crossed Haskell near Target. His friend never made it to the other side.
Only a biker who has traveled the roads of the DFW metroplex can understand the pain and anxiety that comes from the City’s plan to integrate cyclists into the complex web of multilane roads. The lack of bike lanes and “share the road” signs sends the message to drivers that the privilege of using the road belongs to those in a vehicle.
As long as we stay in our Honda Fits and Dodge 4x4s we don’t have to interact with anyone we don’t want to. It becomes harder and harder to stereotype the young black man who just gave up his seat for me (and my bike) or the woman in a burqa who picked up the helmet I dropped while boarding the train and trying to catch my breath. If daily we interact with people different than ourselves we begin to see our community as more than a homogeneous group of people who shop at the same stores, drive the same cars, and look like us.
A fellow DART rider came up to me the other day and said, “You ride the 9:40 train right?”
“Yeah, on Wednesdays.”
“Can you tell the fare inspector that the woman who always puts on red lipstick had a schedule change? He’ll know.”
I brave the cars that don’t afford me a three foot cushion for this. Because the fare inspector will know me. And I’ll know the story of the Jimmy John’s courier. I’ll join a community. Supporting biking, walking, and public transit makes a choice toward transformation. Toward vulnerability. Community happens. Embrace it. Help it grow. It might just change the city.