Monday, October 5, 2009

Bicycling in Santiago, the whys and should you risk its.

Something that I don't talk about as much as you'd think I might is bicycling in Santiago. I get almost every place I need to go by bike, especially if it doesn't matter what I'm wearing or how sweaty I arrive (thanks to friends who let me shower at their houses and stuff like that, and who also don't look askance at my shebeest-capri clad posterior when we go out to eat).

So, cycling in Santiago. Is it for you?

answer: probably not. Or maybe.

I like to bike around because I don't have to get on the crowded micro (bus) or metro with 4,000 of my closest neighbors who might like to put their had in my pocket, or groom their mate (seriously, the number of women I see picking things off their boyfriend's faces is incredible), or search for hidden treasure down the throat of this selfsame mate, or pound on the roof and doors in the case of the famous barra (fans) of the two main soccer teams in Chile, La U and Colo-Colo. Which, as an aside (because there's always an aside), I was recently asked by some gutterpunks which team I was supporting for that evening's match, like this, "oye, amiga, amiga." (hey, friend, friend (strange, because I don't have a lot of gutterpunks for friends, not that I couldn't, I just don't). "Colo-Colo o La U? Colo-Colo o La U" (they were seemingly afflicted by the disease that the goose in Charlotte's Web has, only they only said things doubled, not tripled). To which I responded "me importa un carajo" (I don't give a damn, but more like I couldn't care less). I thought about repeating it, but decided to just go inside instead.

In general, you shouldn't mess with the gutterpunks, the ne'er-do-wells, the fleites (hoodlums) or the patos malos (lit: bad ducks, but in this case, let's call them malfeasors, because I went to law school and can say things like that), but since I come and go most places by bike, I feel freer to blabla when I feel like it, and in this case, the kids were already about 20 feet away when I lobbed that cultural impossibility, that I don't care about soccer, towards their sneakered feet. Biking gives me a sense of freedom and control that is hard to attain on public transportation. It means I'm never that far from you, can get anywhere fairly easily, and make nearly everyone I know think I'm nuts (let's violate grammatical rules here and say nutser, rather than more nuts. They think I'm nutser than they thought I was before, and not just because of the parenthetical clauses and tangents, and yes, I talk like this too, and it takes a very special kind of person to enjoy my company, and I heart you all dearly.)

So, back to the bike. The main problem with biking in Santiago, other than the unexpected rainstorms and really bad pollution part of the year, and the blazing, brain-searing sun the rest of the time is the complete and utter disrespect that cars show to bicyclists in this city.

I am not always the most careful cyclist, though I do signal my every move, do not listen to music in the city (any more), do wear a helmet and use lights at night (most of the time). I do however, chew gum (orbit, the pink one is my favorite, please send care packages like Abby's grandmother does) and I do weave in and out of traffic, and I also yell at pedestrians who walk in between cars and almost get me killed.

But mostly I just tool around in my own little world, arrive sweaty and hair-mashed to lunch and most other places I go, and generally have a good time. Which has nothing to do with the picture I'm about to post here, but this is a perfect example of the level of respect cars have for bikes and bicyclists in Chile.

Behold, the bike lane.

good neighbor/ buen vecino

Because who cares if I have to swing out into oncoming traffic or in front of other cars to get to where I'm going when you have a perfectly delicious place to park your care while you're off buying bread? How convenient of the city to have constructed a parking lane, just for your personal use! How utterly considerate!

So that's why I participate in the loopy critical mass ride most first Tuesdays of the month, to fan interest in bicycling, and to some extent, demand rights for cyclists. The cicletada (critical mass ride)is talked about here, but I have to warn you that if you don't speak Spanish you'll understand little, and if you don't speak Chilean, any links you follow will probably also leave you scratching your helmeted head. There's a piece there too on the inadequacy of the bike lanes, both in how extensive they are (or aren't), and in terms of where they go and how wide they are. The pic I've posted is of a very wide bike lane, but I know of several that seem to be barely wider than my hybrid handlebars. This is an entry for another time.

I was actually headed somewhere else with this post when I started, but sometimes life is like that, desvios and atajos (detours and shortcuts). It's good to take them. But please don't obstruct traffic.


Annje said...

You're brave is all I can say! I love that video on your link... clasico!

I love the tangents and parentheses, I talk/write/think like that too. Linearity is for the birds (not literally, of course)

Richard said...

It's very similar in Johannesburg I am afraid. There is a low-level war running between the cyclists and the car people as to who can get up the other's noses the most while retaining plausible deniability. Whether it is resting your han don the bonnet of a car at the stop or moving in packs (if you are a cyclist) or driving to within an inch of the sidewalk and erratically (if you are a car person), it is cheeky fun to watch. Unless you are a cyclist or a driver, in which case you tend to lose all perspective on the situation completely.

Bystander said...

I am afraid bike lanes won't multiply until bikes pay road tax like cars or until the sheer numbers of bikers force the issue. That last isn't very likely until there are more bike lanes. We have all read Catch 22, right?
I wonder if you just lugged your bike over the top of that car in the photo if you would be liable for damages? Tempting anyway.

Sharon said...

I really hate when cars do that. Today one was trying to get back in the road after parking in the bike lane and no one (myself included) let him do it. Small victories!
But anyway: always wear lights, please! And kudos on signaling. More cyclists should do it.

Mandi said...

I love that you wrote on this topic. I rented a bike for the day Saturday and spent the day riding from Las Condes all the way to Quinta Normal with some friends. I think I was on every bike path in this city and they varied from 'oh, sure that's wide enough for a bike tire - maybe' to riding through parks and alongside the mapocho. It wasn't always safest (heelllooo near death experience trying to cross the ahumada!) but it was genuinely the best day I've had in a while. It saves money and I feel safer being on wheels, like you said.

Now I'm looking to buy/borrow a bike while I'm here so if you have any tips, tip away!

Eileen said...

Anje, I know, that's why we're interbuds. I think people who require linear thought go elsewhere for their Chile info. Fair enough.

Richard, you know, I ride clipless sometimes (for those who don't know, that means my shoe clips into the pedal, which is very counter-intuitive as these things go), and even so, I don't rest my hand on cars, ever. It's not a pissing contest, it's my life. I have to feet. If I need to stop, I usually put one down. Seems fair. I find the more responsibly I act, for the most part, the more respect I get.

Bystander, I actually am not a fan of bikelanes for getting around. I think they're great if you're not in a rush, or if there's a solid network of people who like and use them, but for the most part, the way that they're installed here in Chile is a joke and they obstruct far more than they conduct. On Avda Brasil I have a bikepath that leaps from one sid of the street to the other with no warning or way to safely cross traffic. On Rosas, tehre's a bikepath which peple use coming and going that given the drainage banking is really only about shoulder-width. I'm safer in the street!

Sharon, I know, you're right about the lights. Sometimes I get surprised by darkness, but I usually have something reflective at least. It's certainly in my best interest not to get squished.

Mandi, if you come to the critical mass tonight (maybe see if you can tag along on the Bicicleta Verde's trip that they do every first Tuesday), you might find someone selling a beater bike (or you might decide to just buy a cheapie from san diego, they have pretty ok resale value). Tonight (Tues Oct 6th) at Plaza Italia at 8. I'm almost certain to be there. Gringa, white hybrid bike. If you're coming, message me on twitter so I know to look for you! (would be great to meet). Oh, and there's all kinds of bike paths (out to Recoleta Cemetary, on Matta, in MaipĂș) that await your exploration!

Anonymous said...

Oh bikes and cars. Yeah. Cause of most of my grey hairs these days. Of course, Moroccan drivers make just being outside your house an exercise in bravery, much less those reckless souls who take to bikes. But don't you think they should at least be aware that they are sharing their space with larger vehicles?

And bike lanes? What's that? We have crosswalks here, but their purpose is to lull you into a false sense of security so you can be more easily picked off.