Shortly after getting my first bike — almost 70 years ago — I got a paper route. Every morning at 5:30 I rode up and down three streets tossing copies of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle onto 71 porches. Not much traffic at that hour, though I had to watch out for old trolley tracks, and a couple mornings a week for garbage trucks. On the whole, though, I had the streets to myself.
Two years later I was making deliveries for a neighborhood store, pedaling through late afternoon traffic on busy streets. Cars and trucks and buses zipped by as I balanced a case of beer and a couple boxes of groceries. Got clipped a couple times by passing cars, but nothing serious.
Through succeeding years, I rode on village streets and city avenues and open highways in several parts of the United States, and in a couple European countries. Took a few spills, collected a few lumps and bruises, but on the whole, not too much trouble.
Then a monumental change. Ten years ago, I suddenly found myself living very near to something called a “bike path.”
What a change. No oversize trucks. No reckless drivers. No curbs, no potholes, no rocky shoulders, no traffic lights. Just a smooth, calm path. I ride a scenic, trouble-free 10 miles a day, weather and other commitments permitting.
Well, not exactly trouble-free. Other factors are involved. Pedestrians, for example. Still, I can’t complain about them; I frequently walk along the path myself, taking pictures or just walking.
And there frequently are small children running around, or smaller ones being pushed in strollers. Can’t complain about them either; my own grandchildren love the place.
And there are other bikers. Most are genial, seem to be enjoying themselves, not bothering anyone. But as recent letters to the editor point out, not all those other bikers are what you would call genial. Some can be — and since this is a family newspaper I’ll be careful here — they can be obnoxious. Arrogant.
Targets of their unpleasantness aren’t just walkers and children. Their targets also are other bikers. Not the swift, sleek, slender speedsters of their own clan, of course. The bikers they disdain are the casual older ones like myself, puttering along at about 10 miles an hour, inconveniencing them on their 25-mile-an-hour quest.
Their basic argument is “This is a bike path. You’re in the way.”
Hmm. Let’s consider their argument.
First of all, the word “path.” Most definitions suggest a path is for people walking. You know, pedestrians. But the word is old and the world is new; a path in some dictionaries now is simply a way, a route for any kind of travel. So maybe a “bike path” can be understood as a place for bicycles.
OK, a place for bicycles.
But it is not, or at least not yet, a bike track, or raceway, or speed zone. It is only a path. Speeding, or any other form of arrogant biking, poses a danger. Not only to the biker, but to anyone else nearby.
One answer, I suppose, would be to bar others from this “bike path.” That way, only the bikers themselves would be at risk, and aside from the nuisance of ambulance calls and emergency room visits, society in general would not suffer.
Except that society in general — walkers and photographers and parents with strollers — those folks lose a benefit to which they are entitled.
How, you ask, can it be that mere pedestrian-type persons are entitled to a “bike path?”
The answer is simpler than you might think. And it may surprise you.
This “bike path” thing, about which a few riders feel so proprietary, is not, after all, a bike path.
It is, according to the communities through which it runs and, for that matter, according to New York state, the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.
Bike and hike.
Not a path, but a trail. (Make of that what you will.)
The thing was established, and so far as I can determine still is intended, as a place for bikers and for other people not on bikes. Old people. Children. Photographers. People with dogs.
You don’t really need to have a bike to go there. And you don’t really have to ride it fast if you do have one. It’s the bike-hike trail.
Next time a biker tells you you’re in the way, tell him to take a hike.
Phil Sheehan lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.