The last snowfall hit Milwaukee like an upper cut from Jack Johnson. Despite DPW’s best efforts, it seemed to come when we had our guard down during the night. Salt trucks were seasoning the streets in my neighborhood well before the snow arrived, so it looked like we were ready. I got up at 4:45 am so I had time to shovel our corner sidewalk before making breakfast for my daughter. When I went out, there was no evidence that a plow had been down our street or any of the side streets in our neighborhood. Even 60th Street, a major arterial, did not look to good.
By the time Liz and I pedaled off for work, nothing had changed. We both had to stick to the arterial streets to get to work. I seemed like the plows had only made one pass down most of the arterials I took to work. None of the shoulders were clear, so I had to ride out in the motor vehicle travel lane. Traffic is light when I head to work, so it was not a problem. At one point a plow was gaining on me as I headed east on Highland. I hopped off my bike and stepped onto the sidewalk to let him do his work rather than try to plow around me. This also allowed me to follow a freshly plowed shoulder from 27th Street east to 12th, sweet.
I passed three cars stuck in the snow on my way in, so it seemed the storm was rougher on those who chose four wheels over two. When I pulled into the lower parking garage at work, I was the third bike there at 6:55 am. The commute took me a little longer, but it was not a big deal. I rode the elevator up with a senior drafting tech from the floor below me. I don’t know him very well, but our paths do cross on the occasional project. He gave me that head to toe look and snarked “You didn’t ride in today did you?”
Despite the tone in his voice, I tried to stay positive, “Sure, it was a little slow on the side streets, but not too bad.” He snarked again, ”Yeah, except for all the cars that had to watch out for you.” This comment caught me off guard, but I still remained positive about my ride, saying “Oh it was pretty easy, I saw three cars stuck in the snow at the ends of their driveway. I just pick my bike up and carry it over the bigger piles of plowdrift.” Perhaps he hates snow, because he complained “That’s what they get for being lazy and not shoveling.”
I confess I had been caught off-balance in this conversation since he said “Yeah, except for all the cars that had to watch out for you.” The whole time we were in the elevator, I couldn’t stop wondering what he meant. When don’t motorists have to watch out so they don’t hit bicyclists? Is it unreasonable to expect people driving cars to be careful? Was he implying I was swerving all over the road? Or was there an underlying belief that drivers really should not be expected to have to be careful.
I think that behind his statement was the fundamental belief among many motorists that they have a right to expect a free-flowing commute. Like anything that slows them down, changes their route or requires that they use their brakes or even think about driving is a broken promise. It might be a traffic jam caused by “some a-hole who doesn’t know how to drive,” by some “crazy bicyclist,” some “pedestrian with a death wish,” etc. People are supposed to be able to get in, turn the key, crank up the radio, eat breakfast and make a couple of phone calls on the way to work. That is the deal they signed up for when they bought their car and when that doesn’t play out, they get annoyed or even enraged.
What do you think? Am I reading too much into a little elevator conversation on a snowy day or was there the implication that I was irresponsible in some way?