Two weeks ago I got my first-ever traffic ticket. Actually, pardon me, it wasn’t a ticket. Thanks to my charm, the handsome Cambridge policeman with rather large shoulders let me off with a written warning.
I was riding my bike — a blue Ross with chrome fenders that has only one brake and the original handlebar bell (a real beauty, you know?) — on the sidewalk in front of Bexley sometime between 5:30 and 6:45 p.m.
I know there are bike lanes on Mass. Ave, but on that section of the street the buses and cars are in such a rush that they drive into the bike lanes with no mercy and I am often left with the choice of stopping short or allowing myself to be smushed between a bus and a parked car.
Not to mention, people seem to have no concept of checking to make sure there are no bikers before opening their doors (I know several people who have been doored over the past year).
So, duh, of course I’m not going to ride my bike there. I’ve done too much homework in the past three years to die now. Not to mention, my parents have paid $200,000 to see Hockfield hand me a diploma, and they deserve to have that moment.
Anyway, I was coasting at maybe three miles per hour (my bike is pretty rusty and I’m out of shape and it takes everything in me to push those pedals) and this popo came over and got all up in my grill, and he was like “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step off the bike.” And I was thinking, Yo dog, am I doing something illegal? Last time I checked, riding a bike at three miles per hour is not a crime.
But of course I had to be proper and act like a victim, so I used my best unassuming young lady voice: “I’m sorry officer, did I do something wrong?”
“There’s no biking on the sidewalk over here.”
“But officer, the LMA buses and the No. 1 buses drive in the bike lane and there are parked cars, and I often just narrowly escape being crushed by a fast-moving car, and I only ride on the sidewalk here because I fear for my life. I ride in the bike lane on the bridge. Honestly, I do. But here, it’s really just putting my life at stake.”
“Well, I’m sorry ma’am, but we’ve had complaints about the bikes being intimidating to pedestrians.”
You know that scene in Men in Black when Will Smith is auditioning to become the alien fighter and he has to pick which pop-up figures are scary and shoot at them? Would you ever pick the young woman on a little blue bike that has chrome fenders and a basket holding her books? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But apparently, this cop picked me. Even though there were only about two people on the sidewalk and I was riding on the opposite side at three miles per hour. He filled out the ticket, taking the time to carefully spell my name and write “Ross” in the spot for the license plate number.
The next week, when I was biking to my 8:30 a.m. Advanced Organic Chemistry class, I thought about riding in the street because getting in a car accident would probably allow me to get out of my upcoming exam, but I eventually decided against it, because Tuesday is my grilled cheese night and being in the hospital would definitely preclude me from eating my one-a-week grilled cheese with french fries and a low quality pickle.
Just as I was passing Bexley, a cop stopped me and made me get off my bike. I explained to him the situation with the buses and he said that he would make a call and request that they respect the bike lane lines.
I didn’t get a ticket, but I was forced to walk my bike from Bexley to the bike rack. I would just like to point out that I have timed myself, and I walk at a rate of 4.5-5 mph (faster than I was going on my bike when I got the ticket, excuse me, written warning).
So for the next week, I rode in the bike lanes. I wasn’t happy about it, but I did it for the good of the Cambridge pedestrians who are intimidated by my basket of books and chrome fenders.
And then, last Tuesday, I was pedaling over the bridge at full speed so that I could get my coffee and make it to Advanced Organic Chemistry on time and all of a sudden this LMA bus starts coming into the bike lane.
And I was thinking Oh, no way, this guy is not going to keep coming in. But he did! He kept going over into the lane until he scraped the side of my bike and it made this awful loud metal against metal sound and I screamed, because some sparks went flying out of the bolt in my wheel, but luckily I was able to jump off my seat and land on my feet.
I expected the bus driver to stop right there and make sure I was o.k. He kept driving and I thought for sure he would pull over once he got past Memorial Drive. But then he kept going and going and then he went right through the light at 77 Mass. Ave.
It was a hit-and-run. I got hit by a bus (#18500) and it ran. I was fine, but still. He didn’t even check. Luckily, as he was driving away, I memorized the plate number.
I pulled myself together and rode the rest of the way to campus and marched over to the cop who was there to ticket people at the light. I started to tell him the story, but he made me wait for about five minutes while he listened to something over the radio.
During this time, I grew more and more livid and when he finally allowed me to talk, I spewed out a five minute speech about how two weeks prior I was ticketed for riding on the sidewalk, but the reason I ride there is because the buses come into the bike lanes, and that I got hit by a bus and he didn’t even stop, and I thought it was ridiculous that the police would ticket people, because they were just putting everyone at risk.
Even though I was calm, the cop had very little sympathy for me. If he saw the bus, he would pull it over, but if it was not the same driver, there was nothing he could do.
Being the dramatic person that I am, I told the story to everyone I knew that day, and I learned a useful piece of information after sharing the story with The Tech’s own human encyclopedia: Apparently, Cambridge Ordinance only prohibits people from biking on the sidewalk in Central Square (and Harvard Square).
That means that the police have no grounds for stopping bikers in front of Bexley if they are not endangering the pedestrians (which I most definitely was not doing).
Last Thursday, two days after my near-death experience, I saw some Cambridge policemen by 77 Mass Ave. I had the sense that they were there again to yell at bikers, and I wondered whether they knew of the Central Square law.
I inquired about the reason for their presence at the 77 Mass. Ave light. They were there to ticket people for running the red light, but I decided to tell them my story anyway. The policeman I spoke too seemed relatively unconcerned about the safety of bikers.
I thought that being the victim of a bus hit-and-run accident would give me some power.
But those who can’t win bore. From now until the point when bikers receive respect, I will keep boring the police with my story.
The bikers of Cambridge deserve to be protected. All we’re doing is riding our little man-powered vehicles and trying to go about our days while reducing carbon emissions.
We are the mavericks, the consummate mavericks.