Tomorrow is our one year anniversary of officially living in Batavia, Illinois. Navistar got me here by a somewhat indirect route (well, either it’s direct or it isn’t, there’s no somewhat) but we got here intact, nonetheless. This is our third home purchase and there were several important conditions the house had to satisfy, not the least important of which was location. Not only was it not the least important, it was also the most important. It was all about me- I simply wanted an easier bicycle commute.
My new bike commute is better than my old commute- eight miles shorter and decidedly flatter. I still ride on the road with
four-wheel death boxes cars, even though there is a partial bike path option that adds a couple of miles. Great progress has been made in the development of multi-use paths in the last 20 years; unfortunately, none of them have been able to take me all the way from home to work.
I should clarify one thing- by “old commute” I mean the one I had between Waterford and Southfield, Michigan. There was an interim bicycle commute in Fort Wayne, but that was not the most scenic, nor the easiest. I should clarify another thing- by “easiest,” I don’t mean in terms of distance, but in terms of route complexity, proximity to traffic, and quality of surface. I should clarify one last thing (I promise)- the quality of the commute is in the eye of the commuter. Depending on your fitness level, your distance to work, and your thickness of skin, your commuting experience may vary. Void where prohibited. My ideal commute is 10 miles one way on 100% rail trail, no cars, and no horses. Yes, no horses. I happen to like horses, actually, but they don’t often mix well with bicycles (or is it that horse riders don’t mix well with bicycle riders?). For further exploration of this topic, go here.
Bison, on the other hand, could care less about me or cars or probably most things besides grass, watering holes, and a place to chill. The bison pictured here are residents of Fermilab (the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory once the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, now the second most expensive tunnel in Illinois). About 1/3 of my ride is through Fermilab, and it is rather pleasant, with smooth pavement and light traffic. There is a bike path through Fermilab, but the road is less bumpy than the path. With government funding on the decline, I imagine replacing the bike path is low on the list of priorities. Drivers within the Fermilab boundaries are accustomed to cyclists, and they leave ample clearance when passing. I imagine the bison would leave ample room, too, if they were not imprisoned within a wire fence. Bison are cool that way. Fermilab also prohibits the general public from cutting through the grounds in cars if they are not actually visiting or working there (bicycles and pedestrians are free to cut through all they want). I like that.
Once I pass the guard shack at the east entrance, I’m back out in the real world with traffic on Batavia Avenue. Traffic volume increases slightly with each major intersection I cross as I make my way eastward toward work, but morning traffic is much lighter than evening. My destination is on the busiest road, most of which has a shoulder. 11 miles from driveway to employee entrance.
I have had many commutes, ranging from 9 to 19 miles, since I first biked to work sometime in ’90 or ’91. All of them forced me to ride in the street, to the consternation of many drivers I’m sure. I have had numerous numbskulls yell at me. If you do choose to yell at me, do it at a stoplight, because when you do it while passing, it just sounds like “ahyahyahyayooghlahyahyay.” I have only had one Slurpee™ thrown at me, but he missed.I have experienced fits of rage in response to stupid moves on the part of distracted drivers. I am guilty of stupid moves as well, and I have strived to be more cognizant of traffic laws and how I ride with traffic, while protecting my space and my right to be on the road. I don’t always stop at stop signs; I do stop when there are pedestrians and/or other vehicles (or if I am on the Fermilab grounds where I have observed cyclists pulled over by security, probably for blowing a stop sign but certainly not for exceeding the 40 mph speed limit). I will pass a quarter mile-long kerfuffle of cars in the gutter if there is no chance of getting up on a sidewalk. The cars are not in the gutter, I am. Congestion like that means there are too many cars for the intended capacity of the street, and they deserve to be passed by a bicycle for taking Batavia Avenue to get around construction on Butterfield Road. Really, you thought you were the only one to think of that?
Regardless of where I commute, inquiring minds are impressed that I ride to work, then think I’m crazy for how I do it. But, the more I do it, the more drivers become accustomed to me, and realize they spend more time at stoplights than they do waiting to safely pass me on a two-lane road. I can’t help it if you are afraid to pass me on a double yellow when opposing traffic clears- you just need a traffic law refresher.
I’ll just smile and wave when you eventually pass by.