I have to laugh whenever I read a story in the daily fishwraps about this or that city being ranked the best or worst or 79th at whatever.
Who comes up with these rankings? Is it just another ingenious marketing scheme concocted by one of those truth-be-damned PR combines? (A pretty good guess, considering that at least 75 percent of what appears in the mainstream media is generated that way.)
Or does it involve some secret network of Nielsen-like Stepford citizens who fan out across the nation with notebooks and video cameras, all attempting to live identical lives so they can scientifically compare them at the end of the year? (If this is true, we need to find out where the Tucson cell is located and make their lives miserable ASAP, before another 100,000 Ohioans show up in U-Hauls.)
Here in Tucson, the ranking that bothers me the most is the one that should make me happy: We consistently seem to be rated near the top of the "bicycle friendly" category.
I shudder to think what they do to bicyclists in cities near the bottom. ("Wow, you ride on the street? In Detroit, there's an ordinance that forces us to ride our bikes in the sewers!")
Sure, it's dry here, damn near 365 days a year. It's also the melanoma capital of the known universe, and hot enough some days to permanently lacquer the spandex onto your tight little bicycle butt.
And yes, we have a few bike lanes here and there (but none from here to there). And most of Tucson is laid out in sensible squares, with plenty of quiet side streets if you can't handle the excitement of the autobahn.
The problem is, these advantages mean nothing when that heavyweight in the Hummer decides he needs a hamburger RIGHT NOW and jerks it into the Crack-in-the-Box 15 feet in front of you. Friendliness is a state of mind, ratings notwithstanding.
Like just about everywhere else, you still have to ride defensively in Tucson; i.e., "as if everyone else on the road is trying to kill you."
And even if you hide from homicidal commuters by taking the side streets, you can bet the road itself will try to kill you, now that the latest transportation initiative has been shot down. (If I did constituent service for a City Council office, I would ask every person who calls to complain about their streets how they voted on that thing, and then I'd tell most of them to fix the damn street themselves.)
But let's slow down a minute. I hear the indignant drivers already. "Those crazy bicyclists are always in my way, riding slow and generally making nuisances of themselves."
Well, sometimes I drive a car, and sometimes bicyclists slow me down, too. You know what I do when they slow me down? I LET THEM! These "nuisances" are actually saving road space, cutting down pollution and fighting petroleum addiction with each pump of the pedal. How can you complain?
Besides, look at the bike lane (if there is one) and compare it to the car lanes. Three feet for bikes, 30 for cars. How much more do you want?
Ah, but there is hope. Now there are a couple fancy new crossings where you can roll up to a busy street any time, push a button and conjure up a cute little green bicycle light for yourself. And for the cars, it's a real live red light, not one of those half-assed flashing pedestrian bait-traps that everyone ignores.
It's a dream. Crossing Stone Avenue at rush hour used to be like an episode of that old video game Frogger, where I'm the frog, and the murderous cars and trucks are ... murderous cars and trucks! But now, ho-HO, power to the pedalers, baby!
Surely someone in City Hall (or Jim Click's HQ) will realize that this is way too much power to hand bicyclists and rip them out forthwith.
But there are other hopeful technologies, such as the rocket-propelled grenade launcher I recently had mounted on my handlebars. No more killer right turns. (Those commercial Hummers aren't nearly as well armored as the real ones.)
Yes, traffic is much easier to navigate now. Just the occasional swerve to avoid burning debris ...
I feel friendlier every day.