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COLUMNS The Bike Madame

Construction Reconstructed

Bike Madame construction photoWITH THE arrival of longer, brighter, drier days, many things spring out of our super-saturated ground: flowers, giant slugs, lichen-studded RVs, and bright orange construction cones. To paraphrase The Canterbury Tales, the sweet breezes of Zephyrus entice people to don neon yellow vests, hoist stop/slow signs over their shoulders, and rip up the roads near you.

Road repairs benefit cyclists by filling in epic potholes, re-painting bike lane stripes (discouraging bulky vehicles from entering our sanctum), and adding amenities such as buttons you can press to indicate our presence in a tunnel or on a bridge. However, the confusion generated by detours, shoulder closures, flaggers, loud equipment, and other features not usually present on the road can present (literal) roadblocks to a smooth ride.

Because construction zones alter traffic patterns and present all road users with obstructions to a clear view of what’s ahead or to the side, it’s doubly important to be visible when your route takes you through these areas of asphalt upheaval. Road crews wear bright, reflective clothing; so should you! Your lane might be full of cones and equipment and drivers might not see you as easily with all that clutter. Avoid the temptation of weaving in and out of the stuff in the bike lane; when you pop out, you might startle someone.

Choke points like bridges and tunnels already force cyclists to get up close and personal with motorized vehicles. With construction, these pinch points can show up abruptly, without giving motorists much time to react to your presence in the lane (especially given some people’s tendency to enter a trance while driving or riding). Use your judgment about each individual spot. Some places have enough visibility that you can get into the lane when cars are approaching in the distance and drivers will be able to see you. Others have low visibility, so it’s better to wait until the speedy vehicles have passed.

Bike lanes and shoulders are notorious for collecting strange, often sharp objects, but construction zones abound in unique flotsam: scoops detached from back-hoes, giant drill bits, exotic strains of gravel, pulverized concrete bits… Be on the lookout for these threats to your tires and let the wacky variety of space-alien artifacts entertain you!

Miscellaneous construction hazards include loud sounds (like those huge things that pound the earth, for what reason I don’t know), flying debris (a big piece of gravel from a paving truck hit my shoulder once), and slick or oily roads (a new road often gets a good scrubbing to start the day). I’ve considered taking earplugs for those earth-pounders.

My favorite thing about riding through a construction zone is having the opportunity to chat with the workers. Route 26 played host to a construction crew for a month this spring and while waiting for our lane’s chance to go forth, Seth and I got to know the regular flaggers, Bonnie and Kim. We only got to converse for a few minutes at a time, but it felt wonderful to hear them say over their walkie-talkies to the flagger on the other end, “The last vehicle is a blue Honda, and then there are Margaret and Seth on their bikes.” When we arrived on the other side, the flagger always cheered us on as if we’d just won the Tour de France.

Construction areas require extra alertness and care, but they result in more pleasant roads for all…and you can even make friends and influence people (Bonnie’s considering riding her bike to work now!).