The good-morning game

Jul 16, 2014 at 5:00 am

It’s been heartening to see the dramatic increase in bike riders and the enhancements to bike infrastructure in Louisville over the past decade. Our city still has a lot of room for improvement, especially in the areas of driver and cyclist safety awareness, but we’ve come a long way.

For about eight months of the year, I commute to work on my bicycle. I drive during the winter months because I am blessed with the means to own a car, and because I am what hardcore cyclists might call a “wuss.”

But most of the year, I’m on my bike. My 11-mile round-trip commute is a joyous experience for me. I get exercise, I save money, I exhaust zero emissions and, even though it is difficult for me, I will ignore the obvious joke about emissions. I’ve designed my route to avoid busy streets, so I rarely feel unsafe, at least no more unsafe than I already feel by living in a country of 300 million people who own 400 million guns.

One stunning city amenity is the Louisville Loop, which I rode through the Parklands on a recent glorious weekend day. The section between Shelbyville and Taylorsville roads is obviously popular, with everybody from hipsters to Mennonites to hipster Mennonites enjoying the trail.

Another popular development is the painting of bike lanes on city streets. The city has recently spent millions to create bike lanes and plans to spend millions more. Not being a numbers guy, those figures mystify me. Are we using 24-karat gold paint? Seems like a million bucks ought to paint stripes on all of Louisville and half of Peytona, but, then again, it takes $5 million per year to hire a decent college basketball coach these days, so obviously inflation is a factor. But whatever it costs, we should spend it, because bike lanes save lives and promote ridership, which reduces pollution and minimizes the impact of cheese-in-the-crust pizza.

One sign Louisville is arriving as a bicycle city is the recent debate in some camps about licensing and taxing bicycle riders. This is, of course, a terrible idea, mostly because a lot of people ride bikes because it’s all they can afford. And most of the rest of us are already paying road taxes as car owners. But the fact that we’re talking about it at all is an exciting sign that bikes are earning their rightful place on Louisville’s roads. If a bike-license program could improve safe-cycling education (among both riders and drivers) and avoid taxing people who can’t afford it, I might become convinced it’s a good idea.

Another sign the landscape is changing happened to me last week at a four-way stop. Four vehicles arrived at the same time coming from four different directions, and all four were bikes. We all smiled at each other as if to say, “That was weird.” And then, being Louisvillians, we all over-politely waved each other on until we nearly had a four-bike pileup at a neighborhood intersection. It was a far cry from the bicycle traffic jams some cities enjoy, but still: progress.

I do my part to encourage cycling by trying to look like I’m enjoying myself. Given my garish yellow shirt, sunglasses and helmet, I might look like an aging Tour-de-France doper wannabe. And I inherited my dad’s crabby face that sometimes makes me look pissed off when really I am just daydreaming about German grammar or the cinematic oeuvre of Jessica Chastain. But inside I am a little boy gleefully riding my bike and fighting the impulse to cry “Wheeeeeeeeeeee” when I go down hills.

To overcome my biker-crabapple appearance, I started “the good-morning game.” This is a game where I try to see how many people I can get to say “good morning” back to me on my way to work. When I pass a cyclist, jogger, poop-scooper or walker-of-shame, I greet them with my heartiest, just-short-of-maniacal “good morning” — a fleeting speck of loving-kindness. It’s fun to see how they react.

Some of them pretend they didn’t hear me. Others nod and smile. And some of them mutter a begrudging “hi.” But none of those count. Only when I get a joyful “good morning” in reply do I award myself a point. My record so far is 18 bemused and happy drive-by greeting victims, which is possibly 86 when you factor in inflation. You just can’t get that in a car.