I am a cyclist in Anchorage. My bikes – I have two, summer and winter – are not adventure toys. At 61, I have never owned a car. I forgot to renew my driver’s license years ago. My bikes, I never leave the house without one of them.
I know what’s important in Anchorage. The pavement – otherwise why would we have so many? Long black streams, lovingly maintained. It is therefore fully when the brake light turns yellow. So easy, the driver so special, the car accelerates so well that excessive speed is the only option.
The cycle paths are also paved. But they don’t get the same amount of care. It took 30 years to widen the sidewalks and cycle paths on Spenard Road from 30th Avenue to Fireweed Lane. I guess the planners think we are levitating after this. Half a mile further. I challenge you to hike the trail from Lois Drive to Minnesota Drive along the south side of Benson Boulevard. Itchy roots, deadly longitudinal cracks, a collapsing track – winter meltwater washes them away. The branches on your face are a bonus.
Spenard’s sidewalks are narrow, crooked and tilting. It’s a nightmare in winter, covered in ice. That is, if you can find a sidewalk. Most of the time they are snow dumps. Forcing myself to go where I never want to be: the street.
I shake my head in disbelief when I spot a biker in traffic. These multi-lane roads leave no room between the car, the rider and the sidewalk. A driver will drift to the left if he sees the rider. This causes some confusion in the cars on the left, which cannot see this biker on the far right at all. Or the driver in the right lane does not see or is made angry by the rider. Drifting to the right, the rider is forced into and onto the sidewalk.
A cyclist may just have rashes on the road – painful, but survivable. Or a harder blow with more trauma. With COVID-19 swelling hospitals, now is not the time to land in the emergency room. Always careful rider, I am now paranoid.
It is as if I become invisible once on my bike. While waiting to cross the street A, I try to advance the car in the lane of turn to the right. The uprights that hold the windshield in place are at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock from the driver’s point of view. Drivers honestly cannot see anyone at these points. When the light changes, I look to the left. Will they let me go or speed up?
I’ve been around the corner trying to cross a street, waving my arms, screaming at the traffic noise. The drivers still won’t recognize my presence. Tinted windows making visual contact impossible. I jump up and down on my wheels. If I can time it so the car can’t turn right because of oncoming traffic, I can cross. Otherwise I wait.
The infamous “Right Hook” – a driver who turns right while looking left. The only time I was tagged by a car. With some skill on the ice, I didn’t hit the curb when the police car spun me around. Yeah, I got hit by a cop. He didn’t stop either. He gave me a dirty look and walked over to Benson.
The long darkness is almost here. I fight my invisibility. I have lights on my helmet, on the messenger bag that I wear every day. A light on my handlebars comes on inside my wheel. I like the light on my helmet because I can flash it on cars before crossing intersections. I worked with John Fletcher, Rosey’s father. I told him how panicked I was crossing four lanes of cars in the snowy darkness. “Take a walk,” he said. Wise words, and I sometimes walk with my bike.
I’m not the only one waiting around the corner. As you drive off in your car, I share the airspace with the homeless.
My daily commute starts at Spenard and Benson. During this summer, there was a 24/7 party on the benches there. As I drive east from C Street, there are more parties.
Sometimes it’s a part of one. I rolled over a wide eyed man. Sway and weave, following the flight of a bird only he could see. I wondered how long he had stumbled as I waited for the light to change. He didn’t cross a street with me.
There are a bunch of bad choices at the Walmart bus stop. Before they cut the eight to two foot tall hedges, I could count over 20 homeless people. Sitting, lying down in various states of consciousness ranging from manic to comatose. Often obstruct the walkway.
I saw a woman rush through Benson. She ran south; there were cars, but she managed to cross. She immediately turned and ran north. There were now even more cars. I wouldn’t even have tried to cross on my bike, a suicidal gesture. She reached the second lane and stopped short. The drivers slammed the brakes, a horn sounded. She ran for it. Lights, cherries and berries. A siren sounds; there is a cop. Wow. He jumped out of the car and stopped her. I pulled her onto the grass so I could get out of it.
What if she hadn’t succeeded? Another pedestrian death? A pile-up of three or four cars, maybe hit those under that hedge or me? Will she listen to the cop’s warning? Would it take a ticket to get it into my head that you’re not crossing a street like that? Everything to prevent it from becoming a red spot on the sidewalk. I saw the blood when a kid on a BMX bike was killed in Minnesota and Benson. This stain, it lasts a long time.
Why? Why do I keep doing this. The traffic is frantic, the drivers inattentive. Sharing the sidewalk with the low and the cold.
I believe my life journey has kept me healthier. I fell and almost cold myself, but I can still ride. Get some fresh air, clear my head. It also keeps others healthy – I’m a crappy driver. The life you save can be yours; buy a pass for Angela. And I saved a lot of money without having a car. This allowed me to devote more time to my art.
Fires, storms, death of wildlife, the effects of the climate crisis are growing every year. With more than a quarter of greenhouse gases coming from cars and trucks, riding a bicycle is one of the best things a person can do for the Earth.
I would like others to join me on their bikes. The more of us walking and cycling in Anchorage, the greater the care that will be given to our shared paved roads, ensuring the safety and health of all.
Angela Ramirez is a 30 year old resident of Spenard. Plastic artist, she hopes to finish a comic book this winter.
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