Sophie in Santa Cruz
“Does anyone recognize these markings?” The bicycling instructor indicates a symbol that is a simple line drawing of a bike with two pointy brackets pointing upwards above it. It’s Friday night, and fifteen students are attending the Bicycle Safety Class that is mandatory for participants in the Bike Library, a program to encourage bicycling in Santa Cruz. All you have to do is write a motivation letter, attend the safety class and you can borrow a free bike for the quarter. “These are ‘sharrows’. They indicate that this is a shared road where it is legal for you to share the lane with motor vehicles.”
Sharing the lane? My heart, long assimilated into Dutch cycling culture, skips a beat. What do you mean I have to share the road? No longer in what I like to call the Dutch ‘Bikeocracy’, I need to learn to negotiate the streets from a minority stand point. My first lesson: We watch a video aimed at testing your ability to pay attention to unexpected details and discover that when you are trying to count the number of passes between the players in white, you don’t see the moonwalking bear. The moonwalking bear, we are told, is us on our bikes, the ball players are the traffic lights, road signs, and pedestrians that the cars will be focusing on instead.
A clearly defined bike path might help make me feel safer. I’m getting to the point where I would even embrace the teeth-shattering cobblestones if only they would also come with that assertive red paint or the safe little ramp protecting me from the motorized vehicles careening past. My favorite spot in Santa Cruz is the one block where there is more than a white line between me and the main road: for one short-lived block I am protected from the road by a line of parked cars, almost like in Maastricht.
This may yet be the strongest case of culture shock I will encounter while I am here, so I might as well make an adventure out of it. I will wear a helmet though, in an attempt to mitigate that shock just a little bit.