Biking has long been a source of independence and strength for me. As a kid it was a mark of coming-of-age to make the 6 mile round-trip commute to elementary school and I remember my pride in being able to do so alone by age 11. My parents emphasized bike safety, even in our small town, and I biked in packs with my siblings and friends. Knowing the best routes to summer streams, the library and to the general store to find some thingamabob or the latest flavor of bubblegum. It was a bike that could take me there and on one I felt mobile and free.
Night biking, on the other hand, wasn’t something I took on regularly until I was a college student in Boston. Biking again became freedom as I explored the city, learning routes along the rivers and green-ways and wondering that nothing, NOTHING was faster than biking for getting around the bustling city. I wore bike lights and, at the insistence of my partner at the time, the occasional reflective vest when making night trips cross-city. But really, who WANTS to wear those hideous things?!? I cared about safety, sure, but I favored lights over than those mesh neon atrocities.
I left Boston to travel and explore the US on a road trip with two of my dearest friends, bikes in tow. This journey brought me the joy of exploring over 16 US cities and at least a handful of small towns via bicycle. I took in every bit of bike culture I could find along the way, noticing places with bike lanes or special signals for bikers, I was fascinated with the way each city or neighborhood took on biking as a mode of transit.
I landed, after the bustle of life choices and change, in Salt Lake City. While the need for more reflective and visible clothing now seems pretty universal to me, I came to this work during my time in Salt Lake City. This city is very near and dear to my heart, but it taught me a lot as a biker and a pedestrian in what it means to be seen. A small city set against a stunning natural backdrop it has minimal traffic, wide streets and many bike lanes. What I learned is that despite the info-structure, the culture was one of cars and even city buses would cross into bike lanes without even looking. Vehicle operators simply didn’t have the level of pedestrian and biker awareness that I had grown accustomed to in Boston.
In the 4 1/2 years I lived there, I knew two pedestrians who were hit by cars (one fatally) and one biker who was hit and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. I myself was in two accidents, both thankfully minor. In the first, as a biker in a residential area, a car did not see me in the early morning light. This is when I first looked into reflective material to make myself something reflective that was also an attractive accessory.
In the second I was a passenger in a car accident, which wasn't about being seen but it taught me another important element of visibility. In the time I was recovering I took public transport and walked to work and doctor appointments while in chronic pain. I remember musing often on the "invisibility" of my injury as encountered unaware drivers cutting me off in crosswalks as I walked gingerly on icey, dark winter streets. My experiences are not unique, many live with them for years or a lifetime, but it crystallized in me a desire to be more seen and to help others do the same.
Visibility means more to me now than simply wearing reflective gear on my commute; it touches something deeper about what it means to be seen in our society. About the way we care for the most vulnerable among us. About working with rather than against drivers. About shining bright and showing up regardless.