Sunday, June 20, 2010

Watch the streetcar tracks!

I recently had a run in with the St. Charles Avenue streetcar tracks that reminded me of a recent death under similar circumstances in Boston.  A nice thing about New Orleans' streetcar system is that the tracks mostly run on the neutral ground between lanes.  The main exceptions are the St. Charles line in the Central Business District and where the Canal Street line crosses road intersections.

Train tracks usually make me extra cautious when I'm on my motorcycle.  Experience in Boston, where the E Line runs along the street between Brigham Circle and the VA Medical Center at Heath Street (Green Line), has taught me fear.  These tracks are especially treacherous, even for a motorcycle's wider tires, as the grooves can run particularly deep.  New Orleans tracks conceal what amount to slight depressions along their right of way, but it is the steel itself in this situation which provided me with my hazard and scrape with mortality.

We went on a long bicycle ride on Friday night and our route brought us along Carondelet Street into the French Quarter.  Bicycling in New Orleans is a mostly pleasant experience as far as elevation goes.  The landscape is, as you might imagine on a flood plain, flat.   Some of the pavement conditions leave much to be desired but so far we haven't come across any ill-tempered drivers and, as I say, the lack of hills make peddling a breeze.

As we approached the end of the St. Charles line, where Carondelet meets Canal Street, I ran my tires over the tracks and slipped, port side down, immobile in the flow of traffic.  It had rained earlier in the day, the tracks are polished smooth after decades of twenty-four hour use, and perhaps the ambient humidity made them extra slick.  Whatever the reason, I was inattentive enough to lose my balance in an undignified way.

Perhaps I was lax because of the slower speed and inherent control pedals confer.  Perhaps I was distracted by all the sights and sounds.  Whatever the reason, I lost control.  My bicycle was on top of me rather than the other way around and I was lying on my side.

No real damage was done.  I quickly recovered and got upright, walking my bike to the sidewalk.  People asked if I was alright.  I was: a bruise on my hand, a scrape on my leg, two small holes torn in my shorts.  The worst injury was to my pride.  I like to think my motorcycling has honed my wits extra sharp.  Proof again that on the road, only a fool lets his or her guard down.  Street hazards don't only come from other users; sometimes the road itself can be an antagonist as well as an ally.

A word from the humbled:  Look out for what's under your tires as well as for what's around you.  Watch the streetcar tracks.

Thankfully, no automobile operators behind me were distracted.

Today's link:  Soraparu Park.

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