by Marcia J. Wick
Hoping to beat the heat, I harnessed up my guide dog for an early morning walk. The forecast was for a record high of 96. Striding out, I felt a light breeze on my face and judged the temperature was still a pleasant 75, typical for a summer day in Colorado. Facing west, we headed out with the rising sun at our backs. Without slowing our pace, we entered an underground pedestrian walkway and emerged from the cool, dark passageway onto a wide trail in full sun. I was glad we had set out early, as the temperature already felt five degrees warmer than when we had started. I stretched my legs to the brisk gait of my guide dog, counting steps to clear my head. The night before, I had attended a contentious community meeting about public transportation. Folks from a historic neighborhood had banded together to ban buses along a 12-block stretch of road in front of their stately homes. I was demoralized as tough-talking homeowners claimed that “noisy and dangerous” buses brought down the value of their properties.
We live in a fast-growing sprawling city with a fixed-route bus system that hasn’t improved much in 50 years. In the early ‘70s, my family lived in the Old North End neighborhood, and I hopped on the bus daily to attend my high school downtown. That school is long gone. The city’s population has since swelled to a half million. North Middle School is now in the center of town. The Old North End homes are surrounded by businesses. The neighborhood stands proud and tries to defend its perimeter from progress.
I get it. I understand the importance of historic preservation. But the road that bisects this neighborhood was once a state highway, and for decades has served as a major north-south artery for motorists seeking a direct route downtown. More and more cars with only one passenger clog the roadway during busy commute hours. Removing a bus filled with passengers every 15 minutes from the line of vehicles wouldn’t do much to cut down on the volume of traffic, I thought. Perhaps automobiles should be rerouted rather than buses along this corridor?
My mind grappled with the issue until my ringing cell phone brought my thoughts back to the present. I halted my dog and stepped to the side of the trail to take the call. A fellow transit advocate was phoning to discuss the meeting and talk about ways to find common ground with our transit-reluctant neighbors.
Focused on my phone call, I jumped when a bicycle screeched past, veering at the last second to avoid hitting us. The cyclist shouted, “You idiot!” as she wheeled by.
I interrupted my phone call and yelled at the back of the cyclist, “We could talk if you’d stop.” There was no reply. She was pedaling so fast she wasn’t likely to hear me bellowing, although she continued to rant at me as she sped down the hill.
I felt an initial twinge of guilt for being on my phone on the trail at the moment of the encounter; then, it occurred to me that the cyclist could have seen me and my guide dog from a good distance before she blasted by without warning. The downhill traveler is expected to yield to an uphill walker or cyclist.
Turning back to my phone, I heard my friend expressing concern for my welfare. I was shaken by my near encounter with the cyclist and agitated by the bus debate. Sharing the roads or sharing the trails — it seemed like everyone thought they owned the road to the exclusion of others. The mood of my day had been spoiled by elitist neighbors and an angry cyclist. I considered turning around and shrinking back to the safety and shelter of my home. Just then, Viviane nudged my hand with her wet nose, demonstrating the patience only a well-trained service animal could manage. For her, our mission hadn’t changed. My guide’s commitment to walk with me was unfazed. She stood ready to move ahead at my command. In fact, she seemed anxious to get us back on track and prevent me from turning around.
Urging “forward,” we continued uphill. My guide’s determination to remain focused filled me with new resolve. Despite the rising heat, we resumed our familiar pace and soon crested the hill to be rewarded with a cool breeze and the view of the colorful mountains ahead.