Monday, February 05, 2007

How the Bad Thing Almost Happened

It was a dark but unstormy night. Hadn't rained for days. I was driving south on Brazee Street, a small residential street, the name of which leaves our neighborhood wide open to constant ridicule by eighth graders. When I got to N.E. 47th, another small residential street, I stopped at the stop sign there. After looking both ways, I started into the intersection, which had one of those little round islands in the middle of it, placed there to slow traffic. I drove slowly, in a curve around the island. More than half way across, a bike whizzes by right smack in front of me.

I never saw her/him before or after that instant, so I have only that one snapshot in my mind to describe him from. I know there was some sort of light blinking, but I was seeing it from the side, not full on, and I don’t even remember the color or where it was on the person’s bike or body. Also, the person was wearing serious cycling clothes, and a helmet.

Here’s my guess as to what happened. I’m thinking I may have looked to the right first, then to the left, then proceeded across. Maybe while I was looking left, the bike had time to zip two or three blocks down the slightly inclined 47th to the intersection. It was certainly moving at a phenomenal speed.

Ideally, one would look to the right again before crossing, and I think it would be my nature to do that, but who knows. (Sometimes I discover My Nature and Actual Reality to be worlds apart.) It is possible that at the moment that I did look right (before looking left), the bike was still only the tiniest pinprick of light two or three blocks away. (From a bike, you can see a bike light six or eight blocks away, but from a car, visibility is much reduced.) Then, during the time that I was busy looking left, the bike could have arrived at the intersection.

It's also possible that it didn’t have a headlight, only a back light, in which case I wouldn't have seen it no matter which way I was looking. We've all seen plenty of cyclists ride around in the dark with one lone blinker on the back fluttering meekly away on half-dead batteries, thinking they're good because they have "a light."

So whose fault it was, I can’t really conclude – maybe a little of both. Obviously I’m a cautious person, and a CYCLIST MYSELF, for Pete’s sake – clearly I don’t want to kill or maim anyone. So if it was my fault, it was not a case of being an idiot, but of making a mistake. Which as you well know, we all do. The best we can hope for on this planet is that while half of us are making our mistakes, the other half of us are paying attention so they can accommodate our mistakes. Besides trying to behave reasonably well, all we can do is hope to hell (or pray, whichever you prefer) that we're never all 100% of us making our mistakes at the same moment.

It seems to me that given how slowly I was going, the cyclist would have had plenty of time to see that I had started through the intersection, and should have therefore stopped. Not “should have stopped” in the legal sense, but in the survivalist sense, as in “Uh oh, that driver’s not stopping, obviously she doesn’t see me, I’d better stop.”

Don’t you think?

Was the person just being assertive (= stupid) about claiming his right of way through the intersection? (Some people would rather be right than be alive.)

Some bike riders are awfully cocky about what feats of athleticism and daring they can accomplish. They think, “Oh, I can fit right through there just in time if I hurry.” Often, they’re right. They can make it, and they do. They think that what matters is that they don’t get killed, and I agree that that’s the main goal. But that’s not all that matters. (i.e., It’s not all about YOU.) There are other things that matter too, like why do twelve people a day have to suffer near heart attacks just because you feel like riding like a lunatic?

It’s not helpful to scare people.


At 4:13 PM, Blogger The Alley Cat said...

I thought this happened at night. I wonder how many cyclists know just how invisible they are. I've seen people on all white bikes blend into the streets. Lights are a must. Keeping them at full power is a must. I use rechargeable batteries and try to re-charge them once a week.

But lights tend to work best when viewed head on or from the rear. Side visibility on a bike is still a problem.

Side visibility is something I'll have to experiment with, since I'm building an all black bike that I will be riding in the dark. Maybe some amber colored lights that mount on the frame? Is reflective tape good enough? I wear one of those super bright yellow vests, but is that enough? I suppose I had better start searching online for some kind of solution. If I come up with anything, I'll post it.

As for the rider; racing into an intersection with a car already in it? Not good.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting story, particularly given that you're a very careful motorist. Sadly, a lot of unresponsible bikers do this sort of thing all of the time, acting like they always have the right-of-way, and it gives a bad reputation to all bikers.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Yes, the looney-tunes riding provides mountains of fodder for people to complain about cyclists with.

As for side lighting, I agree it's a huge issue -- one that I don't hear addressed much. I too think amber would be a good color to use, since white means "front" and red means "back." I have a couple of fantastic solutions to side lighting which I will be posting about very soon.


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