Thursday, March 15, 2007

A good way to get yourself killed

I was just leaving work yesterday, exiting the parking garage and waiting to turn right onto Central Blvd. I always turn into the left-hand lane because it becomes the through lane after a few blocks. All of the cars in the right-hand lane are going to turn right. It is much easier to ride in the left lane because it is difficult to change lanes on Central, especially if you are on a bicycle. People just don't like to let a bicycle in.

So, just as I turn onto Central, I hear from behind me That's a good way to get yourself killed! It was the driver of a car that was following me out of the parking garage. Of course my hackles immediately go up and I'm preparing to defend my right to exist. But I'm feeling reasonable so I respond quite simply with What do you mean? Summary of our conversation, which spanned two red-light waits at two intersections:

Him: Riding in that lane there, it's a good way to get yourself killed.

Me: Well, I ride here because it's hard to change lanes later. I've tried riding in the lane you're in and it's more dangerous.

H: I just think it's dangerous and you're going to get yourself killed.

M: Well, where should I ride then?

H: I'd prefer if you were over on that sidewalk.

M: (speechless, getting ready to defend my right to ride on the road)

H: Don't get me wrong, I'm just saying I think it's really dangerous.

M: Well, I'm going to keep riding, and riding safe.

Next Intersection:

H: You're still alive, eh?

M: Yep, still fine.

H: Don't get me wrong, I'm just saying, everyone I know who has ridden a bike has been hit by a car within two years. Drivers can't see you! Nobody can see you!

M: I know about the obliviousness problem. Believe me. I've been run into by cars before.

H: OK. I'm just saying, it's dangerous.

M: Uh, thanks.

H: Well, I'm glad we were able to talk!

M: Yes, me too. See you later.

Light goes green.

It was actually a pretty friendly conversation. Quite funny because we talked at two different intersections, side by side, waiting for the traffic light to change. I was expecting to be told to get off the road!! but the guy was apparently just concerned for my safety.

Here's what I think he was really saying, between the lines:

  • I've done my best. I tried to warn this cyclist about riding in the street. The next time I see a cyclist get hit I'll shake my head ruefully and think I told you so.
  • I don't ride a bike because I'm scared to ride it in traffic.
I am going to continue to ride in traffic. I don't think it's very dangerous. It's true that you have to pay attention and leave a large margin for motorist error. The few times I've had collisions or near-collisions were when I assumed that a driver would follow the rules of the road or act reasonably (tip: never assume that).

People will just have to get used to seeing me and other cyclists in the street. We're not going anywhere.

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Blogger Stephen said...

Riding on the sidewalk is, of course, an offense. And interactions between cyclists and pedestrians on sidewalks have the same character as interaction between drivers and cyclists anywhere.

Conspicuity can help - reflectors, lights, bright clothing. I am appalled by the number of cyclists who wear dark clothing and don't have lights at night. Last time my daughter had some friends over I gave away about half a dozen flashing red lights I had acquired. Not one teenager in this group had any lights on their bikes

02 May, 2007 09:53  
Blogger sgt.turmeric said...

Part of my commute takes me on "shared paths"; that is, paths that are officially shared between pedestrians and cyclists, which I think is a very very bad idea. You are right that this character of interaction can happen between cyclists and pedestrians on these lovely shared paths.

Re: cyclists without lights at night. I call these cyclists "ninjas" because they are so stealthy. The worst are ninjas who are riding down the wrong side of the street. This is something that, amazingly, I have seen more than once.

I think that being conspicuous/visible and predictable (making your intentions clear with signals etc) is more important than wearing a helmet. Many of the ninjas I see are dutifully wearing helmets.

16 May, 2007 09:17  

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