An unexpected change in direction

This is not the post I intended to write.

I had planned to write about the challenges of winter riding here in L.A. — winter being a relative term, of course. And how the spandex-clad can dress effectively for cooler weather, including tips on how to avoid chaffing, both above and below the belt.

A post so brilliant, witty and insightful, it would have virtually guaranteed my first Pulitzer, and the love and admiration of cyclists everywhere.

Maybe another time. Because something happened today that I feel compelled to comment on (or, on which I feel compelled to comment, for those grammatical sticklers out there).

At the end of 28 cool, if uneventful miles, I found myself riding through a residential neighborhood just four blocks from my home.

Off to my left, I noticed a minivan starting to back out of a driveway just up the block. As I drew closer, I could see the driver carefully avoid the trash cans that were waiting for pickup along the curb. Then she checked for traffic, looking first to her left, then her right.

The only place she didn’t look was behind her.

Which was where I was about to be.

I had planned to be polite, and stop so she could back out. Unfortunately, from the angle of her car, it was clear that her path was going to take her to the exact spot I was occupying.

So I yelled a warning, and stood on my pedals to get the hell out of her way. She jammed on her brakes, and once again looked both ways to see who was yelling at her — and once again, failed to take a single glance behind her.

In fact, she never once saw me, before or after I yelled. Although how anyone could miss a 6 foot tall, 180 pound cyclist in a bright yellow jersey is beyond me.

But that’s not the scary part.

What’s really scary about this was, what if it hadn’t been an experienced cyclist behind her — someone with the skill to recognize the danger, and get out of the way before anything could happen?

What if it had been one of the many kids in neighborhood who ride up and down the street — never leaving their block because their parents think they’ll be safe there. Someone much smaller, without the skill to recognize the danger, let alone get out of the way in time.

Or maybe it could have been one of the many people who inexplicably walk their dogs in the street, rather than the sidewalk. Or a parent or nanny walking their kids across the street.

The point is, it’s fine to check for oncoming traffic when you back up a car. But there other users of our streets that are much smaller, and harder to see.

And if you don’t know for a fact what’s behind you, don’t back up the damn car until you do.

 

San Francisco forces cyclists and drivers to share a lane — in order to make things safer. Detroit riders share the frozen winter roads. My favorite brewery, in my favorite home town, is funding sustainable biking right here in my current home town. Mexico City cyclists fight bad streets — and worse drivers — for their space on the road. And China, home of the famous Flying Pigeon, rediscovers the fizz of cycling,

2 comments

  1. It seems, I ask myself the same “what if” question practically every day.

    Last night grinding slowly up the last incline of my commute home (yep, the same one where I rear-ended the double-parked car in September), with lights blazing and blinking I approached an SUV that the driver had just started at the curb. Instinctively I swung out to the center of the empty street and sure enough as I got alongside him, the driver yanked out. Seeing me at the last moment he jerked to a stop, but had I stayed the line I’d been pedaling I probably would have ricocheted off his driver’s side door.

    I’d like to say I shrugged it off and kept going, but despite being a bit winded from the climb I managed an expletive-inflected rhetorical regarding being more aware of one’s surroundings.

  2. [...] about the behavior of drivers on the road. Granted, there’s often a reason for it (see here and here for two of the most recent), but I thought I’d throw a quick thank you to all those [...]

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