Tag Archive for safe riding

Today’s post, in which I nearly kill a wrong-way cyclist

Still haven’t made it back on the bike – that will come this weekend, God willing – but at least I thought I’d hit the gym after work this evening.

So I slogged my way through Westside rush hour traffic – how it can possibly take 45 minutes to drive just over 8 miles will forever be beyond my comprehension. But finally, I was just a block from the gym, making the penultimate right turn before reaching my destination.

Just as I rounded the corner, I founded myself facing a cyclist riding directly towards me on the wrong side of the road, mere feet away from a head-on collision. He’d been completely hidden from view by the parked cars on the side of the street, and was riding down the middle of the right lane, albeit in the wrong direction.

I jerked the wheel hard to the left and swerved around him, missing him by just feet. And of course, he just kept riding, as if a near-death experience was just another everyday occurrence. Which it may be, if he always rides like that. And I was only grateful that there wasn’t a car in the other lane, so I had the room to go around him, without getting hit by another car.

And there’s the problem.

Because there are people who make a habit of making other people responsible for their safety. Like this gentleman, who placed his survival in the hands of a total stranger, in this case, me. And without asking permission first, I might add.

Or the multiple riders I saw later on my way home, riding in traffic on Olympic Boulevard, after dark, with no lights or reflectors. Or helmets, for that matter.

Which meant that their continued existence on this planet depended on people they don’t know, slogging their way home from work and no doubt tired from a long, hard day. And the ability those people to spot them in the darkness, and have both the reaction time and driving skill to avoid them.

Of course, it’s not just cyclists.

You can see the same thing everyday, as skaters dart across traffic on their custom boards and pedestrians jaywalk in the middle of a block – even though there’s often a crosswalk just a few feet away – oblivious to the traffic bearing down on them. Or perhaps trusting that the drivers will stop for them.

It seems to be the same mentality shared by drivers who insist on turning left as soon as the light changes, cutting off the cars coming in the opposite direction who actually have the right-of-way. As well as the ones who weave in and out of traffic on the freeway, forcing other cars to break to avoid them.

In each case, they seem to trust that other people will see them, and take whatever action is required avoid them. Even at the risk of their own safety.

And that’s not something anyone has a right to expect. Or even ask of another human being.

Your safety is your own responsibility. As is mine. And just as it is for everyone else.

I’ll try to avoid you. Really, I will. I’ll do my best to keep you, and everyone else I encounter, safe for the few seconds we share the same few feet of roadway.

But ultimately, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our own safety. And not expect other people to do it for us.

Today’s post, in which I nearly kill a wrong-way cyclist

Still haven’t made it back on the bike – that will come this weekend, God willing – but at least I thought I’d hit the gym after work this evening.

So I slogged my way through Westside rush hour traffic – how it can possibly take 45 minutes to drive just over 8 miles will forever be beyond my comprehension. But finally, I was just a block from the gym, making the penultimate right turn before reaching my destination.

Just as I rounded the corner, I founded myself facing a cyclist riding directly towards me on the wrong side of the road, mere feet away from a head-on collision. He’d been completely hidden from view by the parked cars on the side of the street, and was riding down the middle of the right lane, albeit in the wrong direction.

I jerked the wheel hard to the left and swerved around him, missing him by just feet. And of course, he just kept riding, as if a near-death experience was just another everyday occurrence. Which it may be, if he always rides like that. And I was only grateful that there wasn’t a car in the other lane, so I had the room to go around him, without getting hit by another car.

And there’s the problem.

Because there are people who make a habit of making other people responsible for their safety. Like this gentleman, who placed his survival in the hands of a total stranger, in this case, me. And without asking permission first, I might add.

Or the multiple riders I saw later on my way home, riding in traffic on Olympic Boulevard, after dark, with no lights or reflectors. Or helmets, for that matter.

Which meant that their continued existence on this planet depended on people they don’t know, slogging their way home from work and no doubt tired from a long, hard day. And the ability those people to spot them in the darkness, and have both the reaction time and driving skill to avoid them.

Of course, it’s not just cyclists.

You can see the same thing everyday, as skaters dart across traffic on their custom boards and pedestrians jaywalk in the middle of a block – even though there’s often a crosswalk just a few feet away – oblivious to the traffic bearing down on them. Or perhaps trusting that the drivers will stop for them.

It seems to be the same mentality shared by drivers who insist on turning left as soon as the light changes, cutting off the cars coming in the opposite direction who actually have the right-of-way. As well as the ones who weave in and out of traffic on the freeway, forcing other cars to break to avoid them.

In each case, they seem to trust that other people will see them, and take whatever action is required avoid them. Even at the risk of their own safety.

And that’s not something anyone has a right to expect. Or even ask of another human being.

Your safety is your own responsibility. As is mine. And just as it is for everyone else.

I’ll try to avoid you. Really, I will. I’ll do my best to keep you, and everyone else I encounter, safe for the few seconds we share the same few feet of roadway.

But ultimately, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our own safety. And not expect other people to do it for us.

Today’s post, in which I nearly kill a wrong-way cyclist

Still haven’t made it back on the bike – that will come this weekend, God willing – but at least I thought I’d hit the gym after work this evening.

So I slogged my way through Westside rush hour traffic – how it can possibly take 45 minutes to drive just over 8 miles will forever be beyond my comprehension. But finally, I was just a block from the gym, making the penultimate right turn before reaching my destination.

Just as I rounded the corner, I founded myself facing a cyclist riding directly towards me on the wrong side of the road, mere feet away from a head-on collision. He’d been completely hidden from view by the parked cars on the side of the street, and was riding down the middle of the right lane, albeit in the wrong direction.

I jerked the wheel hard to the left and swerved around him, missing him by just feet. And of course, he just kept riding, as if a near-death experience was just another everyday occurrence. Which it may be, if he always rides like that. And I was only grateful that there wasn’t a car in the other lane, so I had the room to go around him, without getting hit by another car.

And there’s the problem.

Because there are people who make a habit of making other people responsible for their safety. Like this gentleman, who placed his survival in the hands of a total stranger, in this case, me. And without asking permission first, I might add.

Or the multiple riders I saw later on my way home, riding in traffic on Olympic Boulevard, after dark, with no lights or reflectors. Or helmets, for that matter.

Which meant that their continued existence on this planet depended on people they don’t know, slogging their way home from work and no doubt tired from a long, hard day. And the ability those people to spot them in the darkness, and have both the reaction time and driving skill to avoid them.

Of course, it’s not just cyclists.

You can see the same thing everyday, as skaters dart across traffic on their custom boards and pedestrians jaywalk in the middle of a block – even though there’s often a crosswalk just a few feet away – oblivious to the traffic bearing down on them. Or perhaps trusting that the drivers will stop for them.

It seems to be the same mentality shared by drivers who insist on turning left as soon as the light changes, cutting off the cars coming in the opposite direction who actually have the right-of-way. As well as the ones who weave in and out of traffic on the freeway, forcing other cars to break to avoid them.

In each case, they seem to trust that other people will see them, and take whatever action is required avoid them. Even at the risk of their own safety.

And that’s not something anyone has a right to expect. Or even ask of another human being.

Your safety is your own responsibility. As is mine. And just as it is for everyone else.

I’ll try to avoid you. Really, I will. I’ll do my best to keep you, and everyone else I encounter, safe for the few seconds we share the same few feet of roadway.

But ultimately, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our own safety. And not expect other people to do it for us.

Road report from the dark side

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

It’s been a full week since I’ve been on my bike. Worse, I’ve been driving my car to and from work almost every day. Seven out of the last eight working days, in fact.

Yes, it’s true. I’ve gone over to the dark side.

Not that it was my idea, of course. I’d much rather still be working at home, so I can take off for a long lunch and knock off a quick 30 or so miles on the bike. Or maybe 40. Or 50. Especially when the weather is absolutely perfect, like it was last week.

And to make matters worse, the office I’m working in is just south of Ballona Creek, so I can see all the riders headed to and from the beach on the Ballona Creek Bike Path. Assuming they don’t get mugged along the way.

But in this economy, I’m just happy to have work after a very slow summer. Besides, it could be worse; I could have been a high-paid investment banker on Wall Street.

All this time in my car has given me an opportunity to observe cycling from the perspective of a driver. And surprisingly, it hasn’t been all that bad.

Sure, there was the cyclist who hadn’t learned how to ride in a straight line yet, and was swerving right and left with every corresponding pedal stroke. As a result, he’d suddenly jerk into traffic, then back out again, back and forth. And yet, every driver somehow managed to avoid him, at least as long as he was within my site.

Or there was the woman riding a single speed cruiser with a big basket on the handlebars, who made a very, very slow speed right turn off a very busy street — and still, somehow, she managed to swerve all the way to the middle of the left lane before completing her turn (that would be the lane nearest the middle of the road, for any Brits reading this).

In the time it took to finish her turn, two cars were also able to make the same right turn behind her. One went into the right lane, safely passing to her right; the other followed her into the left lane, none too pleased from the sound of it. But as near as I could tell before my light changed, she was able to safely, and by all appearances, happily, continue down the road, as far as she could ride from where she was supposed to be without crossing over into oncoming traffic.

But most of the cyclists I’ve seen on my commute have just been people dressed for work or class, riding safely and politely. And most of the drivers I’ve seen have been equally courteous, taking the time to pass each rider safely.

Now, I have no doubt that if I would have talked to one of them, they could have told me about some driver I didn’t see who came too close, or turned right in front of them with no warning; just as I could no doubt find drivers who would complain about some crazy cyclist they encountered.

By and large, though, I’ve been pleased to see just how well cars and bikes have been able to share the road. So maybe this crazy town isn’t as dysfunctional as I thought.

As for me, I’m pleased to report that, even though I’m now a driver myself, I haven’t felt any urge to run a cyclist off the road, or toss a large drink at a rider I pass — or raw vegetables, as seems to be the fashion overseas.

So evidently, it’s not contagious. Or maybe I just haven’t been exposed long enough yet.

 

Tamerlane picks up a thread that began in New York, and transforms it into a meditation on vulnerability, and discusses the ethics of biking. Will Campbell amusingly confronts another cigarette smoking asshat. The S.F. Cycling Examiner describes flipping over the handlebars, without spilling his coffee. CNN discovers Santa Barbara’s former naked cyclist, now baring it all in Oregon. Town Mouse’s novel is soon to be available in paperback, although with the current exchange rate, still out of reach for most of us Yanks. Bike Girl continues going car free, while I go reluctantly bike free.

Cycling with a pale rider

I got a brief reprieve today.

I spent the last couple days of last week working at my new job. Or more precisely, not working. They weren’t really ready for me last week, so I spent two full days sitting at a desk doing nothing.

And since I would have been out on my bike if I hadn’t been stuck there, they were, in effect, paying me not to ride.

I mean, I know people hate cyclists around here, but that’s ridiculous.

Fortunately, they thought so too, and told me to take today off while they got a little more organized.

Which meant I had today unexpectedly free. And that, of course, meant I was on my bike.

For once, it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there was hardly any wind, and only a few people on the on the bike path, so I could ride as hard and as fast as I wanted, without having to slow down for pedestrians or slower riders. Well, not much, anyway.

So naturally, I enjoyed the ride.

And I thought about death.

It’s been on my mind lately, both because of what could have happened — but thankfully, didn’t — following my infamous bee encounter last year, and because we lost a couple of loved ones this year.

My mother-in-law — my wife’s stepmother — passed away this year at 96. Then we lost a good friend cancer; a beautiful, kind and loving woman who died much too soon, and yet another reason I hate cigarettes.

But the reason it was on my mind today was this post from New York’s Bike Snob. (Thanks to No whip for posting the link.)

In it, he tells of encountering a police investigation on his way to work, and later learning that a cyclist had come out on the wrong end of an encounter with a school bus. That led him to this thought:

“… As a human being you’re never really all that far from death no matter what you’re doing, but when you’re on a bicycle you’re especially close. When I’m on a bike I think of death as a membrane so thin you can’t see it because when all is going well you’re looking at it from the invisibly narrow side, not the all-encompassingly wide side. But when things go awry, and a series of decisions and coincidences sends you directly towards it, it’s all you can see. And the death membrane has extraordinary wicking properties, so sometimes all you need to do is touch it in order to wind up on the other side of it in a puff of vapor like an evaporating bead of sweat.”

As an experienced rider, I’m aware that death is always one possible outcome anytime I ride. Just as it is with any number of active outdoor sports, such as diving, mountaineering and rock climbing. And as with any other form of transportation, as last Friday’s Metrolink tragedy shows.

But unlike other forms of transportation, cyclists must share the road with cars, SUVs, trucks and buses, as well as any number of obstacles and road hazards, with no protection other than a helmet, glasses and a thin layer of padding between our legs. Which makes us particularly vulnerable.

You can’t really think about it, of course. If you did, you’d never leave the house. But it’s always there, like a silent, ephemeral riding partner. Especially in a city like this.

And if you want to avoid it, you have to be aware of it on some level.

I deal with it by saying a quick prayer anytime I get on my bike or behind the wheel of a car. I never, ever ride without a helmet. And I’m always on the lookout for anything that could pose a risk, and ready to react instantly to avoid it.

Like today, when a driver on a cross street saw that the cars were stopped on the street I was riding on, leaving just enough room for her to dart across, but never noticed — or even looked for — the cyclist coming up beside them. Fortunately, I was watching her, with my hands on the brake levers just in case she tried something stupid.

And she did. Although, despite almost hitting me, she made it quite clear that she hadn’t done anything wrong, from her exceptionally myopic point of view.

Of course, there are other cyclists who ride as if they have a death wish, zipping through red lights and stop signs without helmets, and with no regard for safety. Or common sense, for that matter.

Like the guy I saw at 7th and San Vicente today, riding on the wrong side of the road, and crossing against the light as oncoming cars jammed on their brakes to avoid him. He somehow managed to get away with, while giving no indication that he’d done anything wrong, or that he had placed himself, or anyone else, at risk. And rode off without a care in the world.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I don’t take any risks.

I do — probably more than I should. But I’ve learned what I can, and can’t, get away with. I never take a risk unless I know that I have the skill and experience to pull it off. And I never forget that there’s someone waiting for me to come home safely.

Or what could happen if I get it wrong.

That’s why I’m so adamant about creating a safe environment for cyclists, with streets and bike lanes that allow cyclists can share the roadway without unnecessary risk. And that are intelligently designed to help us get from here to there, swiftly and safely.

Because no one should ever have to risk their life just to get to work or class.

Or to enjoy an afternoon ride.

 

While I’m driving to work for the first time in over a decade, Bike Girl goes the other way, car-free for a full month. Tamerlane considers the ethics of cycling and the efficacy of infrastructure. Outdoor Urbanite sheds some light on bike lights, which I’m going to need if I ever want to try riding to work. Mikey Wally tries to make peace, and ends up getting punched and his bike stolen by some jerk — keep your eyes open for a black fixie with an unidentified jackass on the saddle. Town Mouse takes in the local leg of the Tour of Britain — amusingly, and very descriptively, as always. A San Diego cyclist encourages new riders to get out of his bike lane in today’s Times. And L.A.C.B.C is looking for people to kids’ bikes and helmets for a day, on October 11th at Santa Fe Dam.

What goes around…

There’s an intersection near my home, with a short, steep hill leading down on one side, and an equally short, steep hill leading back up the other.

And a stop sign in between.

If there’s no cross traffic, you can gain enough speed on the way down to blow through the stop sign and roll up the next hill without having to pedal — which comes in pretty handy at the end of a long, hard ride.

That’s what I always did, anyway. Until one time there was a little boy waiting on the corner with his father. And as I blew through the intersection, he pointed at me and said, “I want to be just like him.”

And I realized that I’d just taught a little kid to run stop signs.

So that was the last time I ever did that. Sure, I may roll through an intersection after braking almost to a stop — the same way most drivers do in this town. But blast through a stop sign like it isn’t even there?

No mas.

Then again, I also stop for red lights. As a driver, as well as a cyclist, I know how annoying it is to see a cyclist blow through a light while I’m stuck there waiting for it to change. And I’ve seen too many close calls when cross traffic suddenly appears out of nowhere.

I wave cars through the intersection if there’s any question over who has the right of way — or if it looks like they won’t let me have it — and wave them around me if they’re reluctant to pass when I can see it’s safe to do so.

I try to stay out of the way of traffic as much as possible, whether by riding in a bike lane or sticking as close to the right as I think is safe under the circumstances. And if I need to take a lane, I’ll signal my intention and cut over once someone makes room for me, then try to match the speed of traffic and move back over as soon as possible — and give the driver behind me a wave to thank him for following safely.

Do I ride this way because I’m some goody-two-shoes who doesn’t have the, uh…guts to ride more aggressively?

Yeah, right. I have X-rays that would argue otherwise.

No, I do it because I’ve learned that discretion really is the better part of valor, and that riding is more fun when you get back home in the same condition you were in when you left. Or reasonably close to it, anyway.

And because I hope that by showing a little courtesy and respect to the drivers around me, they may show the same consideration to the next rider they meet.

And that might just be you.

A couple quick links: The L.A. Times encourages drivers to share the road (thanks to Mike Wally for posting the link; I missed somehow it the first time around). Our cycling troubles make news across the pond. Hizzoner blows off Damien Newton and Joe Linton, along with our lousy 1% — we need to remind him that cyclists vote, too. And according to LAist, skateboarders do the crime, cyclists do the time.

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