One of the biggest problems we face as cyclists is being seen by today’s too-often distracted drivers, who seem to take the simple act of driving far too casually.
We wear bright colors, and position ourselves in ways that force anyone paying the slightest attention to see us. Yet too often, motorists seem oblivious to our presence.
Let alone anything else on the road with them.
I saw that yesterday as we were driving home from the market, and watched as the driver ahead of us looked as though he was going to stop for a red light — then proceeded to roll through the light without ever braking and T-bone an SUV on the cross street, knocking it into another SUV waiting in the opposing turn lane.
The impact was hard enough to deploy both airbags in the car that ran the light. And send the driver of the first SUV storming out of his vehicle to berate the man who hit him.
Why he went through the light, I have no idea; he could have been drunk, distracted or just not paying attention.
But it was an odd perspective to watch it all unfold from behind and be unable to do anything about it. And realizing that the airbags and armor plating of the vehicles involved had combined to protect everyone involved from serious harm.
Yet if it had been a bike in the driver’s path, the outcome would had been far different, as the rider would have been severely injured by the initial impact. And most likely would have helplessly fallen into the path of other motorists in the busy intersection.
How the driver failed to see the red light and massive SUV directly in front of him is beyond me. Let alone the bus directly behind it, which avoided the wreck only through a combination of slow speed and the skill and attention of the driver.
And if a driver can’t see something that massive directly in front of him, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us who present a far smaller profile as we travel on two wheels.
Something I experienced for myself as I rode home on Friday.
I was coming up busy Montana Blvd in Santa Monica on the last leg of a 40 mile ride to the South Bay.
Usually I take San Vicente back from the beach. But every now and then I take Montana just to see something different — even though that means riding even more defensively than usual to dodge the many drivers who turn into or out of driveways and alleys without looking, or dart across the street, oblivious to the presence of anything traveling on less than four wheels.
Like the guy who cut me off as he made his left onto Montana from the side street on my right. And flipped me off when, after braking hard to a stop, I spread my arms in the universal “WTF?” gesture.
Unfortunately, the video didn’t come out for that one.
Then there are the drivers who cut quickly into the bike lane, using it as a staging area to enter or wait for a parking space, without ever looking for a bike that may already be occupying that space.
Or even caring, for that matter.
Like the woman who drove past me just a block or two later, then cut directly into the bike path mere feet in front of my bike. And sparing me from rear-ending her only because she slid forward to wait for a space a little further up the street.
At first I thought she moved up because she heard my shouted warning.
But as I pulled up next to her, it became clear that she couldn’t hear me or anything else in the hermetically sealed automotive bubble in which she was driving.
I was going to say something, but it quickly became clear that she had no idea I was there. And probably never saw me at all as she passed just feet from where I rode in the bike lane.
So I rode off, a little shaken, but grateful I’d been prepared for a dangerous driver like her.
And well aware that it was only a matter of luck that kept me from being rear-ended or sideswiped; had she seen another parking space a few seconds earlier, she would undoubtedly have driven directly into me.
It’s scary as hell to realize that someone could completely miss a six-foot tall cyclist in a bright red and blue Fat Tire jersey.
And riding in a space which should, by its mere existence, suggest the presence of bikes.
One other quick note.
If you haven’t read it yet, take a few moments to digest Mark Elliot’s excellent wrap-up of cyclists descending on the recent Beverly Hills City Council session to demand fair treatment on the streets of their city.
Because right now, we’re far less than second-class citizens in a city many of us have no choice but to ride through. And which doesn’t seem to give a damn about whether we live or die.
Or receive justice either way.