Friday, March 23, 2012

Brace Yourself, It's a Gusher

This past week the weather in the City of Steel has been amazing. This spring feels like mid-summer, and as a result, there are lots of folks warming up to the idea of bicycle commuting. I have noticed more women on single speeds, more businessmen on road bikes, more goofy guys on department store mountain bikes and more smiles all around. Awesome. I feel strongly that reducing the number of trips in a car is important for all of us. I have been committed to this view for about the past 20 years. I encourage everyone I know to generally consider the state of our planet in everyday actions and personal transportation is a major component of that. I am not preachy, but I also try to encourage those around me to ride a bicycle more often. It is natural, then, with this amount of riding and talking about bicycles, that the subject of safety comes up. The uncomfortable reality is that most cyclists know someone who has been hit by a car, know someone who has been seriously injured or someone who has died. I don't want to be the person that other cyclists knew about.

I have only been hit on two occasions,in 1997 and 2003. I have been lucky. In both instances I was hit from behind, I was not injured in any way whatsoever, and I remained upright on my bicycle.

In Boulder, CO, riding on the shoulder of a high-volume but low speed road, a pickup truck passed closely on my left and the empty horse trailer being pulled behind it hit me. I swerved, startled, and dragged myself onto the curb uninjured. Years later, in Kingston, Jamaica, a motorcycle cop brushed me from behind while he made a dangerous pass in an intersection (the fact that the cop hit me, crashed his motorcycle, and spread himself out on the pavement, while I continued riding was a great source of chagrin for him). I rode over to where the cop was cussing, picking up scattered paperwork while his bike lay leaking on its side. Again I was unhurt, but the cop tried to make me give him some doctor money for what he thought was a broken finger. His finger did look a little crooked, but Kingston cops have their fingers dug so deep in everybody's pockets that there's no telling how straight it was before the crash.

Anyway, both times I have been hit I have been riding on the verge on the pavement. That is to say that both times I have come close to disaster I was consciously trying to make myself small on the side of the road in order to allow vehicles the greatest amount of space to navigate around me. Now, anecdotal evidence is not usually convincing to me; but these cases have taught me a valuable lesson: it is often safer to take the lane. Bare the embarrassment of a honking or a tailgating driver, hold your bicycle in the center of the lane and continue riding until there is a safe opportunity to pull over and let the vehicles pass. Being a road-hogging jerk could save your life.

Speaking of saving lives, I snapped the image below on my commute.

I like to think that fire trucks, firemen, and even fire hydrants are doing doing their best to save lives on a daily basis. But after looking at this picture, you will have to make up your own mind if the fire hydrant planted in the middle of this driveway is helping to prevent an accident or simply waiting for one to happen.

If you ask me it's just a matter of time before someone leaving one of these houses backs out of the driveway and we end up with a version of this:

Have a great weekend everyone, if the warm weather doesn't put a smile on your face, then maybe taking up a whole lane for yourself will.

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