Friday, July 6, 2012

Sad Loss - Ride Carefully

Yesterday the news broke of another cycling fatality, this time quite close by.  Steven Jordan, director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services was killed when he was struck by a tractor trailer (see article).  This is such a sad and avoidable loss.  My prayers are with Mr. Jordan's family and friends.

Of course there are the numerous comments about the incident ranging from "cyclists should stay off of the road" to "cyclists should just always take the lane" to make vehicles wait until there is a clear lane for passing.  At one level, this accident just reflects the reality that, when bikes and motor vehicles share the same roads, there will be tragic encounters.  Before we make sweeping statements we must take some time to live with the sadness of such a big loss for Mr. Jordan's family and friends. And it's a big loss for the driver who did not set out to do anyone harm and now lives with the reality that he has taken a life by his negligent driving.

I have had my own close calls, with drivers buzzing by a foot off of my handle bars and once, while riding just to the right of the white line on a busy road a tractor trailer went by just on the other side of the line less than a foot away.  Terrifying experiences that could have ended very differently.  This prompts me to put down in writing a few things I think reflect some basic wisdom in survival riding.  One can never be totally safe but at least one can work to increase safety!

  1. Whenever possible, sacrifice distance for safety.  Pick routes that offer the safest riding conditions even if it means a longer commute or ride.  Some bad roads are unavoidable (trying going north out of downtown Raleigh) but avoid the avoidable ones.
  2. Ride defensively.  Think ahead about how you might escape a dangerous situation.  On narrower roads I make sure to leave a foot or two to my right in case a vehicle is passing too closely - it gives me room to change the situation.
  3. Take the center of the lane when you know it is not possible for a vehicle to pass you safely AND when you know there is sufficient line of sight behind you for the car to see you and adjust their speed.  Going over blind bridges or around blind curves are such occasions, but only if there is not a blind curve behind you.
  4. Take the center of the lane when you are approaching stopped cars.  Make sure to signal to the cars behind you that you are about to slide over into the lane.  Do not pass the line of stopped cars on their right.  Just be patient and wait in the line.  You want drivers to be patient - well we cyclists need to be patient as well.  You don't want to be beside cars when they don't know you are there.  Get in the line and then slide back to the right side when the line is moving faster than you can.
  5. Take the center of the lane when you are moving at the same speed as the traffic.  In stop and go traffic, just act like a car.
  6. Don't blow through red lights!  Wait for them to turn.  If there is no traffic and the light won't turn because of no "trigger", then I do go through.  But only after waiting a bit to see if a car will come to trigger the light.  I know this removes some of the perceived advantages of biking (passing lines of cars and not waiting at lights) but the greater advantage will be greater safety and less animosity from drivers.
  7. Keep your line!  Don't weave in and out of the traffic.  Predictability is key.  Cars behind you need to know where you will be when they reach you.  On the other hand, if a car passes too closely on my left I will often "swerve" a bit to "encourage" the next car give me more clearance.  They don't WANT to hit you.  But when you are changing your line always give a hand signal - you want to be predictable.  And when cars respond by slowing down to let you shift lanes or change lines, always give them a wave of thanks!  It will encourage future good behavior.
  8. Expect the dumbest things.  My dad always taught me to drive as if the drivers around me will do stupid and dangerous things.  Like stopping just as they enter a parking lot leaving anyone turning in behind them stranded in the road.  Same goes for biking.  Expect the worst.  Whenever I am approaching an intersection and I hear a car speeding up beside me I always think they might be about to do a right hook.  Don't fight them for the position.  Slow down first and see what they do. I've avoided at least three of four accidents that way.
  9. Now, use the comments to add to the list.  Let's help one another out by sharing wisdom.  But be nice and respectful of other cyclists and drivers or I'll remove your comment...nicely.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great blog, and some really great advice on riding. I agree with having to blow through a red light when your bike doesn't weigh enough to trigger it, but I have noticed one thing that I think other cyclists should look out for:

    If you're at a light and there happens to be a crosswalk signal button, I say go ahead and scoot over to push it. If there are no other cars around, you'll have time to get over there and you can cross with the crosswalk light, and on-coming traffic will be guaranteed to be stopped. This is definitely not true for all intersections (especially in the triangle), but it's something to look out for to give you that extra bit of protection while at an intersection.