Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Door Swings Both Ways

I've been back to riding for a week now.  Hard.

Hey good for me.

And one thing I'm certain of, having been off the bike for nearly three months, is that a lifetime of riding on the road makes you numb.  A layoff like that, and a subsequent return, makes you almost hypersensitive to your surroundings when you get back out there.  You're aware of things, maybe you knew were always going on, that are just patently not good.  And now you care.

Now, this may be more a function of having had a traumatic accident, or me being a newly minted father on the verge of 40 years old; it's hard to say.  But I am absolutely attuned to the kinds of dangerous behaviors that both drivers and cyclists engage in, and should not be.  And in equal measure, they infuriate me.  Drivers and cyclists alike, I hate them.  And I'm both.  Oh the paradox.

Cyclists are the minority.  They always will be.  I don't care if they have equal rights, or any rights at all, in the eyes of the law.  The law doesn't mean shit when it's 4,000 pounds against you and a foam helmet.

Cyclists, despite not being the ones at the wheel of a killing machine, bear the greater responsibility.  Responsibility for their own safety.  You can never, ever presume a driver will follow the rules, because the consequences of holding your high ground are preposterous.  If you're right, and the driver is wrong, you're still dead.  It won't mean a damn thing.  Your stupid idealism got you killed.

Here are some equal opportunity infractions that make me insane.

1. I'm riding a bike alone along the white line, and a driver behind me decides to give me ample room while passing.  That's great.  Except the driver crosses the center line, directly into the path of an oncoming CR-V.  Rather than wait even one second to safely overtake me, all three of us converge to become simultaneously parallel on the road.  This is always a near disaster.

2.  A rider comes upon an intersection and stops at a red light, pulling to the head of a row of stopped cars in front of them.  As a driver, I'm turning through the intersection from the opposite direction on a green light that the cyclist cannot see.  The cyclist progresses through their red light directly into the path of my oncoming car, having decided that for some reason, they're entitled to treat a red light as a stop sign.

3. You're a Jeep, waiting at a stop to make a left turn.  I'm on a bike, coming down the road you're planning to turn onto, traveling in the direction you're planning to travel in.  But because I'm not a car, I don't matter and you turn anyway just as I am passing through the intersection, very quickly bringing us dangerously close to one another.

4. I'm driving up a road with my daughter first thing in the morning, preparing to take a right hand turn.  Just before I reach the turn, a cyclist comes screaming through the intersection from the other direction, blowing the stop sign, demonstrating zero awareness of oncoming traffic.

You can rally all you like for driver education.  There is no question we need it.  We need continuing driver education.  Re-certification.  Not even aggressive requirements in this regard; shit, it could be every ten years and still be exceptionally effective.  It would begin to shift the tide.  As it is today, you will never, ever revisit the rules of the road after age 16.  Times change, but drivers do not have to.  That's the essence of it, that's our culture, that's what we've created.

To that end, we as cyclists need to educate ourselves, sure.  But the greater need there is to stop riding like assholes.  Because we are the minority, we're under a microscope, whether we like it or not. Depending on the locale a driver will see a hundred cars in a day but maybe one cyclist.  And guess which contingent they're likely to remember.  Bikes on the road, relative to cars and trucks, are unique.  Be a good steward.

And as a driver and a cyclist, follow these basic rules, as distilled from the anecdotes above:

1.  If you're a driver approaching a cyclist, don't cross the center line in order to pass them if there's an oncoming car.

2. If you're a cyclist, a red light means the same to you as it does to cars.  There are no special provisions for you.  You wait like everyone else.  In traffic, you are effectively a car.

3.  If you're a driver, you need to yield to a bicycle with right-of-way just as you would a car.  Yes, bicycles can have right-of-way.

4.  If you're a cyclist, stop signs and the concept of left and right lanes apply to you, just like they apply to cars.

Be a considerate cyclist.  Don't piss off a motorist.  When the chips are down, you won't win.  Follow the rules, wave and be polite, and be thankful you have the ability and opportunity to be out there.

Be a considerate driver.  Not every cyclist deserves your wrath.  If I'm not the one who just did you wrong, don't take anything out on me.  We're people with families we want to go home to, just like you.