An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

State of Fear

There have been a spate of posts on the various forums (or is that fora?) on a very serious subject: deaths of cyclists due to motorists.

One case, which is getting national attention, involved to apparently drunk (at 7:45 in the morning!) people, one in an SUV, one on a motorcycle. The motorcyclist, the ex-boyfriend of the driver of the SUV, had just been released from prison two weeks prior, was stunting around the SUV, showing off, passing on the shoulder of the road, and struck a cyclist from behind, throwing the cyclist into the path of the SUV.

But I saw reactions in the forums that I found very disconcerting -- people are hiding.

Whether it be riding in dank dungeons on the "drainer", or staying exclusively on closed-to-motor-vehicles bike paths or parks, they have retreated from public roadways out of fear of cars. Or more appropriately, car drivers.

Some of these people have had one-too-many close calls. They saw their lives flash before their eyes and want to make sure they're there for their spouses and kids.

Some of these people have done so solely as a reaction to the multiple posts and articles that have appeared, with no actual first-hand event as a catalyst.

And some of these people profess this reaction as if any one who does otherwise is crazy at best, and is wantonly irresponsible at worst.

I'll be the first to admit that riding out on public roads, with motor vehicles that outweigh us by magnitudes, that hurtle over land at take-off speeds of small aircraft, that are "controlled" by thin layers of paint on pavement, is dangerous. Add stereos, cell phones, texting, mobile make up artists, Happy Meals in the back seat, or any of the other impairments available (not to mention alcohol or other judgement-impairing drugs), and it can seem like we're lucky to make it home from any ride.

And I'll also be the first to admit that cyclists themselves can be their own worst enemies. Ignoring traffic laws, darting through cars, using the shoulder to pass a long line of waiting cars (who JUST had to pass, and now have to do it again!), blowing through stop signs, riding in large groups and taking over the road... It's no wonder that motorists aren't so happy to see a cyclist on the road. To them, if you're on two wheels, you're exactly like the jerk who was riding in the middle of the lane just a mile ago.

But to retreat to my trainer? Or ride only on the local multi-use trail? My joy of riding would be killed in short order. That's not to say I don't do these things, but they only constitute a part of my training.

Why is this such a worry to me?

Because I feel that there is a solution out there, somewhere. But if CYCLISTS think that the solution is to remove cyclists from the road (by their very actions), then what do we expect as the solutions proposed by those who already see us as nothing more than kids who never grew up, who couldn't put away our toys when we got our driver's licenses, who cause them to have to swerve into the other lane (dammit), or slow down (dammit!), or wait for an opening to pass (DAMMIT!!!)?

Yep. If cyclists see the solution that way, we can expect nothing less from politicians and traffic planners.

I see this growing thought around areas where multi-use paths have been constructed -- that's where bikes belong, and NOT on the road. Never mind that the path doesn't go where I want to go...

I refuse to live my life in fear. I am not afraid to ride on the roads. The only time my bike has gone horizontal is due to other bikes, never because of a motor vehicle. I'm not saying it could never happen to me, that I'm somehow immune or invincible.  I have a healthy respect for traffic. But I also act like traffic, ride predictably, signal turns and lane changes (when I need to move over into a left-turn lane), and will most often yield right-of-way to all cars at 4-way stops. And though I get the occasional horn honk and one-finger-salute (and they'd do the same to any cyclist), the occasional "get a car!" from the teenager who just got their license, for the most part my rides are uneventful with regards to interactions with motorists.

I truly don't think the statistics surrounding cyclist deaths are any worse than they have been historically. I do believe that they SEEM to be worse, because social media and the internet have made access to the reports much more available to us.

They've garnered a state of fear.

Don't give in to it. Don't live in fear. Let it inform you, let it feed a vigilance while on the road. But don't retreat. Don't hide.

I believe, as one poster (dennis) put it on Slowtwitch:

I have found that the more bikes people see the more they learn to cope with share the road mentality. Share the road signs let people see that bikes are allowed on the road. If you have a bike club get on the radio stations and do education. Talk to driver education classes. Things will change but we need to be proactive.

Amen to that.

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