Monday, August 24, 2009

Bike Safety And Hard Times

Barbara and I were talking (in the car) about why people get angry with bicyclists. I’d gotten angry at a biker who, behind me on my right-hand sidewalk, had blown our stop sign and surprised me as I turned right. I knew he was there, and I dropped the ball by not tracking him. Barbara said she’d read speculation that bikers irritate drivers because drivers are afraid of how much we can hurt them.

I get mad at them because they’re boneheaded morons who do any fool thing they want, and expect me to cover for them because of their relative weakness. Barbara thought that relative weakness might evoke a sadistic impulse among a certain kind of driver.

So we have three different reasons drivers might feel unfriendly toward bikers:

1 Drivers are afraid of injuring the slower, lighter, and more exposed bikers;

2 Bikers’ vulnerability brings out the bully in drivers;

3 Bikers are themselves rude and provocative.

When I was in grade school, circa 1960 and in a town of about ten thousand, a couple of firemen would come to our school and tell us how to ride our bikes safely. (There were no female firefighters then, and I don’t know why it was the FD and not the PD.)

Apparently this practice is gone with the wind, or a lot of bikers weren’t paying attention that day. Some of riders who do the inattentive biking are adults who look like they aren’t used to bicycles. They aren’t the wiry, Lycra-clad yuppiletes, with shaved legs and funny shoes, but often wear jeans or slacks and smoke. I infer that biking is a recently adopted expedient. Circumstances recently obliged them to find more economical transportation than their ‘93 Catalinas, and they said, “How hard can it be?” A sign of hard times.

Recently my neighborhood paper, the Corcoran News, printed a story on bike safety (“Bike Safety” by Tiffany Smith, July 2009). Here are that story’s recommendations:

“Seek to be seen by acting like a vehicle:

“Ride on the street, with traffic. Bicycling on the sidewalk is illegal in some parts of the city, and dangerous to both pedestrians and cyclists. It’s easy for drivers to accidentally hit fast-moving cyclists coming off sidewalks, where drivers don’t expect them.

“Use front and rear lights at night.

“Ride predictably: signal your intentions and avoid swerving.

“Follow all traffic lights and stop signs.

“...but ride defensively and don’t assume drivers can see you.

“Avoid getting ‘doored’ by people exiting parked cars. Give the cars several feet clearance and look for taillights or other signs of imminent door-opening.

“Watch for right-turning vehicles driving next to you -- they could end up in your path.”

Riding a bicycle isn’t for sissies. You’ve got to do it mixed in with much faster and heavier vehicles, driven by drunks, rage-aholics, and cell phone users. You need to know what you’re doing, stay tough, stay courteous, and pay attention like you’re operating a sheet metal brake.

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