It’s a Sign

Celebrating the new "No Turn on Red" sign where I was struck because of an inattentive turn on red.
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Have you ever wished for a sign?

Me, too. And I got one!

A “No Turn on Red Sign” has been installed at the intersection where I was hit by an inattentive driver.

It is hard to explain how happy it makes me to see this sign. It feels like a big love letter just for me from Arlington County.

I am so grateful for the biking and bike advocacy community in Arlington and the DC area who I have gotten to know better in these last few months. The folks at WABA & BikeArlington are doing great work and offer many helpful resources.

I am especially grateful to Gillian Burgess of Kidical Mass Arlington and everyone else at the Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee who drafted and submitted a letter to the county manager requesting the “No Turn on Red” sign at this intersection. They specifically cited my being struck as an example for the need for the sign.

It is nice to know that sharing my story has helped improve a little corner of my community.

After the Crash

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I have delayed writing this post with an update after the crash. I was hoping that I would have a triumphant post with a photo of me on my bike.

When I sat in the middle of the road that morning in October still in disbelief that I had actually been hit, I could not imagine that I would not be back to my regular routine more than 2 months later. This is partly because I was in shock and partly because I was in denial.

Something that sticks in my mind that my physician said as I hobbled out of her office a few days after the crash, “She has a great attitude.” That sounds really positive. But what I have found that in our healthcare system, a good attitude coupled with high pain tolerance and low levels of complaining will get you a lot of medical delays.

As a person who tended to avoid allopathic treatments, I had always assumed that these practitioners would be chomping at the bit to conduct a battery of tests and expose me to every kind of radiation and imaging possible.

As it turns out, they seemed to be reluctant to conduct further testing despite my continued pain. Every time I was in the presence of a health care practitioner, I asked the question, would it be a good idea to get some more imaging? Perhaps to look at soft tissue injury?

It took 6 weeks of appointments, phone calls & physical therapy sessions for the health care practitioners to begin to consider what I had intuited all along, there is something more going on than just bruises and strained muscles. Though, there were plenty of those, as well.

Maybe they were trying to save me money? Maybe they really thought it was just bruised bones & muscles? It is hard to say exactly why they were not inclined to order an MRI until time showed that my pain persisted.

On Christmas eve, I spent 5 hours getting my MRI sandwich. MRI followed by Arthrogram of my hip and then another MRI. It was not a pleasant way to spend the day but you know me and my good attitude, I figured I should appreciate it especially if it resulted in a definitive answer. Something clear. Something fixable.

As it turns out, I did get an answer. I have been walking around with a fractured sacrum for all these weeks. Geez, no wonder it hurts so much.

It looks like it could be quite sometime before I am back out on the bike.

I am sad to have had the way of life that I had finally embraced taken away from me against my will.

I am tired from so many appointments at different doctors offices. But, I am grateful that I have access to high quality health care even if its processes and my healing both move at a slower pace than I like.

Unwelcome Answer to My Question

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At approximately 7:25 a.m. on Thursday, October 24th, I was struck by a car while riding my bicycle. It was after daybreak, it was light out. I was riding in a bike lane with traffic on Fairfax Drive crossing a side street ( Wakefield St.) and preparing to enter the sidewalk to connect to a multi-use trail.

I was wearing my usual gear- my bright, yellow and reflective safety vest over my bright fuchsia rain jacket. My lights were on, I have reflectors and reflective tape in all the right places. The light was green for me. I obeyed all traffic signals, stayed to the right within the lane, scanned the intersection to make eye contact with any persons in stopped vehicles.

Despite all of my efforts to be predictable, alert, lawful and highly visible; the accident came down to a disturbing and unwanted answer to the question from the blog post I wrote 24 hours prior to being hit, entitled “Can you see me now?”.

The answer came directly from the driver of the car that struck me. She said to me, ” I was only looking for cars. I didn’t see you. I wasn’t looking for bicycles.”

Another answer to my question came to me while waiting for X-Ray results in the hospital bed in the ER:

A person cannot see what they are not looking for. If you do not believe you are going to encounter something, you will not see it.

So, this left me wondering what was missing from the equation. I had done everything right and still I was hit. I was being a PAL ( Predictable, Alert, Lawful) but the driver was not.

The driver was turning right on red from the side street and because she was only looking for an opening in the car traffic, she did not see me in my ridiculously bright clothing or my headlight as I crossed the intersection ( no “A” for alert).

As she hit me, her car was going too fast to have been stopped behind the crosswalk and I did not see her car when I initially scanned the intersection. This leads me to believe that she had NOT come to complete stop before proceeding to turn right on red. ( no “P” for predictable or “L” for lawful. )

How do we demand that people pay attention? Especially in a world where people are traveling through the environment more and more distracted. I am not sure.

How do we raise awareness about how important it is to look for EVERYONE, especially pedestrians and cyclists, when driving?

I imagine the woman who hit me with her car will look out for cyclists for the rest of her life. Probably everyone who knows me or has heard my story has had their awareness of bicycles on the road raised to a new level. Maybe this is part of the “something good” that can come out of me being hit by a car. Although, I don’t think this kind of accident martyrdom is a sustainable model for raising awareness.

I certainly can’t recommend the experience of getting hit by a car. It really sucks ( a lot more than riding without incident on a cold, dark rainy morning).

I am grateful that I wasn’t killed or that my injuries aren’t more severe. But I can’t say I feel lucky. I am in pain and dealing with the shock and trauma of being hit by a car.

I will get back on my bike ( assuming it is ride-able). I might hesitate at first to go that particular route again. Although this is a heavily traveled pathway for cyclists and pedestrians. Perhaps, Wakefield Street would be a good candidate for one of those “No Right Turn on Red” signs.

Can you see me now?

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I was on the road this morning at 5:45 a.m. It was cold, dark and rainy. As I heard the approaching car from behind me, I repeated my breathy  mantra while pumping up Wilson Blvd, ” Please see me, please see me”.

On days like this, the escape velocity to get out of the orbit of my warm bed inside my warm house is off the charts and feels nearly impossible.

Against all odds, I made it out and you know what? It sucked. Just a little but then once I made it to the gym,  I felt proud. It wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.

The irony of biking to a spin class is often hard for me to overcome but is it really any less ironic to drive a short distance to exercise at a gym?

Thankfully, the rain stopped while I was inside the darkened cycling studio that feels like a  post apocalyptic training center for those who are to compete in some kind of stationary TRON-like sporting event. Don’t get me wrong, I love these classes. Perhaps that is obvious to you based on what I am willing to do to attend one.

As I suited back up for the outside world, I put on all my reflective, hideously bright gear, turned on my lights and headed out for the trail. Back on the multi-use trail, I often notice or rather my vision is accosted by something.

Some people have insanely bright lights. Too bright. And they have them flashing. The rear light flashing, I get that. I do that. But why do they insist on turning my ride into a potentially seizure inducing, blinding rave from hell?

More is not always better. I know that you want to be seen and be able to see. Good idea! But if the other cyclists are blinded and the drivers annoyed, you may actually be more dangerous than the ninjas who like to go without lights and wear dark colors.

Virginia law requires that you have one headlamp that is visible at 500 ft. I am actually not sure how bright that needs to be. I intend to get scientific about it and investigate. Does anyone know if those cute little lights Bike Arlington & other organizations give out meet this requirement? I hope so because I love those lights!

I am fairly certain that the lights I have seen far exceed that requirement. I could be wrong.

But I stand firm in my assertion that a blinking front light is a terrible idea.

My final plea to my bright-lighted cycling compadres… Please consider the eyes of those that you will cross paths with and point those lights towards the ground and make them steady.

An Audible Warning

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Multi-use trails, a respite from the hectic traffic that the DC area is known for, right?

If you have ever set foot, bike tire or hoof on the W & OD trail on  sunny  Saturday morning, you might know that the experience can be quite the opposite.

It is great that so  many people use the trail for bike commuting, running, walking, rollerblading , horseback riding, standing still in large groups to have conversations and confused looks when angry cyclists swerve around them at dangerous speeds.

The issue is that with so many different uses & high traffic there are countless opportunities for accidents, frustrations and weird interactions.

So there are these cute little signs that have a list of rules and recommendations for trail use. They are in fairly small print and lengthy to boot.

I am a rule following type so I actually have stopped and read the rules ( more than once). It is pretty unrealistic that the entire population would have this same tendency and really unlikely that those who do read rules interpret them the same way.

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http://www.nvrpa.org/park/w_od_railroad/content/rules

http://www.wodfriends.org/trail.html

One of the rules posted on signs along the trail is to give “an audible warning when passing on the trail”.

I think this is a good rule.

Nothing like being snuck up on by a person on a $5,000 bicycle outfitted in $500 worth of clothing to scare you into to doing something stupid like swerve right into them or off the trail.

Is it really such a bother to say ” passing on the left”?. I know you may not want to weigh down your carbon fiber masterpiece on wheels but bells work great.

If you are pedestrian using a multi-use trail, I have one piece of advice, expect bikes to pass you. They might be of the silent ninja variety or over-eager bell ringers, or vocal  ” on your left” types.  But there are bicycles on these trails, my friend.

I am a bell-ringer, myself and I am always amazed by how many pedestrians look  shocked when I sound my bell.

There are times when I have a choice between to different bike-able routes to a destination. The question I ask myself is – Do I want to deal with the bike and pedestrian traffic on the trails or the car traffic in the bike lanes?

It might seem like an obvious choice given the potential for serious injury with cars. But I often choose the bike lane to deal with the cars ( when I am not pulling  my daughter in the trailer) because of the stress I feel with dealing with the complex soup of passing pedestrians who are passing other pedestrians and sharing the trail with cyclists that are unpredictable due to the variation of rule following styles.

I have had some terrifying near misses that have mostly to do with people moving too fast or pretending like they will have the whole trail to themselves as they travel through blind curves.

There was a recent accident between a runner & cyclist.

http://fallschurchtimes.com/41477/jogger-and-cyclist-suffer-life-threatening-injuries-in-trail-crash/

Bike Arlington ( a program aimed at increasing more biking in Arlington) has a cute acronym to remind everyone about how to travel through the environment with safety in mind.

Here is a link to their website:

http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/pal-safety-on-our-streets/

“Be a PAL” is their campaign. It stands for be Predictable, Alert and Lawful.

I like it because it short and to the point and applies to everyone, no matter their chosen form of transport on a given day . So many times lists of rules become overwhelming and the tendency for many of us is to ignore them.

So, be a PAL when you are passing someone on the trail and give an audible warning.

Stopping to read the rules AGAIN.

Yelling and Yielding

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Sharing the road isn’t always easy.

On occasion while riding my bicycle,  I am yelled at by a person driving by in a passing car who seem to be angry at my mere presence. I have been told to “get on the sidewalk!” or “get off the road” and it made me so mad that I wanted to spit. I yell back with all my asthmatic might, ” I am a vehicle, this where I belong.”

I like to be informative.

It is true, though. Bicycles are considered vehicles on the road.  And yes, people riding on bicycles are expected to follow the same laws of the road as those traveling in motorized vehicles. I know, I know, a lot of cyclists don’t. It is maddening and I curse under my breath every time I see a cyclist blow through a red light.

On the other side of it, adults on bicycles have no business riding on sidewalks. The thing is lots of people do not know this either. And faced with being on the road with cars going 10 mph over the posted speed limit, I understand why folks make this choice.

When I have followed all the rules, planned my actions carefully and someone decides to slow down in the middle of an intersection, risk the lives of everyone around, to express their displeasure with my existence on the road, I feel defeated.

I wonder if this person assumes that all people on bicycles are riding for fun. For many cyclists on the road, their bicycle is their only vehicle.

I think it would help if we all do a couple of things.

1) Remember that inside the vehicles are human beings. You know, people, just like the ones you know and love.

This is a daily exercise for me and I often fail miserably.The road is such a tangle of movements and decisions by so many players, it is easy to witness someone doing something completely ridiculous or dangerous or just plain stupid and then react and comment.

So when I make commentary on other people’s driving, whether from the seat of a bicycle or behind the wheel of a sweet Mustang borrowed from an incredibly trusting friend, I try to remind myself to be kind and think of the person inside/ on the vehicle.

And then someone cuts me off and I am back to vocabulary like  “idiot” or “dumb-ass”.

I am a work in progress. As is the whole system.

2) Acceptance of what is.

Look, if cyclists are constantly annoying to you, I understand. But here is the thing, they are here to stay. In many places, like Arlington and DC, riding a bike makes sense on every level – economic, health, time, environment  So, it makes sense for us all to learn how to drive around cyclists and cycle around cars and pedestrians. As well as,  learn the rules/ laws and follow them.

Learning to get along with a little more yielding and a little less yelling matters. In fact it is a matter of life and death.

Lets think of it the 3 components like rock, paper, scissors.

car = rock

bike= scissors

pedestrian = paper

Except in this scenario paper never wins.

Car vs. Bike- Car wins

Car vs. Pedestrian- Car wins

Bike vs. Pedestrian- Bike wins ( seriously you can kill a person with your bike)

So pedestrians always lose in the collision department. They deserve extra care. Is it really so bad to wait for them when they have the right of way?

Some great resources for learning the laws and good habits on the road are:

http://www.bikearlington.com

http://www.waba.org

http://www.bikeleague.org

It’s Like Riding a Bike

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Transport by bicycle is both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Somehow, simultaneously.

At times, the weight, wind and topography make it seem like mission impossible to get across town.  The weight of the trailer carrying my 35 pound daughter, the lock, the snacks, and whatever it is I feel the need to drag along with me, tends to make me feel like an underappreciated pack mule.

We considered another option for carting around the offspring. It was the holy grail of cycling for transport for us for many months. We fantasized about how we might import one from Denmark, how we might build one ourselves and then finally we found a bike shop in DC that owns one and rents it out.

The Christiania Bike!LIGHT3115

It seemed like the answer to our prayers. The kiddo is in the front where she can easily be seen and monitored. Theoretically, what one can push might be more than what one can pull?   So, we metro-ed into DC and gave it a whirl. Our facial expressions in the photo below tell it all. We hated it! And I could not imagine maneuvering that thing on the hilly rides around Arlington. My thought was, this bike would be perfect for some place really flat with a well established bicycling infrastructure,someplace like, um…Denmark.image

Once the fantasy bike faded, I embraced my trailer set up more and more and now I feel naked without it, albeit slightly liberated and faster. This might also have something to do with being alone.

The easy part,  you ask? For many of the short trips around Arlington, I can get there in about the same amount of time as I do driving. Especially, if you include finding a parking spot. Also, it is possible to go places you can’t go in a car.  I have been discovering  nooks and crannies and bike trails of Arlington that I didn’t know existed.  Furthermore, arriving somewhere by my own effort gives me such a sense of accomplishment.  When I arrive at my destination,no matter how the ride itself went, there is always that “I did it” moment.

I can see this in the expression of my daughter when she first started pedaling on her bike solo. She couldn’t stop smiling as she propelled herself across the church parking lot. I am pretty sure that most of the time I am riding my bike, I wear the same perma- grin  across my face. I am giddy and proud.

What to Wear?

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Getting dressed to go out  into the world is so different without my climate-controlled,  Swedish chariot awaiting my every travel whim. Weather becomes a contact sport. With my new level of exposure to the elements, recent local weather patterns seem  rather moody perhaps even vindictive at times.

A few examples:

The  late March snowstorm in which my daughter and I got completely soaked just walking to the bus stop to go pick up a zip car.

The day in mid April when it was 91 degrees for my  first trip taking my daughter to her swim lesson via our bike trailer at noon!

The mid May unexpectedly frosty 42 degree temperature for my 4:45 am ride to the gym that made me wish I was wearing full fingered gloves.

My interest in weather apps went through the roof once I began to rely on my bicycle as my principal mode of transport. My awareness of temperature, wind speed and direction, hourly changes in the air temperature, humidity and precipitation have skyrocketed. Basically, I use all of this data to decide what to wear.

My other wardrobe consideration?  How can I be seen so that the drivers who are mesmerized by their own favorite apps on their devices might look up at the road for a moment to swerve out of the bike lane and avoid hitting me? This season’s must have fashion item? See the photo below in which I am wearing my bright yellow safety vest with reflective tape. It is not terribly attractive but it has become my safety blanket. My husband wears a matching one, so yeah, we are THAT couple.

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I thought we were trend setters, maybe future millionaires after introducing our  new line of brightly colored safety wear. As it turns out, these fashion statements already exist in droves. On the trails and in the bike lanes of Arlington, one can see a wide range of highly technical cycling and fitness wear in colors such as, ” Please Don’t Kill Me Pink”, ” Yes, I am on a Bicycle Yellow” and ” Out of My Way Orange”.  Although, I can’t say I have ever been a big fan of colors that are an assault to the retina, they are much better than ” I have a death wish black or brown” which are both so last season!