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 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, it 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.