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.

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.