Friday, June 13, 2008

New traffic laws

I was thinking about my fellow bloggers the other day. I decided there was no good reason I couldn't do a 12 mile round trip (distance to the grocery store). So I hauled the beast out of the garage and started pedaling.

Heather, I've got a whole new respect for your commitment to getting around without a car now that the temperatures here have started climbing. And Green Bean, I thought about your beautiful sounding bike ride, wondering what I was missing, because mine wasn't that lovely at all. And I thought about Charles, and vowed that triahlete was never going to be a word to describe me.

To be fair, I was probably a little jaded yesterday. I had only gone about 1/2 mile, when I heard a car approaching behind me. I could tell it was moving pretty quickly, which I thought was odd since there was a clearly red light not far ahead. Next thing I knew, this guy was flying by me, leaning on his horn, and coming really really close to me. Like he wanted to scare me into thinking he was going to hit me.

Well, it worked. He scare the daylights out of me. I usually avoid confrontation like the plague, but I was MAD. So I did what any angry, overheated woman would do. He had come to a screeching halt after nearly sideswiping me, so I started yelling at him. Really loud. More like screaming, I guess. I think it went something like this "EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? I SAID WHAT IS YOUR DAMN PROBLEM? HEY! HEY! YOU CAN'T JUST TRY TO RUN PEOPLE OVER BECAUSE THEY'RE IN YOUR WAY. JERK! HEY! WHERE ARE YOU GOING THAT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU NEED TO BEHAVE THAT WAY? HEY! JERK! HEY!"

Well you know what, he wouldn't even look at me, much less respond. After I tried so nicely to communicate and all that. I will admit that I have a bit of the proverbial Irish temper, and it was all I could do not to smash in the windows of his ugly ass fire engine red mini van, or let fly every curse word I know. And I know a lot. But I restrained myself - but I needed to retaliate in some way. I don't have a great ability to let things go right away. So I called the cops on him. I'm sure they didn't do anything - after all, a drunk lady smashing into my house with her gigantic SUV was a problem they "didn't have the manpower to deal with" so I'm sure this wasn't at the top of the pile, but a girl can dream.

At first I thought maybe I was over reacting, and although I will admit that my motivation was that I was really really angry, I actually believe this was an appropriate response. After all, a car is a deadly weapon if not handled responsibly. There's a reason that the term "vehicular manslaughter" exists, after all. Not only was this guy not driving in a manner safe for existing conditions (the condition being that I was also on the road), I consider what he did to be threatening with a deadly weapon.

Am I bit dramatic? Well, yes. But on the other hand, (mom skip to the next paragraph, please) there have been close to 200 bicyclists killed in my county in the past ten years. The problem is bad enough that there's going to be a Town Hall Meeting to Discuss our Bicycle Safety Crisis.

So without further ado, drivers, please follow the new traffic laws I've made up. Or I'll give you a fake ticket. And yell at you too. Here they are:

1. If you park on the street, open your eyes before you open the car door. Sure, bikes don't go as fast as cars, but we also need more than a foot of stopping distance. If you open a door into a biker you create a very dangerous situation.

2. Be aware of the bicycle rules in your area. It doesn't matter if you don't want to share the road, if the laws say that bikes need to ride on the road, that's the situation. Just like it doesn't matter whether you want to stop at a red light. That's what the law says. Deal with it. Or get off the road.

3. Don't intentionally try to scare people on bikes. It's not funny and you might get somebody hurt.

4. If there are just a few parked cars ahead that a bike is passing, don't squeeze yourself into the mix too. Slow down and let him or her finish passing the parked cars and pass the bike when you have a wider space to do so. It won't make you any later than you already are.

5. If you see a pothole, or a piece of garbage, or other crap ahead in the road, be aware that a bike can't just blow through/over/past that stuff like a car. We need to go around it, so if you see a biker ahead, don't assume he or she is going to keep to an arrow-straight path.

6. Right turn on red requires you to come to a complete stop first. Do so. You can't be sure of what is around you unless you do. This is for the safety of pedestrians too. I've seen several nearly taken out because various drivers were in too much of a rush.

I was thinking a lot yesterday about our human resource infrastructure (I made that up - basically I mean public employees like police and fire fighters) and how it needs to be overhauled to make it safe for people to be more environmentally conscious. Our city always talks about various green issues, but the vulnerability of the non-motorized vehicles on our roadways is a serious problem that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Pedestrians and cyclists should be fiercely protected, as should public transport passengers, especially when it's dark outside. That's called putting your money where your mouth is, and it's time we start doing it.

After I finished writing this post, but before I actually posted it, I saw on the news that today in my city a 12 year old girl was riding her bike home from the last day of school and was hit by an SUV and later died at the hospital. I will be keeping her and her family in my thoughts, and hope you will too. I don't know the details, so I'll try not to pass judgment on the driver, but what a tragedy - and how unneccessary.


Debbie said...

My thoughts and prayers also go out to that little girl's family. I am buying you an insulated body suit, knee pads, elbow pads - all in bright orange, lime green and neon yellow! There will be flashing lights and a non-stop siren that blasts out an ear piercing noise. Of course, soon many people won't be able to afford to drive their autos and we all might be biking.

Grey said...

Well, now you just might be my hero. Temper or not, I happen to think that in this case, the yelling and screaming was well justified.

I once backed out of a parking space haphazardly, within really checking. A woman walking behind the car thumped the trunk really loudly and started screaming and swearing at me (she was right to do so). From that point forward, I have always been VERY CAREFUL about backing up! Hopefully you had a similar impact on that driver.

Heather @ SGF said...

That's aweful. I have a few stories myself. People here are notorious for speeding by you and cutting you off to make a right hand turn. I've almost been hit way too many times to count. Ugh! Hang in there though.

arduous said...

Yeah, I'm too much of a fraidy cat to bike. So I walk, which is much slower, but at least I get to stay on the sidewalk. Of course when I cross the street, I have to be careful because half the time, you're right. Those drivers turning right ignore the fact that, hello, there are pedestrians CROSSING THE DAMN STREET!

I am so sorry to hear about that little girl. What a senseless waste.

d. moll, said...

It is scary, here one is, trying to do the right thing and being in DANGER. In High School one of my close friends would ride her bike to school every day rain or shine and she got hit by a school bus and lost a lower leg. We have had three fatalities in the last year, just in our little burg. I try to have non-car days and ride my bike, taking side streets and sometimes illegally riding on the sidewalk. I figure if I get busted by the cops I'll just tell the truth "I don't feel safe riding in the street".

Green Bean said...

Like D.Moll, we sometimes ride illegally on the sidewalks too - where it is really crazy or busy. My mother is terrified for me to ride my bike. She is also scared to death of us getting a smaller car because we might be hit by an SUV. I have to believe that as more people get out in bikes and gas makes SUVs more and more unfeasible, we'll shift toward safer roads. In the meantime, though, it's damn scary!

Beany said...

For the first two years or so when I started using my bike to get around the city, I rode on the sidewalk. Of course now I think people who ride on sidewalks are jerks because they tend to scare the living daylights out of me, but...that was how I got comfortable with the idea of riding in the city.

A few years back I had some sort of a lightbulb moment. Its a bit on the negative side, but I'll share. I pretend these inconsiderate drivers are complete morons. And since I don't except morons to have any sort of common courtesy, why expect them to be nice to me when I ride my bike?

My husband hands out dollar bills to every jerk that buzzes him on the street. In the city its pretty easy to catch up to them, so he rides up to them, and hands them a dollar bill for teaching him a valuable lesson in patience, empathy and a few others I cannot remember right now. Usually the driver apologizes profusely ("didn't see you", "I'm so sorry", "blah, blah, blah). But it really diffuses the situation on my husband's side and makes him feel better.

I on the other hand wish the worst things on them. I am not a very nice person.

Sades said...

I'm glad you are back on the bike. Nate, my husband, and I don't own a car, and have been commuting by bike for a few years now. It is quite an adventure, but change isn't going to happen if some of us aren't willing to get out there and brave the streets and crazy drivers to set an example. I am interested in the adventure this will become when we have our new baby in November. Keep riding, it is worth the effort, for your health and the environment. It will certainly save you a lot of money too.

Melissa said...

debbie, I hope people start biking more so they'll think about how drivers can affect bikers!

grey, I think it's good that you learned something from that incident - too many people would forget all about it and do the same thing a week later!

heather, isn't it funny how a car driver seems concerned about racing a bike? when it would take about 5 seconds to just wait until you've moved?

arduous, I think you are wise to be a fraidy cat. it means your survival instincts are working well!

d moll - there are times when I've used the sidewalks too because there's just too much traffic. I almost hope a cop will stop me so I can tell him how scary it is being on the street. Not sure it would help, but still.

green bean - speaking of moms, did you see the new wardrobe mine has designed for my bikeriding, up in the first comment there? maybe your mom will get you one too :)

beany, I LOVE your husbands idea! I imagine it makes him feel so much better afterwards! do they actually take the money? :) I have to admit that I'm much more inclined to take your approach though!

sades, how do you ride with a baby? are there special back carriers or something that you can use? I'll be interested to hear how you figure that out.

Chile said...

In our city, there are road rage laws that include motorists intimidating cyclists. The key is to get the license plate number and call it in immediately.

I agree with Green Bean that, eventually, the number of bikes on the street may be so great that change will happen. Unfortunately, I suspect the transition may be rough.

We've already noticed that poor driving seems to be on the rise - and our theory is that people are just so damned pissed off at everything going on in the world now that they are angry drivers. After all, being behind the wheel of a massive car is a position of power.

We also suspect that some drivers hate cyclists because we're "getting over on them" by not having to pay the high gas prices. Yes, some morons actually think that way. They don't think about the fact that, as a cyclist, I'm paying for food to fuel my ride and I'm sweating like a pig out in the heat while they enjoy their A/C.

Wow, sorry for the long rant. Can you tell this stuff bugs me, too?!

Beany said...

Melissa: one has taken the dollars yet.

And enjoy your trip.

Cindy said...

I laughed so hard when reading about your rage againgst the irresponsible, ill-mannered, and mean-spirited ass. I would've done exactly the same thing considering I had once repeatedly screamed at a jerk with all 3 curse words I knew in Greek. Not speaking the language doesn't even stop me.

My husband regularly rides to work and he has been side-swiped a number of times. Mostly because people were just careless multi-taskting drivers.

The best way to encourage bikers and ensure safety is to establish physically separate bike lanes, not like the puny ones like ours, but like this:

In a few European countries, apparently that is the norm.

Melissa said...

Chile - I like your theory about people driving being angry thus driving more aggressively...I think you're onto something! I'm going to check if we have the road rage laws here too!

Cindy - that bike lane is awesome! I want one!!