Wednesday, April 6, 2011

start seeing cyclists, please

In the early minutes after midnight yesterday, at an intersection in the middle of Anchorage a cyclist and an automobile driver collided. The cyclist was killed. I didn't know Wil Curry. But until his name was released around midday, Wil was every cyclist I know who makes their way through Anchorage's streets at all hours of the day or night. Putting on lots of miles; using his bicycle as his primary vehicle; enjoying each ride.

As with any vehicle accident, it will be investigated. Until it is complete, we won't know the details of how it happened. Even an investigation can't tell us all the answers, such as what was on the mind of the cyclist and the driver as they progressed toward each other. But we all know that a moment's inattention when we're driving or cycling (or walking) can lead to terrible consequences.

You look down at your watch or cycle computer to see the time and look up just in time for a big pothole. You glance sideways before reaching for a glove on the passenger seat and another car is moving into your lane and braking. How many distractions do we entertain while out navigating the world? How many times have I been deep in thought and forgotten to turn someplace?

Right now there's no way to comment on the story that appears in the Anchorage Daily News. I wonder why. Maybe because of the kinds of comments that crop up after high-profile events like this one: cyclists shouldn't be riding at night; cyclists shouldn't be on the road (he was on a path); drivers aren't paying attention; drivers are rude and don't yield at crosswalks. The list of grievances is long. As a cyclist and a car driver, I'm paying attention to what people are saying, but one thing is for certain: the automobile has the upper hand.

Most bicycle/car collisions seem to take place at intersections when cars are turning right. My message to drivers is simple: When pulling up to an intersection, stop before the crosswalk and look both ways. Then look both ways again with your focus not on the kids in the back seat or the person with whom you're talking on your cell phone. Really look. Then yield to the cyclist and give them a signal so they can cross safely before you pull ahead to make a right turn on red.

For cyclists, we're told to dress brightly; the law tells us to use a headlight and a taillight during dark hours. We're told to put reflective tape on our bikes or our clothing. We do all this, yet this cyclist was hit even though his bike had lights. So, cyclists, despite all you've done to make sure people see you, you are invisible; not even a mirage. The idea that you might appear at an intersection and want to cross has not occurred to many drivers, no matter what time of day. Keep that thought in your head whenever you ride and ask yourself "do they see me?"

It would be a fine day for cyclists when we could trust all drivers to pay attention and yield to us. But to mangle the exprssion: "Don't trust. Verify."

Take your time, and please be safe out there.

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