“Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgment.”
Did you see the Weekly article “How I got Hit“? I’ve been meaning to get to this for 2 weeks, but I’ve been busy with work… and I was grumpy. I’m still busy and grumpy, but I can’t let this go any longer.
The quote above has been attributed to dozens of people. Whatever its origin, it is a quote that every pilot can recite.
I got my private pilot’s license in 1996. I worked at it harder than I did on my college degree, probably because it meant more to me than my college degree. More than any other education, flight school shaped my thinking about actions, reactions, judgment, consequences and personal responsibility.
One of the key things I learned in flight school is to identify the chain of events and decisions that lead to a crash. We would look at crashes and talk about how they happened and how they could have been avoided. It’s a whole lot less painful to learn from someone else’s judgment errors than your own!
The thing that is drilled into a pilot’s psyche is that the PIC (pilot in command) is responsible for EVERYTHING. You can’t pass the buck and there are no accidents. It sure would be nice if the rest of our society operated like that.
How I got Hit
I was naive. I shouldn’t have been. I’d been riding for 15 years. But I really didn’t understand the dynamics of bike lanes because I didn’t have much experience with them. What I saw was a line of backed up traffic and an inviting, reserved space just for me to pass all those stopped cars. Suckers. This, I thought, was the bicycle version of an HOV lane—my reward for driving a bicycle.
It was peak rush hour on Edgewater Drive. I sailed past the traffic. I vaguely knew to look for right turn signals. I kinda knew to look for cars turning left through gaps at intersections. But I had a whole lot more faith than was warranted… assuming others placed the same significance on that reserved bicycle space that I did.
As I approached the intersection at Harvard, there was a Lynx bus stopped in the lane. I could see the left-turn lane and it was clear. But as I passed the bus, the front end of a jeep was suddenly in my path. I had no time to react. I had not taken a bike handling class, so I didn’t know any emergency maneuvers — like the Instant Turn or Quick Stop. I hit the front right side of the car and catapulted over the hood. I landed on my forehead (crushing the front of my helmet) and scraping my chin on the pavement. I was a little stunned, but intact. The bike’s front wheel was tacoed and I’d put a sizable dent in the jeep. I ended up with a crushed finger tip (smashed between the brake lever and the jeep), a sprained wrist, road rash on my chin and a nasty bruise on my ankle.
It turned out the motorist, a nice young man, had tried to make an illegal crossing of Edgewater. The streets are off-set and he had tried to make a left into the center lane, then cross in front of traffic to make a right onto Harvard. He couldn’t see the bike lane and I couldn’t see him coming from the other side of the bus.
OPD charged him with failure to yield. The crash was legally his fault.
But what did I learn?
I was riding in a sight-line shadow. I had a vague awareness of the dangers, but I really was operating too fast to react to them. I was giving more weight to my false sense of security than to the potential risks. The ability to pass stopped traffic is a great advantage to riding a bike, but it comes with risk. It must be done with caution, not speed.
I’m not much of a queue-jumper anymore. It makes me nervous. I tend to look for routes that avoid roads with lines of stopped traffic (ahem, motorists DELAYING EACH OTHER). In the rare instances that I do pass a queue, I do it very slowly and cautiously.
The amazing thing about cycling is that it is so incredibly safe when you understand where the conflict points are. With adjustments in speed, knowing where to look and knowing where to position yourself, you can ride hundreds of thousands of crash-free miles. It’s funny how idiotic and incompetent I used to think motorists were and then how dramatically smarter they got when I changed my behavior.
I was biking on the sidewalk when…
So, back to the Weekly article. Um, what was the freakin’ point? It begins with the typical anthropomorphized vehicles and the sensational crash rankings:
All too often in Florida, bicycles and automobiles don’t get along. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in April pegged the Sunshine State as the leader in “pedacyclist” fatalities: 119 deaths, more than California (109) and New York (51).
It glosses over Mighk’s statements, then gives us the first-person crash descriptions. Lots of drama. Few details. No introspection. No takeaways. There is nothing constructive about the article. There are some clues there, though. So, Dear Readers, have a look and tell us what we might learn from these crashes.
Cycling is not dangerous! It is, in fact, safer than driving a car. Making it seem dangerous by exaggerating a few personal crash stories with no analysis does a huge disservice to cycling and cyclists. Some people may think they achieve something by whining about how dangerous it is, but it has negative consequences. What it does is further feed the belief that we do not belong on the road. It feeds a system of injustice that devalues our lives because we’re foolish and have a death wish to do something so dangerous.
Could motorists be more aware, cautious and courteous? Of course! We have work to do in improving motorist behavior and attitudes. But in spite of a traffic culture that is way less than perfect, cycling on the road is SAFE. When Mighk analyzed bicycle crash reports from 2003 and 2004, he found that of all the crashes only 8% of the cyclists were riding on the road, with the flow of traffic and obeying the rules. What does that tell you?
CommuteOrlando’s challenge to the Weekly
Want to do something R A D I C A L? Come ride with us. Let us show you the Dance. Let us take you on a road you think is scary and show you how not to be scared. Let us show you… then tell your readers how a bicyclist finds empowerment to THRIVE on the streets of Orlando.