Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Op-Ed: Can Walking and Biking ever be safe in America with incompetent idiots behind the steering wheel?!?!

Yeah… I’m pissed! I normally don’t to let my emotions run wild on this blog and try to keep it professional but I’m gonna’ let loose a little on this one. I’m really sick and tired of dealing with brain-dead, narcissistic, antisocial, psychotic, distracted and just plain stupid drivers while I’m out riding my bike. They are absolutely clueless about how dangerous their driving behavior is not only to me, other cyclists, and pedestrians but also to themselves.

As many of you might know, I’m a League Cycling Instructor. I’ve been riding almost all of my 39 years and have been a serious cyclist for over 20 of them now. When I’m out on the road these days I do my best to use all my training and experience to perfect my own personal version of “vehicular cycling.” I adapt the classic vehicular cycling techniques depending on the bike I’m riding. If I’m casually tooling around town on the 3-speed, I tend to be a little less bold. However when I’m on my road bike riding for maximum speed, I’m more inclined to incorporate more if not all of the advanced vehicular cycling techniques.

Part of that technique is to take the lane on narrow roads, where the road conditions are bad and on blind rises or corners. Unfortunately after this winter, road conditions are REALLY bad and I find myself forced to take the lane even on roads with wide lanes, high speeds and heavy traffic volume. With a good percentage of drivers this is not a problem. They seem to understand my plight and patiently wait behind me until its clear and I give them a wave of appreciation when they have a chance to pass by. But this system of reason breaks down really quickly when it seems every forth driver is either totally clueless to a cyclists needs, just doesn’t care or even worse, hates you for even daring to exert your right to the road. Unfortunately when I went for a ride this past Easter Sunday, it seemed the later 25% were the only ones left of the road as all God fearing people were at church or home with their families.

So there I was on Fresh Ponds Road in East Brunswick just south of Milltown, cruising at pretty fast clip on my road bike. Thinking that traffic would be very light on this holiday, I was in for a rude awakening very soon after starting my ride. The first mile or so of this road is in horrible shape forcing me to the center of the lane. As I approached a completely blind rise in the roadway I notice a car approaching from behind. Already in the center of the lane due to the road conditions, I followed my training and move further to the left to totally block the roadway from any sane passing maneuver. Unfortunately for me and other roadway users, this person must have left all sense of sanity at home that day because despite me waving frantically to prevent a suicidal passing maneuver, this idiot keeps on coming around me on my left. Just as I start to crest the rise in the road and with the overtaking car still 50 feet or so behind me, I notice a car coming in the opposite direction, as I feared would happen. Well the idiot coming up behind me must have been blessed with dumb luck because if they hadn’t slowed down a little to make the pass, I would have been an all too close eyewitness to a head-on collision just to my left!

Regrettably that wasn’t the first time some idiot tried to pass me on a blind turn or rise as I’ve taken the lane to prevent these idiots from being a victim of their own stupidity, ignorance and/or hubris. I had a very scary and similar situation a few years ago while riding along the Brandywine River in Chester County, Pennsylvania. That time a driver passed me on a blind rise with an approaching oncoming car, despite both my and my trailing friend’s frantic attempts to wave that driver off from passing. That incident was so close that that driver hit my waving outstretched hand with their right side rearview mirror. Fortunately that was the only thing hit and that was without injury. And last fall I had an overtaking driver nearly force an oncoming car off Cherry Hill Road in Montgomery, New Jersey despite me waving him off for what was at least 10 seconds prior to his blind rise pass. To top it off, he then curses me out, blaming me for his reckless stupidity!

Coming back to this past Easter Sunday, this first incident wasn’t the last of the motoring hi-jinx I had to be exposed to. Further down Fresh Ponds Road some hump thought it would be good fun to blast the horn as he (I assume only a man would get joy out of such idiocy) went past me at full throttle in his SUV no less. At least here the view of the upcoming roadway was unobstructed and there was no oncoming traffic. Accordingly, his pass should have been a total none incident. I think part of his “teach him (me) a lesson” moment was brought on me because, once again, I had dared to not cower in the gutter of the roadway and rode toward the center of the lane to avoid the completely unridable potholed pavement.

I could go on and on about facing death while doing everything in my power to obey the law and the finer points of advanced and defensive vehicular cycling. Unfortunately incidents like these are all too common and I deal with about one “scare the pants off me” moments for just about every 30 miles of riding. It’s very frustrating that no matter what I do to proactively protect myself and even try to enhance the safety of those in the cars around me that I still deal with incidents like these. There is not much else one can do when you dealing with people who are stupid, ignorant, distracted or brain-dead when behind the wheel. Even worse are those drivers that willfully reckless and in some cases are purposely violent with the weapon they command. How can walking and biking ever be safe if even the most confident and highly trained among us can’t even travel the roadways without feeling safe?!?!


Bob E. said...

In situations like that I usually take the lane (although it sure takes the pressure off when there's another lane in the same direction); then there are times I'm not as proactive, and I regret it when I get passed way too closely by a motorist. Neither situation is comfortable, but as you know, your safety always comes first.

Terre Haute Karl said...

Short answer to your question "no". The only solution to this problem is to start making roads wider. Let's face it: cars aren't going to get any smaller or slower or fewer, people aren't going to get any smarter or less self-centered. We can have all the rules and write all the blogs about how to ride/drive safely. But the self-centered idiots who are in a rush to get to dinner, or who had a few drinks at dinner, or who can't wait to get home to update their facebook status aren't listening and don't care. The only way to make it a little safer on the roads is to make them a little wider and give cyclists their own space. Until that happens we're sitting ducks.