"Wishin' and Hopin'"- by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. (Sung by Dusty Springfield), ABC's of Visibility, Bicycles, Bicycles for Transportation, Corona Virus, COVID 19, Lockdown, North Carolina, Peter Townsend- "We're Not Gonna Take It", Pogo/Walt Kelly- "We have seen the enemy and it is us.", Rules Of The Road
In Peter Townsend’s song We’re Not Gonna Take It he wrote, “See me, Feel me, Touch me, Heal me,” and today I’m going to focus on the importance of the first two while cycling so as to prevent the necessity for the last one.
June will mark my fortieth year of successful cycle commuting, a noteworthy feat in light of the fact that bicycle commuting is ranked as the most deadly per capita means of getting back and forth to work.* (Transparency dictates a confession that I suspended commuting by bike for most of the 27 months I languished in the hellhole known as Florida. Those fools’ll kill ya as quickly as they’ll run a red light.) Safe cycling is both an art and a science and has a very steep learning curve. I’ve only been struck once while commuting (The other two times I was just out riding.) and I’ve managed to avoid being struck since June 1987. (Okay, I crashed May 2019 when I had to slam my brakes on hard in a downhill left turn when a driver blew through a stop sign and turned left in front of me, but technically Robert G. didn’t hit me.)
Traditionally distracted drivers have been my cycling nemesis but COVID 19 has changed all that, now, to quote Pogo/Walt Kelly, “We have seen the enemy and it is us.” The Corona Virus “Lockdown” has the good citizens of North Carolina mostly staying home to the point that traffic-wise every day is Sunday and the lack of diversions and a desire to stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy is bringing folks out into the great outdoors in droves. (BTW- if we all decided that taking care of Mama Terra Firma was a real priority and decided to replace driving everywhere with a whole lot more cycling then the whole car/bike interaction would be turned upside down and the risk to cyclists would become a minute fraction of what it currently is in our car crazed country.)
I am seeing folks walking, running, cycling, and PLAYING more than ever before and with parks closed they’re using sidewalks, greenways, and residential streets as their playgrounds to which I shout a heartfelt, “Hallelujah!” After decades of singing along with Dusty Springfield and, “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’,” that people would get out of their cars and take to the streets by bike, trike, or flight it’s happened! Hooray!
Or not hooray.
Remember those distracted drivers and that steep learning curve I mentioned above? Applies to all the folks who’re out and about and don’t have a clue concerning how one is supposed to, or is legally required to, proceed. My dream of peaceful coexistence with my fellow enlightened cyclists and outdoorsy folks turned out to be overly optimistic. Same folks who drive their cars without regard for others feel it’s their right to do what might while walkin’, bikin’, and runnin’ as well, and it’s driving me NUTS!
Let us begin with the simple reality that a bicycle is a vehicle governed by the same laws as other vehicles. The law DICTATES that we must cycle WITH traffic, not against. Stop signs, traffic lights, turn-signals, yielding right-of-way and NOT DRIVING ON THE SIDEWALK are also legal requirements for cyclists. (NOTE- some glorified sidewalks are Bike Paths and therefore exempt from the law that makes cycling on the sidewalk a legal no-no.)
I will return to bikes in a moment but first let’s focus on the gray area of walking and running:
-It is recommended that we walk and run FACING traffic and either use a sidewalk or stay close to the curb.
-For the love of everything holy, if you live in an area with a leash law you must keep Fido on a leash! I’m sure you’re sure your little fur-baby will never do anything inappropriate but when you do not abide by a leash law you are screaming entitlement and a belief that your Right to flaunt the law supersedes the Rights of everyone else.
-Proceeding with traffic, headphones blaring, oblivious to the world, out in the middle of the lane, crossing the street without first checking over our shoulder to make sure no one is sneaking up from behind is a really bad idea if we wish to get home unscathed. So is not dressing for the occasion.
There is no doubt that black is slimming but when we are moving about with other pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers it is imperative to realize that Bright is RIGHT! Ditch the dark and wear clothes that allow others to see us. The life you save may be your own!
There is no arguing that bicycle helmets reduce death and serious injury. It doesn’t take a car slamming into a bike for a brain to become permanently injured. Things happen, and a helmet is cheap insurance that ups the odds of a crash resulting in a boo-boo rather than a life altering or ending tragedy. Put your helmet on, make it fit, and snap the buckle!
After accepting the unequivocal importance of helmets and understanding that, “Yes! The rules of the road apply to you!” the next item on our list is learning our ABC’s. ABC’s are a visibility mnemonic that will help everyone see us.
A is for, “Always on,” and it refers to eye squintingly bright, intermittently flashing head and taillights. BOTH! Most bike car collisions happen in intersections and that makes a headlight your best friend. Your intuition may tell you that a taillight is more critical than a headlight but just like the misguided notion that sidewalks are safe places to cycle so too do stats and facts prove time and again that hits from the front in intersections are our real enemies.
B is “Bio-motion,” or bobbing up and down. Our brains are hardwired to detect moving objects more readily than stationary and it is our feet, knees and lower legs bobbing up and down and, after our daytime bright head and taillights, it is these that attract the most attention.
Bio-motion works hand-in-hand with C, or “Contrast.” See those pictures of me looking like an Easter Egg? That is CONTRAST and combining those bright colors in a psychedelic explosion gets me noticed.
In addition to following the rules of the road, wearing a helmet, and practicing my ABC’s I also use a rearview mirror that I check regularly. Keeping our head in the game is critical if we wish to coexist and live beyond our COVID pandemic and I hope each of you engages in virus fighting measures, gets out and about and helps our fellow passengers on our big blue planet make themselves and the world as a whole a whole lot better.