Monday, October 29, 2007

Motorist sets Danielo straight

On October 7, a letter written by Danielo appeared in the local newspaper. Since it was about bicycling, I noticed... and commented here. (Danielo's letter can be read there, too.)

Danielo was pointing out that if we all - cyclists and motorists alike - behave predictably when we're using the roadway, we'll all be better off.

Well, motorist and newspaper reader/writer Marsha Bowe sets Danielo straight in today's edition. (Click here for the online version; look for "Bicyclists.")

Here's what she says:

Riders' carelessness frustrating to drivers

To Daniel Foster (letter, Oct. 7): I commend you for being so environmentally and health-conscious but I also feel the frustration of those you directed your ire to. Countless times while driving in my car, I have encountered bicyclists who seem to have no regard for anyone's safety let alone their own.

This is to all bicyclists: Idaho has no law requiring bicyclists to come to a complete stop at intersections with traffic signals or stop signs, so feel free to just zip through those intersections without looking for a vehicle that out-weighs you and could smash you like a bug.

Riding the fog line between the road-way intended for cars and the bike lane does not seem real smart to me. And riding three abreast outside the bike lane on narrow winding roads and bringing traffic to a standstill because they cannot safely pass is insane from a motorist's point of view.

While driving a motor vehicle it is difficult to judge what someone on a bike will do because most of them are not as attentive as you claim to be, Mr. Foster. Not all motorists are as kind as the one you encountered.

Marsha Bowe, Boise

Ms. Bowe has some interesting (and not always correct) observations. Here's what I disagree with:

First, Idaho law does require cyclists to stop at a (red) traffic signal. And cyclists must yield at stop signs. If they're breaking the rules, they deserve a ticket - and arguably to get smashed like a bug.

Second, "riding the fog line" is frequently a very smart practice, IMO.* As a cyclist, my belief is that I'm much more likely to get hit by a motorist who doesn't notice me, than by a motorist who does. So, I try to dress in bright colors and ride close to the edge of the traffic lane (fog line), to increase the likelihood of being noticed. Besides... the closer you are to the physical edge of the pavement, the more debris, goat heads, gravel and sand, etc., you will encounter.

I agree 100% with Ms. Bowe when she complains about inattentive and rude cyclists. (The boneheads who ride against traffic, and at night without lights, and "blowing through red lights," and 2 or 3 abreast in the traffic lane, seemingly oblivious to the disruption they are causing.) They are no friends of mine, and I resent their presence on the road at least as much as she, and probably more. Because they give motorists plenty of reason to resent people on bicycles.

* More about where cyclists belong on the roadway:

We're all familiar with "Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway ... shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway..."

That's the law in all 50 states, worded almost exactly the same.

But... what's the "roadway"?

I've always just assumed it to be the full width of the pavement... and cyclists belong close to the right-hand edge. But that ain't so!

An attorney friend, who's also an avid cyclist, pointed this definition out to me. It's right in the Idaho Code:

Idaho State Code, Title 49 (Motor Vehicles), Chapter 1 (Definitions - R)
(19) "Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of sidewalks, shoulders, berms and rights-of-way.

So, technically, the "roadway" is the part to the left of the fog line, where vehicles typically travel. If you want to obey "the letter of the law" when bicycling, you ride your bike in the right-most traffic lane, as far to the right as you can get, but without using the shoulder or crossing over that fog line. And I'm confident it would stand up in any court in Idaho. (I'm more a "spirit of the law" guy; I'll always gladly use the shoulder, if it's safe to do so.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Should Cyclists Run Red Lights?

That is the question posed on, of all places, the Wall Street Journal "informed reader" blog.

It has the two seemingly-contradictory presumptions:
- cyclists need a "separate system of traffic laws" and should treat intersection signals as "advisories."
- cyclists should act like motorists.

We've got a rather unique (and good, IMO) law here in Idaho. Cyclists must slow and yield at a STOP SIGN before proceeding, but a full stop is not necessary. They must stop at a solid red TRAFFIC SIGNAL, but after stopping and yielding, they may proceed cautiously.

John S. Allen, in his awesome booklet, "Bicycling Street Smarts," makes a good point. Many traffic signals are tripped by an underground sensor, and a bicycle is frequently not substantial enough to be detected. Allen says, "If your bicycle doesn't trip the detector... going through the red light isn't against the law, because the light is defective." If bikes are legitimate vehicles, I believe it's hard to argue with his logic.

Click here to link to the WSJ blog. The responses/comments are predictable, but quite civil (as would be expected with Wall Street Journal readers, huh?).


Some thoughts in the aftermath of the "accident" that claimed the life of cyclist Sarah Howard.*

Public roads are called that for a reason. They are transportation corridors, available to all, and maintained with revenues collected from the taxpaying public.

There is a set of rules for the road. Without rules, the ensuing anarchy would render the roadways useless. There are speed limits and intersection traffic controls. There are stripes to mark traffic lanes. People who choose to use the public road are expected to abide by the rules.

People who operate motor vehicles on the roads are expected to be competent to do so. At some point, they have taken a test and demonstrated their ability to safely operate a vehicle within the confines of the rules, and without endangering other roadway users. If they become incompetent, it is expected that they would give up their driving privileges.

Oddly, anybody can operate a bicycle on the public roadways. Perhaps there should be a skills and knowledge exam. But on the other hand, the stakes seem to be much higher for a bicycle operator - his life literally depends on his safely and legally operating his vehicle. (And his life literally depends on the ability of other roadway users to safely operate their vehicles, as well.)

Vehicles that are operated on public roadways are expected to be safe, and able to be controlled by the person behind the wheel, so as to be legal and not endanger other roadway users. (If the vehicle operator isn't responsible for assuring that the vehicle is safe... then who?)

When I'm riding my bicycle in a striped, dedicated bike lane, I have the expectation that I won't have to deal with motorists encroaching into that lane.

Unfortunately, expectations aren't always met.

Sarah Howard has now been laid to rest.

There was a nice memorial "ride of silence" in her memory and honor, by some 200 of her sister and brother cyclists. It got some nice publicity on the local media. Did it "raise awareness," as intended? I sure hope so.

We anxiously await the findings of the Meridian Police Department. My expectation is that the driver of the vehicle that killed her will be held accountable.

Laws without penalties for violating them are meaningless.

To not hold Ms. Janzen accountable for killing another human being - a wife, mother, daughter, friend - would devalue Sarah Howard's life, and send an ominous message that we don't really expect you to be accountable for the safe operation of your vehicle, because "accidents happen."

* On Friday, October 19, cyclist Sarah Howard was stopped at a traffic signal, in the striped bike lane. Driver Erika E. Janzen was approaching from behind in her Hummer, when for some yet-unexplained reason, she "lost control" of her vehicle. It reportedly hopped the curb with the right-side tires and continued forward, out of control, striking Sarah and likely killing her instantly. The police are continuing their investigation; as of October 25, no charges have been filed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bike / Hummer Fatality

Evidently a woman was killed while riding her bicycle earlier today, west of Boise.

The details are still drifting in, but the latest intelligence indicates a woman in a Hummer "lost control" of her vehicle near the intersection of Overland / Eagle Roads, and ran into the cyclist from behind, as her Hummer straddled the road and the sidewalk.

The victim was a nurse at the Tumor Institute. Sounds like she was doing everything right, and was wearing a helmet. (A helmet is a great safety resource... but if you get plowed into by somebody in a Hummer, it is of limited value.)

I will reserve judgment until more of the facts are available. I certainly hope that the responsible party - whoever it turns out to be - is held accountable.

Many people are not reserving judgment. The local daily newspaper recently made it easier for readers to post comments on current events, and people have flocked to take advantage. There are definitely some strong feelings about motor-vehicle and bicycle interaction on the roads.

If you're interested, the comments can be read here.
Be forewarned:
- There are a lot of clueless "authorities" who have posted misinformation.
- There are some truly disturbing comments, like the one from somebody who's lamenting about the traffic hold-up caused by the accident. People ended up late to work!, etc.
- There are a lot of emotion-driven comments, particularly comments aimed at the Hummer. (An inanimate object. Sure - Hummers are big and wasteful and ostentatious. And they may be so wide they have trouble fitting into a normal traffic lane. But it's the Hummer operator who ultimately is responsible for its safe operation. Same with the bike.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Morning Commute

How was that drive in from south Nampa or Middleton this morning? Excellent, I hope.

My 12-minute bicycle commute stretched to 15 minutes today, because I stopped to snap a couple of photos of an excellent sunrise, at Ann Morrison Park.

(Click on either photo for a larger version. If you look closely, my bicycle is stopped at the top of the little arched bridge.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Kid-Bike Crisis

There was an attention-grabbing headline on the Fox News website this morning:

Children and Bikes: $200 Million National Health Crisis, Researchers Say

Yep. 10,700 kids are hospitalized every year for bicycle-related injuries, with an average 3-day stay.

(Article HERE.)

The Center for Injury Research and Policy (?) apparently classifies bicycling as a "recreational sport." (Kinda like the vast majority of the citizenry, huh?) And they are concerned about so many "recreational sports injuries."

(Barely mentioned is the observation that "bicycles are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product except the automobile.")

Other tidbits:
- Motor vehicles were involved in approximately 30% of bike-related hospitalizations. (That's lower than I would've guessed.)
- One-third of bike-related kid hospitalizations were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. (And they estimated 85% of those injuries would be prevented through helmet usage.)

Some folks will see this, and conclude that we need to get kids off those dangerous bicycles!

Some will probably advocate air bags or seat belts for bicycles. (Go ahead and laugh. But did you know that the 2007 Honda Gold Wing motorcycle has an air bag? It's just a matter of time 'til it trickles down. Yeah, I was just funnin' about the seat belt.)

Some will want to mandate bicycle helmet usage.

I've got mixed feelings about that. Like I do about motorcycle helmets. I'm a staunch advocate of helmet-wearing, and NEVER ride my bicycle or motorcycle without one. But it's rather depressing to think people are so stupid they won't wear one unless it's mandated. And if a brain is so defective that it won't voluntarily protect itself... do we want to mandate protecting it?

(Of course, it's a bit different with kids. You expect (hope?) that adults will have good judgment. But sometimes kids have to be compelled to do something "because I said so." I believe some of our neighboring states mandate bike-helmet usage for riders under 18; perhaps that would be a reasonable compromise. "Because Butch said so.")

The best possible outcome - if this report changes anything - is that there would be an increased awareness that kids need some type of formal training in safe bicycling... from an instructor who knows the material. When you see unhelmeted adults riding down the street at dusk, without a light, against traffic, no hands on the bars, and with their iPod earplugs firmly implanted... you can't expect them to be very good safe-cycling teachers. But that's all a lot of kids have got.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

MORE Bicycling with Boy Scouts

I mentioned a few days back that I'm working with some Scouts (age range 11-15) on the Cycling Merit Badge.

As much as I love cycling... riding with these kids has had its share of frustrations. As I told one of the other adult leaders, "I've always been impatient, so this is a good exercise for me." (We've completed two 25-mile rides now; the grand finale 50-mile ride looms, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 27.)

What's frustrating?

We schedule a ride for 8:30 Saturday morning. The participants arrive STARTING at 8:30, and going out to 8:50 or so. (And some NEVER arrive; we end up riding past their houses and rousting 'em.) Their bicycles are in various stages of readiness. We end up being "on the road" by maybe 9:15.

Once we're underway... they don't seem to understand the concept of pacing themselves. One minute they're hammering at 18mph; the next minute (literally) they're plodding along at 7 or 8mph. And of course, the "weakest link concept" is in effect - we end up going the pace of the slowest kid. (There doesn't seem to be one overall-slowest kid, however. They take turns at it.)

Both of our 25-milers have been out the "greenbelt" toward Lucky Peak. With occasional road/traffic exposure. They actually seem to be OK on the road; at least so far I haven't had a heart-attack moment due to a close call. (We've discussed the concepts of safe cycling at length... ya just can never know for sure when they're paying attention.)

One poor kid seems to be gravity-challenged. He's had crashes on both of our 25-mile rides. The first time, "horseplay" was involved. The second, he'd barely started pedaling (still in the parking lot) and I guess he hit some slippery leaves. Fortunately, neither crash was serious.

It's taken us 2 1/2 - 3 hours to finish each of the 25-milers. We need to finish our 50-miler in 8 hours or less. (Oh, what a day that promises to be.) I'm not sure we can all make it. (I'm not sure I can make it, if it ends up taking 8 hours. I could ride 50 miles in 3 hours; I'm not sure whether I can do it in 8 hours; my tailbone will be complaining bitterly!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rainy-day Riding

When the weather turns rainy, as it surely will, resist the urge to ride with an umbrella in one hand. You can dry off when you get to your destination, and it's just not worth it!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bicyclist / Motorist Interaction

There was an interesting letter in yesterday's Idaho Statesman.

(Click here to link to the web version.)

It says:


Dear driver: Don't do us any favors

Dear driver, I'm that cyclist you hate. Do you think you might consider obeying traffic laws once in awhile? When it's your right-of-way, but you stop in the middle of the road and motion for me to go, you're not doing me a favor. You're putting me at risk and ticking off the drivers behind you. Predictable road behavior — i.e. obeying the proper flow of traffic — protects both of us. You can rest assured that I'm paying far more attention on the road than you are — that's how I survive daily, year-round cycling. If you're going to second-guess someone, make it the idiot behind you that's thinking more about whether he should have gotten soy milk in his mocha than what's happening outside his metal cage.

Daniel Foster, Boise

Mr. Foster makes a good point... and does a good job of explaining one of my pet peeves.

I know the "helpful" motorist is only trying to be helpful, so I'll usually wave politely when one of 'em treats me like a pathetic incompetent... who depends on the kindness of strangers-in-cars. But as I wave, I'm almost always mumbling to myself.

Most likely, the "helpful" motorist has had close encounters with clueless idiots on bikes - riding against traffic, zig-zagging, ignoring not only traffic laws, but the laws of physics and common sense. So I don't feel like I should be too harsh on 'em.

Ideally, bicycling on the roadway is a well-choreographed ballet. I like to watch up the road as far as I can, so as to be aware of potential hazards and plan my adjustments in direction and velocity. Like Mr. Foster says... "predictable" road behavior from all parties is key, and if those friendly motorists are aware of my presence, and obey the traffic laws and drive predictably... that's all I ask.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bike / TRAIN accidents?

How many times have you had a near-miss with a train? Whoa... that's scary, huh?!?

Amazingly, there are a couple stories in the news about such accidents.

In Stuart, Florida, a 53-year-old man was apparently walking his bike across the tracks when he got clipped by a passing train. He wasn't seriously injured, but was cited for not obeying a traffic device.

Meanwhile, across the pond, a guy carried his bike across the (750-volt) tracks, then hopped back on. He was riding along the platform at the Catford Bridge station when he lost his balance and fell back onto the tracks. He hopped out of the way of the oncoming train; his bike was mashed (and the train disabled). A police spokesman described him as "extremely foolhardy."

ANYBODY who has a close call with a train is "extremely foolhardy," no?

News story links: here and here

Monday, October 1, 2007

It's raining, it's pouring...

Today I'm grateful for:

GORE-TEX... I just wore the jacket, but I've got matching pants for the REALLY rainy days. (I've tried "Gore-Tex replica," but it just doesn't quite have that awesome "breathable" quality of the real deal. Most rain jackets leave you feeling "clammy" even if they're waterproof, because they don't allow the sweat to evaporate.)

FENDERS... my "old man bike" isn't too stylin' with those fenders, but they're sure practical on days when the roads are wet.

I have another theory about my old-man bike. I'm pretty sure if it and a $89 Wal-Mart "full suspension mountain bike" were both left unlocked in a public place, the Wal-Mart Special would be the first one stolen. The assumption being that bike thieves probably aren't bike experts, and my black, dirty, unfashionable bike isn't nearly as attractive as a shiny bike with shock absorbers.

Danielo found a guy who took it a step further, and created some "rusty" decals for his bike. (Click HERE to link to his blog.) With those decals in place, your shiny frame takes on the appearance of a rusted-out hunk of junk. (At least, if you let it get dirty and grungy, like I do. I wash my bike every 2 years, whether it needs it or not!)

September Ride Report

I accumulated 601 miles in September, on 30 days of riding.

Theoretically, that keeps me on track for a 6000-mile year. (Assuming the roads stay clear of ice thru the end of the year. One year it snowed in early December and then stayed below freezing - the dreaded inversion - for the whole month, so the snow never melted. I rode 2 miles that month. Of course, that was back before Global Warming.)

I also had my first bike/car accident in many years, in September.

I was alongside a row of cars, waiting for the light to turn green. The lady in the first car (SUV) was signaling to turn right, so I was going to let her go ahead of me. (I wasn't sure she had noticed me, and better safe than sorry.)

When the light turned green, she started her turn. I started my maneuver to go around the backside of her car, and then proceed straight. Well... she suddenly and without warning braked hard (to avoid a cyclist on the sidewalk/crosswalk coming in the other direction... yep, riding on the sidewalk is dangerous). It was so sudden that I was unable to compensate... and slammed into the back left corner of her SUV. OUCH! I had partially swerved, so it wasn't a direct hit. No damage to car or bicycle... but my 53-year-old carcass complained bitterly for 2 or 3 weeks. (One of the problems of getting older is, it takes longer to recover from trauma.)

Who's fault was it? My understanding is, the person doing the rear-ending is always at least partially responsible. So I accept some of the blame. (And hopefully I've learned a painful lesson.) But she was complicit for pulling out into my path and then stopping suddenly. And the sidewalk bicyclist was also complicit.