Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rights and Reason

I missed October and November. Lots happened, but I never took the time to put it into words. Now, as I write this, I recall what happened.

After forgetting October, I vowed to not be such a slacker. My resolve would have lasted had I not been a too close witness to a bike meets car event.

Taking one of the trans-campus routes, the pedestrian and bike underpass of 13th Street, I joining the mixture of students and staff rush hour traffic. With a campus wide 20 mph speed limit, it’s a relatively safe place to ride despite traffic volume. A young lady passed me approaching a four-way intersection. She was on a Specialized Hardrock and obviously hurrying to her destination. The traffic light changed to green as she passed the rear quarter panel of the car that had been second in line waiting for the light. Exactly when the car’s right turn signal illuminated, I can’t be certain, but the girl did not see it. As the first car entered the intersection the second car began its right turn. She was well into the driver’s line of sight before he commenced turning but he did not see her, striking the rear wheel of the Hardrock. I saw it in the proverbial slow motion and opened my mouth to call a warning, knowing, even as the thought processed, that any warning would be too late. As she and the bike disappeared from view beyond the offending car I dropped my bike against the curb and hurried to aid her.

Oddly, the first thing I noticed and was tempted to pursue was her water bottle, let loose by the fall and now the only movement in the busy intersection now held motionless by the tiny drama. Good sense prevailed and I gently lifted the bike so she could extricate her leg from between frame and water bottle cage. Someone else helped her to her feet and led her to the curb and the overwhelming silence disappeared as observers accepted that she had survived. They could return to their personal thoughts and issues again.

Knowing how I would react if I’d been hit, I gave the bike a quick look, seeing nothing more than a derailed chain. Turning, I asked if she was OK. She responded, “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?” She hadn’t and I told her so. In fact, I grasped her upper arms and looked into her eyes. They were slightly unfocused and adding to her bewildered appearance. Slowly and softly I repeated, “You did nothing wrong,” perhaps three times then encouraging her to sit down. She did, then drank from her retrieved water bottle. “Your bike is OK,” I told her when she glanced its way. And it was OK. So was she, beyond some nasty abrasions on her leg and arm.

The young woman had done nothing wrong. The driver had made the big mistake. His inattentiveness was the only obvious fault. Yet, the rider had failed to protect herself. She was distracted by her mission or was too bold in her riding. She paid a small price. She was fortunate.

If we are going to ride among the steel herds we must be hyper-attentive. It is imperative that we know everything about our surroundings so we can avoid and escape when the time inevitably arrives. Right-turning vehicles do not always signal. Drivers often multi-task the wrong things while driving. We cannot control that. Asserting our right-to-the-road or displaying our foolishness makes little sense when we do it around two-ton vehicles piloted by inadequate or inattentive people. Discretion and caution are essential to safety and survival. We must accept that even small mistakes can have large consequences.

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