I’m what you’d call a “City Cyclist” I guess, if you had to call me anything. I live in the fairly large, fairly modern metropolis of Seattle, Washington. I do my 5 days a week of commuting through Downtown, 1 day a week of errands and grocery shopping, and another day of whatever. So 6 of these days I’m definitely riding in the city, and my “whatever” day is at least partially in the city. I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half, so there’s no uncertainty or anxiety any more. I don’t cheat, and I’m not really in a hurry ever. I have a nice mirror, lights both front and back, plus wicked reflective material on my bags. Some people go as far as wearing reflective vests, but I don’t think they’d add much to what I already have going. For an American city, Seattle has a higher than average percentage of people like me who commute to work by bicycle (something like 3%, so Amsterdam is still kicking our asses hard, all while smoking hash and not wearing helmets), which is nice for the feeling of camaraderie I get when there’s a little group of us. It stands to reason that people driving cars are more aware of cyclists when we’re a common sight on the roads, and they get used to seeing us and predicting our behavior. We also have a pretty good system of bike lanes, some more thoughtfully placed than others. Even with all this going for me, I was recently hit by a car.
The type of accident I was involved in is usually referred to as a “left hook”, where I was travelling in a straight line and a driver turned left in front of me, causing me to collide with what is essentially a stationary object. It’s also the type of thing my 32 year old body is getting pretty sick of. Falling down no longer holds any charm. To cover the obvious questions; I was in a bike lane, I was obeying the speed limit, I had two lights on the front of my bike, one light in the rear, reflective bags both front and rear, and reflective sidewalls on my tires. I could not have been more visible. Oh, and I was wearing a helmet if you’re wondering. The driver that hit me made two lane changes with maybe a 3 or 4 second gap in-between, neglecting to use her turn signal either time. Because there was no turn signal, I had almost no time to react. I did have time to pull my brakes hard and turn a little before I hit at maybe 15mph or so. I don’t use special shoes or clips, so I came off the bike easily, but still landed hard on my hip.
My first thought when I realized what had happened was that I wanted to cave-in that driver’s fucking windshield. How could she be so unaware, so reckless, and so irresponsible with a 4,000 pound SUV during rush hour in a city where bicycles are the norm?! Pedestrians who witnessed the accident rushed to my side to try and help, and my fury was replaced with gratitude for the care I was receiving. I also thought about whether my scarcely one week old bike was OK, whether I was injured, whether I’d be OK to ride the STP the next week, and how thankful I was that I’d had my cantilever brakes adjusted to perfection by Alex Kostelnik the day before. The rest of it is sort of blurry. The police showed up, a report was filed, and everyone went their separate ways. I was lucky enough to be relatively unharmed, especially since so many people in similar situations end up severely injured or even dead.
A couple weeks afterward, I realized that there was one thing I could learn from the situation; as a cyclist, I’m inherently more aware than a driver of what’s going on in city traffic and I can react quicker, so it’s up to me from now on. I can see more, hear more, and have a much more flexible vehicle. I can’t be at the mercy of drivers. Cars are like Bison, or Hippos, or some other equally fat-ass animal example. Bicycles are more like, I don’t know, house cats maybe? We’re way more vulnerable to injury than a driver, but are at an advantage in almost every other sense. The normal “rules” you hear about riding (be predictable, stay to the right, blah blah) have little value other than being a weak defensive strategy. Put yourself and your bicycle right where they’re supposed to be and take control by doing the right thing. I say that it’s up to me as the cyclist to be aware of the stupid things that drivers (and other cyclists) do because I’m the one with all the advantages. Not to say that drivers are stupid, but driving a car is much harder than riding a bike. Compared to a bike, a driver can hardly see a thing, certainly can’t hear a thing, and has far less of a direct connection to the vehicle they’re piloting. For the most part they don’t mean to be, but drivers are fucking dangerous. Actually, their cars are dangerous, they’re just the ones pointing them at us.
So what’s the moral of this story? You’re too good to get hit by a car. As an experienced bicyclist, you’re in control and get to make choices that are more informed by better information quicker than a driver. It’s for the same reason that you’re way too good to hit a pedestrian. Pedestrians used to have great awareness, but that got tossed out the window when “apps” started ruling their lives. Hey, I walk around with my face in the phone sometimes too, sue me. It just means that we’re now responsible for them as well. So we get to look out for ourselves, each other, drivers, and pedestrians. It’s not an easy thing, but with great power comes great responsibility. As Eben Weiss says, we are the Chosen Commuters of this world.