|Occasionally, the Danger DOES Come from Behind, Prompted By Something Ahead|
I’ve been fortunate in my commutes, because they have generally avoided locales where I had to ride east, directly into the sunrise on westbound roads with heavy, high speed traffic or into the sunset in the same kind of traffic. I was reminded this morning just how fortunate I’ve been, when unusual circumstances led me to ride into the sunrise on eastbound Trinity Boulevard in east Fort Worth.
Motor traffic travels about 50mph along Trinity. It’s a four lane road with no shoulder or bike lane. It is the type of road I ride frequently with no problems whatsoever. What made it scary this morning; was many motorists did not slow down appreciably when the morning sun reduced their ability to distinguish objects (such as cyclists) up ahead. Thrust into this situation, I felt very vulnerable indeed, because my margin of safety was reduced – and by an unknown amount. Sure, I was able to see well enough to avoid any obstacles up ahead, but it was not clear that one of "those motorists back there" might not get blinded by the sun. As it turned out, this morning, everyone was watching well enough that things did not get ugly and there were no close calls or hard braking, but I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief when I made my left turn and headed north. The motorists were scary because they were unpredictable, or so it seemed to me. While they were every bit as courteous as MY motorists and drove well and politely, they were not MY motorists. They were dangerous. I could FEEL it.
I like roads and conditions where motorists see and notice me a mile or two before they need to pass. Such roads and conditions almost universally apply in North Texas, and in most urban areas where motorists can actually drive at high speeds. Even if a motorist is distracted or impaired, distance, and a cyclist riding where the motorist is going to LOOK gives the motorist lots of time to react without any drama or fuss. My riding lane position contributes to early motorist recognition and reaction. During the entire time of “the honk project,” I was never honked at due to a motorist being surprised by my presence. Honking was invariably due to misguided irritation at my mere presence, or due to a misguided attempt to let me know someone was going to go by. Knowing what my motorists behind are going to do allows me to focus most of my attention on the principal danger – hazards ahead of me.
Thinking back upon my misspent youth, four motoring circumstances where a properly and legally operating cyclist ahead of my car might have been most at risk included:
- When it was foggy – driving too fast for conditions
- When the windshield was partly obscured by frost or rain – driving too fast for conditions
- When sun obscured my vision – driving too fast for conditions (and this most recently occurred last week, though I was driving less than 10mph at the time. If you can't see, you CAN'T see)
- On twisty roads where a cyclist up ahead might be obscured – driving FAR too fast for conditions
As a cyclist, I’d rather NOT need to be lucky. I cycle defensively and conservatively; albeit assertively. Route planning and knowing local conditions, like weather and light, help me avoid many sticky situations. Experience and training help a lot, as do modern satellite maps. Viewed rationally, the situation this morning was not risky enough that I felt it necessary to simply get off the bike and walk. It was, however, stressful enough that I didn’t feel my fellow road users were MY motorists. Instead, I was sharing the road with a scary truck operator I wasn't confident could clearly see what’s straight ahead. It was a reminder of what many people riding bikes experience on a daily basis. They are out amongst road users they see as dangers rather than simply fellow road users trying to get from point to point safely. I would not ride in such circumstances unless I had no other choice. This morning was a good reminder. I’ll try not to repeat it any time soon. It has increased my sympathy for people unused to cycling on regular streets with no special cycling infrastructure. Feeling secure, even if such a feeling is illusory, makes a real difference.