On Biking, Packing, and Flying
The driver, Juan Campos, was driving drunk, and claims to have fallen asleep at the wheel. He was returning from an all night drinking binge with his girlfriend on Playa Bagdad, according to Mexican authorities. He somehow managed to swing his 1989 Gran Marquis around the event's police escort before slamming into a dozen bicyclists. In the uncropped version of the photo, it looks like it wasn't too difficult. Click the photo at left to see for yourself.
I was reflecting on that horrific incident (I won't call it an accident) as I went about my morning ride. We had a light case load at the hospital and I had asked to be off as a result. After making certain that there was no need for my presence in any cases this morning, I set out on the Armstrong one speed I had built. The air was refreshingly cool, and I was wearing a bright orange jersey and a bicycle helmet. I had reflectors and blinky lights. It was not enough.
I could have been flattened by an absent minded woman backing out of her driveway while applying her cosmetics. She never saw me until she was in the street with me stopped, glaring at her. I could have been crushed by the high school kid who made a wrong turn down a one way street and then swerved into the bike lane to avoid oncoming traffic. Finally, the barking and drooling dog that ran out with a territorial vengeance could have driven me towards death in traffic. Somehow I survived. I do not think it was by happenstance.
Bicyclists could learn a lot from those who carry guns. Not surprisingly, bicyclists often look condescendingly towards those who take self defense seriously. Instead of seeing themselves as somehow above the need, they should consider taking some practical tools from the concealed carrier's toolbox. And I don't mean a gun.
The successful long term concealed carrier survives not because he carries a gun, but because he practices avoidance. Those who simply strap on a hogleg without modifying aggressive behavior will find themselves sooner or later incarcerated or dead. All too often, bicyclists are passive aggressive on the road. They scream, shake fists, whine and form Critical Mass rides to claim their piece of the road. All the while, drivers blithely steer their two ton vehicles around, beside and sometimes over and through them.
If bicyclists were truly the evolved creatures they like to envision themselves as, they would realize that an encounter with a 50 mile per hour 3000 pound torpedo is one which they will lose. The only answer is avoidance of the accident. Because of the disparity of force, the onus is upon the bicyclist to survive.
Another painful realization many cyclists learn in intensive care units is that the police arrive to mop up the mess and clear the streets. They are not there to save you. They are not there to preserve your rights. They do not have a bag of justice to sprinkle over scenes of bent cromoly and broken bones. They are there to gather evidence. They are there to re-establish the flow of orderly traffic. That is the reality, and if bicyclists do not accept it, more Ghost Bikes will be chained to street signs.
Pilots have a lot to offer bicyclists as well. Wise pilots personally inspect their aircraft prior to each flight. They know they can not step out of a failed aircraft and walk home. Likewise, a bicyclist who has a failure of his ride in traffic will likely not walk home. There is an old saying among those who take to the skies.....There are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots. It is true. The pilot who constantly pushes the outside of the envelope will sooner or later find himself too far outside it to squeeze back in. Then he must rapidly sort through an escalating array of algorithms in a widening dance with disaster. Finally, pilots learn to think and react beyond the nose of their aircraft. Bicyclists must learn to think and react far beyond the front wheel of their bike. If they fail to recognize the impending threats of unaware drivers wielding moving blockades and crushing weights, if they fail to appreciate the benefit of preplanning a route, and if they fail to understand the role of luck, both good and bad, then the cyclist will soon or later come face to face with Reality. Reality is an inflexible bitch of a mistress that will not be ignored or denied. Her partner, Physics, is blind to all the wails for civic justice and cyclist progress. Together, Reality and Physics are going to have their way.
In the end, it is up to the bicyclist to decide for himself whether he wants to take effective control of his survival, or become a once shrill but now silenced martyr to the realities of the road.