Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Confessions

Because confession is good for the soul ( or perhaps for jumpstarting the lack thereof…), I have two stories to relate:

My First Confession:

Wednesday last week, I was driving home ( versus biking home which is my normal routine). I came to an intersection at which there was a combination McDonalds/Gas station on the right, and I was in the right lane, planning on turning into that parking lot when I got there. My right turn signal was on. Traffic was backed up, so I was not near the entrance for that parking lot yet and I was stopped. However, I was right at the entrance for a bank parking lot which connected to the McDonalds parking lot, so I initiated I right turn into that lot. I checked my inside rear view mirror out of reflex, but only saw the big pickup behind me and the SUV stopped behind him. I did NOT check my right side view mirror, as I was in the far right lane already, and I was looking out the right window at the entrance to the bank parking lot ( for you detail sticklers, yes, my side view mirror was technically in my field of view at that point, but I was not focused on it). So, just as I began to turn the steering wheel, but before I let my foot off the brake to hit the gas, a flash of green, black and white blows by me on the right, between my car and the curb. A cyclist passed me in the ~2 ft area to my right at a good clip.

Let me make this perfectly clear; If I had been a bit more aggressive on the gas or starting a small fraction of a second sooner, I would have cut him off. I did not see him until it was too late. Barring a heroic leap over the curb on his right, he would have impacted my car. My guess is that he was doing around 20 mph, in that tight space, he could not have been going much faster. Probably not a fatal accident ( although possible) but certainly a fair amount of bodily injury and property damage.

Although I’m not a lawyer , I suspect he was legally in the wrong. Regardless of the legality, I was disturbed. I put in an awful lot of miles on my bike, so when I drive my car, I am very, very conscious of cyclists. I check mirrors, when I open my car door on the street I always look, I pass very safely, etc. I had seen and passed this same cyclist a mile up the road, but I had not thought that he might be coming up again on my right. He simply was not a part of my situational awareness by the time I got to the intersection, and I darn near collided with him because of it. I feel I made two mistakes: I did not check the side view mirror ASSUMING there was no way for traffic to be there, and I forgot that I had passed a cyclist a while back that may be catching up.

All that being said, and even more disturbing, I used to do EXACTLY what that cyclist did: passing stopped traffic on the right. I previously never considered that a car would do exactly what I had almost done. I stopped doing it because I realized it was generally stupid.

My second confession:

I ran a red light this morning. I don’t mean a red light in the middle of nowhere with no cars as far as the eye can see. I mean I drove though a red light with cars starting to move. I had to do a bit of dodging and weaving. No really close calls, but a clear potential. Why? I don’t know.

I honestly just did not see that the light had just turned red. It was one of those situations where all the other visual signs said “green light”: no cars stopped next to me, no other lanes moving. It was a case of me just being on auto-pilot and not paying attention. The kind of thing that gets people killed. Let me say that I have about 20,000 commuting miles, many of them on that same stretch. I have NEVER had that happen before. I’ve done stupid, dangerous things before, but always as a conscious decision. As far as I know, I have never just blown through a light by mistake. It really shook me up.

That’s two major incidents in under a week. None of which caused any damage, but both certainly woke me up. Its interesting that these events have occurred after I have made a conscious effort this year to become a safer, more careful rider. Apparently this is being offset by the complacency that comes from following the same path over and over.


-Evil C.