Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aren't you happy to get here safely?

I'm on the road at the same time and on the same route every morning. I see the same motorists day after day.

I know when the Crotch Rocket Kids are coming because their motorcycles have a distinctive high-pitched whine. These two guys ride to work together every day. They're normally in echelon and I think that's probably a good idea on a relatively narrow road.

There's Dinky Boy in an econo-box that sounds as if it's powered by a lawn mower engine. The car seems to be taller than it is long.

I saw Scooter Guy most mornings last summer, but I heard he was involved in a crash with another motor vehicle, and I haven't seen him since. When I arrived at work that morning, some co-workers were waiting out front to see if I was on the bike. They'd heard about the crash north of the base and were concerned that I was involved. I suspect there may have been some betting going on. I liked chasing Scooter Guy when I had a tailwind.

Black Helmet Guy rides a Harley. It makes the usual thumpa-thumpa exhaust sound. Fortunately, the bike is still equipped with original mufflers so it's not terribly loud.

White Helmet Guy rides a quiet Harley too. But he's a dick. He's blasted by me very close while laying on the horn. There's a problem with daily commuting – especially when our hours are the same. I watched for him on my way home one afternoon, and then hooked him as he was passing. He reacted by going over into the on-coming lane. I could hear him yelling but I couldn't make out what he said. (For those who may not know, hooking is an illegal maneuver in bicycle racing. Normally, it's done during a sprint when a rider is trying to pass. The leading rider does a quick wobble that forces the overtaking one to slow or change his line. Hooking can easily result in a crash. I would imagine that hooking could be considered an illegal maneuver under our traffic laws too, but I've never heard of anyone being charged with it.)

I saw something this morning that was simply mind-boggling. As I approached 46th Street from the north, the light was green but I knew from long experience that I'd never get through it. The dump truck driver behind me, however, was undeterred by the prospect of the light changing. Sure enough, well before we reached the intersection, it turned yellow and then turned red. The dump truck never slowed. The light had been red for at least a second before he got to the stop line. He barreled on through. Cross traffic had quite sensibly remained stationary when their signal turned green. But the truly amazing thing was that the dump truck driver applied his brakes in the middle of the intersection, slowing as he exited it to the south, and then immediately turned left into a diner parking lot. He was willing to endanger several lives in order to save a minute or two in getting to those biscuits and gravy.

It wasn't over yet.

Cross traffic started moving. I waited for the light to change. More cars and trucks were queued behind me. The light changed, giving southbound traffic a green. Again, I looked on in amazement as traffic coming from my left didn't slow down. Five cars and trucks ran the light well after it had turned red.

An all-too-common complaint from motorists is that cyclists don't stop for red lights or stop signs. It's beginning to look as if motorists won't be bothered with them, either. There's a huge difference between a 250 pound vehicle and one weighing 2000 pounds or more when it comes to a collision.

While I locked up my bike at work, another co-worker was getting out of his car in an adjacent parking space. “Aren't you happy to get here safely some mornings?” he asked. I gave him my usual boilerplate answer – that I'm more concerned with dogs and skunks on the road than motorists, and that the most dangerous part of the ride is the trip across the parking lot. But after watching the mayhem at that intersection, I'm not so sure of these pat answers.

Later in the morning, I saw a letter from Jerry Rink in the Tulsa World. He complained about encountering a bicyclist doing '5 mph in the middle of the lane.' He yelled at him to get over and the cyclist informed Rink that he (the cyclist) had the right of way. Rink had the usual bitch about cyclists restricting traffic, but went on to say this:

I'd have liked to run him aside if it weren't for the legal problems!”

I think there's clearly an implied threat. If Rink met a cyclist when there were no witnesses around, how could we expect him to react? Would he react as angrily to a tractor or a couple of motorcycles rolling along slowly? I'd suspect he would not, if only because a farm tractor could destroy his car, and annoying motorcyclists is a good way to acquire a large boot print in the door. Cyclists are fair game, however, because it's unlikely that we can catch him.

Motorists have a common assumption, sometimes called the universal law of speed, that presumes they can go as fast as they want to, whenever they want to, and that anything that causes them to slow down is inherently un-American, anti-social, and often times downright evil. Going slowly is a sin. Cyclists are big time sinners and their low speed causes other, presumably upright citizens to fall prey to the same lack of morality. Or some such bullshit.

A cyclist's relatively small size and obvious vulnerability makes harassment easy. I think that laws requiring a minimum of 3 feet minimum separation when passing a bicyclist is a good first step. South Carolina recently went further with 56-5-3445. It's a misdemeanor to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of anyone on a bicycle. LINK (In Oklahoma, it's a felony to throw an object at a motor vehicle. No similar provisions apply to cyclists, however, since a bicycle is a “device” not a motor vehicle.)

An obvious question about these laws has to do with enforcement. In my experience, unless a police officer witnesses the offense, it's difficult or impossible to bring charges. That may be changing as more cyclists use small, unobtrusive video cameras like the Oregon Scientific ATC2K. I'm thinking about getting one, though not for pursuing scofflaw motorists.

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