An open letter to “The Bloody Cyclist”
After reading an open letter by The Bloody Cyclist about a collision between the author and a Metro bus, I’d like to offer the following open letter in response:
Dear Bloody Cyclist:
I am unfamiliar with the area that you are describing so I can’t comment on the conditions that may have led to this collision. While the buses we drive are indeed “really big”, we are constantly bombarded with training messages to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. It is also clear that we need to stay out of the bike lane except “… to execute a turning maneuver”. (Thanks for quoting the entire Seattle Municipal Code on bike lanes – Many cyclists sometimes forget this part)
For what it’s worth, we have excellent visibility in our mirrors. I find driving a 60 foot bus easier than driving my Prius because I’m higher and the mirrors are much larger. Despite these advantages, there are many blind spots that we must compensate for by “rocking and rolling” when we are in the seat, so nothing is perfect. In addition, gauging how far a car or cyclist is behind you can be tricky, especially on a 60 foot coach. That’s not an excuse for missing somebody in the mirror, just a statement about reality. Because of this knowledge, and the knowledge that no human, no matter how well trained, is perfect, there are some precautions that I take while riding in traffic, especially around buses:
- Assume you are invisible – Even though our buses offer excellent visibility, as I have stated above, nothing is perfect. Therefore, I assume I’m invisible to the driver and ride accordingly. I stay away from the sides and keep my speed down so I can stop in case the driver moves over to service a zone.
- Pass on the left – NOT on the right – Now here’s where many drivers get it wrong. In certain circumstances I believe it is actually legal for a cyclist to pass on the right (probably while in a bike lane). I can’t find the RCW or SMC right now, but I’m sure I’ve seen it. In any event, I really try to avoid doing this – *especially* around bus zones. It’s safest to pass on the left and to leave a minimum of 3 feet – the more the better.
- Assume you are invisible, but do *everything* in your power to *not* be – In addition to wearing obnoxiously bright yellow clothing, I ride with a bright headlight – even during the day. I started this practice after I almost turned a bus into a cyclist riding fast downhill. It’s not like he was wearing urban camouflage, which I have seen many times, but a headlight would have caught my attention a block or two earlier. Ever since, I’ve noticed that cars just STOP when the see me – probably because they can’t figure out what I am because the Dinotte headlight is SO bright.
In short, I apply the principle of “prevent the preventable”, as Metro training likes to emphasize, to my riding as well as my driving. The difference is that I’m trying to protect *MY* life when I’m riding, as opposed to the lives of people around my bus when I’m driving.
“and I know that we cyclists don’t always make it easy…” – Nope, we cyclists don’t always make it easy. I once walked into the base in my cycling clothes and another driver joked that I was “wearing the uniform of the enemy.” Suffice it to say, we see cyclists every day who put their lives in danger around our buses. In virtually all of these cases, we avoid the collision by “Preventing the preventable” without the cyclist ever knowing the danger they were in. None of us ever wants to injure or kill somebody so seeing some of the things cyclists do over and over again can get to you after a while.
But take heart. There are a lot of us who bike to work almost every day. Check out this shot of the bike racks at one of the Metro bases. From this driver, at least, be assured that I’m watching out for you.
[Updated 8/12/10 to correct awkward first sentence - Doh!]