The Portland Oregonian has a video that anecdotally confirms what I’ve long suspected: There is frequently no obvious benefit to running red lights. Obviously, one data point doesn’t prove that there is never any benefit to it. That said, the behavior shown is pretty reckless and the benefit of getting to the next light before everybody else is not really worth risking one’s life for. Also a note to angry Seattle Times bike commenters: The vast majority of cyclists in the video are following the rules, unlike that Bizarro world you inhabit where every cyclist is a deranged monster out to run down granny, little children, and cute little puppies – Just sayin’
I’ve been thinking a lot about bicycle lighting lately and have progressively ramped up the number and power of the lights on my bike. Unfortunately, I have noticed a large number of oncoming cyclists shielding their eyes. I don’t want to blind others to increase my safety so I’ve been doing my best to aim the lights considerately and keep the power down when I don’t really need high power.
Into all of this thinking comes a series of posts by The Lazy Randonneur. (I’m not sure why he refers to himself as “Lazy”, given his prolific and detailed posts with supporting video and pictures) After digging into a bunch of his posts on lighting systems and reflective gear, I’m adding this list to my 2011 resolutions:
- More reflective gear including stripes on the side of my bike and ankle straps
- Move the mount for my 2nd taillight, a Planet Bike Super Flash, to a lower position on the bike
- Aim my Dinotte 140L slightly downward and run at lower power. Cars will still see it and it will light up the road behind me a bit. (High power is still an option in crummy weather)
- No more flashing lights. Yes, you can see them better, but they also screw with other road users’ night vision and depth perception. They are illegal in many places including Germany. (If German cyclists can live without flashing lights, I think I can too)
Lazy also references a detailed Australian study on nighttime cyclist visibility. It’s 6 pages of detailed stats. If you really want to get into the weeds, it’s a good read.
Mr. Randonneur has some pretty unflattering things to say about my favorite North American light manufacturer’s products. I’m not going to go out and replace my lights but if you are in the market for a quality lighting system, you may want to have a read. In short, the Germans appear to have some of the best lighting systems out there. No surprise since they require all bikes sold to have lights. (For my part, I’ve emailed Dinotte asking for them to look at some of these issues. I really want to support American bicycle, component, and accessory manufacturers – what few remain)
Be safe and hope to see you out on the road – even at night!
According to the Vail Daily and the Huffington Post, Martin Joel Erzinger will be spared felony hit and run charges after running over Dr. Steven Milo while he was out for a bike ride. If you dig into this case, you’ll find that the DA, Mark Hurlbert, declined to file felony charges to preserve Mr. Erzinger’s employment as a money manager at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. In theory, this was done to preserve his ability to pay restitution to the victim. But Dr. Milo, a liver transplant surgeon, never supported reduced charges and was “livid” when he found out:
“Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway,” Milo wrote. “Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case.”
But apparently DA Mark Hurlbert felt differently:
“The money has never been a priority for them. It is for us,” Hurlbert said. “Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”
(Note: Both quotes above from the Vail Daily story)
The collision apparently occurred on US 6, somewhere east of Miller Ranch Road. After the collision, Mr. Erzinger allegedly drove through Avon, several roundabouts, under I-70, and finally pulled over at a Pizza Hut, approximately 3 miles from the crash site, and called roadside assistance because of a broken mirror. This is where Mr. Erzinger was arrested.
After digging around a bit I found many interesting things about the DA in this case, Mark Hurlbert. One particularly interesting item: Apparently, he filed felony impersonation charges against two cyclists who switched bib numbers at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Hmmm… Run over a cyclist and leave him for dead then we’ll charge you with a misdemeanor so you can keep earning money. Cheat in a cycling competition? Well, that’s serious and we have to crack down on that sort of thing, so it’s a felony for you.
So, after all this outrage, what can you do? There is a petition on change.org that you can “sign” asking the DA to file felony charges. You can also write to Colorado Attorney General, asking him to look at the case to see if justice has been served.
Another black eye for bikes in Colorado – Bikeportland.org
John Carney at CNBC thinks the driver wouldn’t have been arrested if he wasn’t rich. Interesting, if disturbing, theory.
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!]
While locking up my bicycle at Atlantic Base yesterday, another driver arrived on his bike in a very bad mood. He had just been hit by a car but thankfully he was uninjured. As we talked about the incident, I realized that he has been hit *multiple times* during his regular commuting. When I gingerly mentioned that I have NEVER been hit and wonder how I’ve been so lucky, he pointed to my neon yellow jacket and then pointed to his dark clothes and said that was probably a factor. (Well, duh…)
I’ve been riding my bike on the street for most of my life, since first grade at least, and have had close calls but I’ve NEVER been hit. (That sound you hear right now is me doing some serious knocking on my wood desk) Given the dominance of the car in our society and the fact that people simply aren’t expecting bicycles on the road, I go to extremes to be visible. My goal has always been for me, or Lord forbid – my wife, to be able to ask, “You didn’t see THIS!?”. The list includes bright neon yellow top with reflective patches, Planet bike SuperFlash rear blinkies on my helmet and bike, and a DiNotte Lighting 600L headlight. I’ve encountered many cars that start to roll out into my path but then FREEZE when they see that headlight. Those lights are on night AND day.
None of this will guarantee that some cell-phone wielding teenager distracted by a car full of their friends won’t mow me down. However, these tools, along with my riding style of legal and predictable riding dramatically improve the odds. Many people talk about the “danger” of cycling on the street. No doubt about it, biking around cars can be dangerous but depending on how you slice the statistics, cycling can actually be *safer* than driving. Curious? read on… But even if cycling is more dangerous than driving, that’s hardly a reason to not bike. After all, riding public transportation is FAR safer than driving in a car and yet most people still drive their car, even if there is a viable public transportation option.
The picture for cyclists, at least in the greater Seattle area, has been getting better my entire life. I’m looking forward to more improvements, more company, and even the possibility that the drivers will simply expect to encounter cyclists on the road and look for them. It’s already happening in Portland and Vancouver, BC where cycling trips are climbing but accident rates are steady or dropping.
Care to join me?