Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cyclist hit--some followup thoughts

I've been talking to Council Chair Sharon Stover and State Rep. Jim Hall about the condition of narrow, shoulderless NM-4 between White Rock and Truck Route. Believe me, its a long standing bone of contention between the county and state.  As an email from Jim Hall attested, there ain't a lot of money to go around in New Mexico. Getting this to the top of the NMDoT's fix it list may take time. Meanwhile, those of us who ride there have to deal with reality. So a few things:

1. I definitely concur with Jerry Merkey about self protective measures. Helmet or bar end rear view mirrors and other forms of Backwards Looking Early Warning Systems (BLEWS) are a very good idea on roads like NM 4, although obviously, none of us can pin our eyes to a rear mirror. I pay a lot of attention to the sound of cars as they approach from behind. I can generally tell if the noise is getting progressively more asymmetric as the vehicle swings left to pass. I guess the day I don't hear the asymmetry, you won't be hearing from me! A few of those helmet mounted video cams circulating around town might be nice, too, in recording an event, albeit I realize the PIA that creats on DOE roads (they must be turned off, and obviously, you might be challenged to show they are indeed off).

2. Serious traffic justice must be meted out, not wrist slaps. Mind you, there has been no arraignment or trial so presumptions of guilt are premature, but obviously someone did the deed.  An honest mistake on the road is one thing, leaving someone to potentially die on the side of the road is definitely off the table. The difference between a victim walking away and being carried away is a matter of inches, not feet, as Cindy Lawton and Jon Bernard will attest.

3. Ride in groups if feasible, so someone can get vehicle ID and call 911 if a rider is down. If riding in groups, please facilitate motor vehicles overtaking your group. We did it in Hawaii while race training, you can do it here.

4. I'm not sure where to tell people to ride on a road like NM4--its really a personal decision and a comfort level. "As far right as is practicable" applies, but that doesn't mean you have to "straddle the gravel" on a crappy road; you are entitled to ride far enough from the edge to be safe and in Los Alamos County, additional rules apply on narrow roads. But keep in mind the section of road in question is not in LA County. It is generally accepted in LCI circles that hugging the edge can invite unsafe passing.  Why? If I hug the fog line on a road like NM4, I am likely to be buzzed by drivers who think they can pass without moving over into the oncoming lane, hence they may pass into traffic by buzzing you. If I take more lane, people have to move farther left and many wait to do so. So I tend to take more lane rather than transmit to drivers that they can pass without moving over. Its the not so infrequent idiots who like to play chicken who worry me, because they do it no matter where I am riding.

5. Most of all, maintain your situational awareness and bike handling skills. This isn't taught enough in bike classes (it will be in any I teach) but is a HUGE part of motorcycle safety training. Here is a good synopsis:
I had three motorists interfere with my right of way today during a fifty mile ride, all involving failure to yield incidents at intersections. None of those came close to being a crash because I have trained myself to watch for the cues to motorists about to make a mistake. It doesn't always work, but I can think of plenty of times when it has.
Best wishes to Cindy Lawton for a full recovery, many thanks to LAPD and LAFD for their prompt response, and many thanks to Carol Clark of the Daily Post for her coverage of the incident. And, as always, keep the rubber side down.


Steve A said...

"Ride in groups if feasible, so someone can get vehicle ID and call 911 if a rider is down..."

Really? And the perp otherwise gets a free pass? I've got no way to ride to work in groups. Perhaps it is time to reconsider instead the free ride the motorist gets to kill and maim without consequences.

Khal said...

Steve, the old story about the bicyclist killed after the "single witness suicide swerve" ** is a legendary and painful one. I don't know what to do about it.

In a recent crash here in Los Alamos, the police, according to the downed cyclist, extensively interviewed the motorist as the cyclist was being scraped up off the pavement and sent to the hospital. Is it fair? No. Does it help to have witnesses? Yes, if possible. One later came forward on the crash in question up here and repudiated the motorist's version.

I was speaking here about weekend rides of a recreational nature where folks have some latitude to arrange their time. And no, I rarely ride in a group any more, preferring my solitude. My only riding companion on some weekends is my wife, when we ride our tandem.

No, no one should get away with a free ride. I don't think I implied that.

Little Jimmy said...

Hey Khal,

Thanks for these reminders. I appreciate all the sentiments. Steve A's sentiments are good and valid, too.

I am always amazed at the people who like to play chicken with bikes "to teach them a lesson and to let them know they're not invincible," as one once told me. It's all fun an games until someone gets killed, and even then, it seems like the murderers end up having little remorse for their deeds afterwards because those deeds always end up being buried under the very soothing weasel words of "an unfortunate accident."

Until we stop calling murders "accidents," and start implementing traffic laws that no longer give negligently careless or outright vindictive drivers safe haven behind tiny fines and the rhetoric of "unfortunate accidents," cyclists will continue to be murdered with impunity.

I am not afraid to ride on the road. I do so with an abundance of caution and vigilance. I am more concerned about the safety of my wife who is more trusting of people and less cynical than I am. She assumes that no-one would ever purposely run down a cyclist or flee the scene of "an unfortunate accident." But I know wishful thinking won't protect her.

The key is laws that mete out actual jail time and gigantic fines, and judges with the courage to hand out harsh sentences to murderers. Unless and until these things become commonplace, cyclists will continue to be fair game for motorists.

In my opinion, it would be a much better use of time to lobby our legislators to change the laws instead of lobbying them to mprove the pavement.

--Little Jimmy

Khal said...

House Bill 12 isn't a huge change but it would be a start. Cyclists who want to push the levers of power should join the motorcycle folks and push for these laws that increase the penalties for careless driving that causes crashes.