Before I even get started, thank you to all of my friends who thought of me and the group I ride with when they heard of the tragedy that happened in Kalamazoo. Thankfully for us, we’re on the other side of the State. Other than being a little beaten up by the wind, we all made it back safely last night. My condolences, well wishes and prayers go out to those who won’t have a parent or loved one coming home from a ride on their bicycle. I also would like to acknowledge praying for the asshole who hit them. Prison is going to suck, for him and his family.
First, let me say this: There will never be a total end to motorist/cyclist accidents until we have driverless cars – and even then I can’t imagine they’d be effectively eliminated – people do stupid things when they get behind the wheel, I am not immune.
That said, there was a pretty horrific accident down in Kalamazoo in which an (apparent, from reports) drunk driver plowed into a group of cyclists with his pickup truck. He hit them so hard, it appeared, from news photos at the scene, that his vehicle was inoperable so he tried to run away on foot.
Five cyclists are dead. Four more are in the hospital.
With nine cyclists down, I’m going to guess it was a fairly large group, not unlike the one I participate in every Tuesday evening. Large groups, of 10-40 cyclists, are the exception to some of what I’m about to write. I’ll get to that later.
I am fortunate enough to live in a fairly remote area where we can ride on the roads and not clog up traffic too much. In my four years of riding on Tuesday night, we’ve only had more than two cars lined up waiting to pass our group one time – and that one time, we took special measures to get out of the way so the pass could be made. We pick these sparsely traveled roads on purpose. Others aren’t so lucky to have the roads we have to ride on. When we’re not in a big group though, call it two to ten cyclists, when we’re on busier roads we always travel single-file. If we’re into a crosswind, we’ll stagger across the lane so get a better draft but as soon as one of us recognizes there’s a car trying to pass, we single up on the side of the road to be as unobtrusive as possible. I realize not all cyclists are so understanding and that is unfortunate. However, when we have a decent shoulder to ride on, two to three feet of pavement to the right of the white line, we take advantage of being able to get completely out of the way of traffic.
Larger shoulders are the answer to dropping fatal accidents substantially.
Many motorists, through some form of ESP to which I am not privy, make the mistake of assuming that we cyclists want to be on the road. Personally, I’d rather pass and take a nice bike lane or wide shoulder. We would, with the choice, rather be as far from a vehicle as possible because let’s face it, we don’t want to be mowed down by some drunk asshole in a pickup truck any more than that drunk idiot wanted to hit those cyclists in Kalamazoo so he can spend the rest of his life in prison..
I realize that this adds a minimal cost to the construction of roads and is not practical for all surface streets. That said, motorists don’t want us on the road and we’d rather not be on the driving surface anyway, unless we’re in a big group. Wider shoulders, especially are a very simple solution in most cases.
Getting cyclists, the vast majority of us, off the road is a matter of political will. When roads are built, put a shoulder on them so cyclists can get out of the way. Motorists are happier and cyclists won’t have to take such a high risk to ride their bikes. All too often this discussion devolves into a shouting match between cyclists and motorists – I’ve actually had a motorist point his vehicle at me and mat the gas pedal, only to swerve out of the way at the last second, just because he didn’t want me on the road. He’s lucky I wasn’t quicker with my camera – that’s a felony in my state. It doesn’t have to be an “us against them” scenario. We are going to ride our bikes no matter how much it might piss motorists off. The easy answer is to give us a way to do so that gets us out of your all-too-rushed way.
Second, we’re all aware that vehicles are becoming more and more automated to do simple tasks for the driver. Crash avoidance radar, park assist, etc.. How hard would it be to give a cyclist a non-tracking chip that we can put in an inconspicuous place on our bike that warns vehicle systems of our presence? This is another simple solution. A little costly, yes, especially on the R&D end, but simple enough with the proper will. This doesn’t entirely fix the problem, of course. The vehicle that ran into the nine cyclists mentioned above was an older model pickup. If, however, that motorist had a simple scanner in the vehicle (which could be manufactured and brought to market for less than $50, and the cyclist had is little identifier chip on his bike, an alarm could be sounded from the scanner that alerted the driver to the cyclist’s presence. Not as good as anti-collision hardware, but better than nothing.
Those two ideas, combined, the tragedy that happened in Kalamazoo may never have to happen again. Well, that and maybe a blow-and-go as standard equipment in every vehicle… Along with a law that requires the state to have a warrant and reasonable suspicion to access a vehicle’s information. Though that’s even more pie-in-the-sky than hoping for wider shoulders.
The Large Group of Cyclists
Much to the chagrin of the time-challenged who simply fail to walk out the door five minutes earlier, large groups of cyclists tend to ride two-abreast in what’s called a double pace line. We do this on purpose, and it’s not to piss motorists off. It’s to help them.
What’s easier to pass, considering no matter how this goes a motorist will have to head into the opposing lane to pass? Two lines of 20 cyclists or one line of 40? This is not a trick question. One line of 40 cyclists will take twice as long to pass and require a MUCH greater distance spent in the opposing lane.
Better, I’ve seen idiotic legislation aimed at breaking up pace lines that says a group of cyclists can draft in groups of four only. You end up with ten feet between each group of four… or the equivalent of two extra bikes for every four in distance that will have to be spent in the opposing lane to pass. As an example, imagine a group of 40 cyclists. Two-abreast in a double pace line. We cover 120 feet of road. A motorist has to pass in the opposing lane for 120 feet. Now imagine a single pace line 40. That 120 becomes 240 feet. It’s harder to pass. Now, imagine that legislation were enacted. That same group of 40 cyclists spread into 10 groups of four works out to a whopping 340 feet of distance required to pass the group. A motorist would be hard-pressed to ever get by all of us. In other words, that legislation is even more of an agitation that current law.
The important thing for motorists to remember here is that we don’t want to be a pain in your ass. An agitated driver is a stupid driver (I should know, guilty). We ride the way we do because it’s the safest way to ride and let you get by us. We make mistakes from time to time as well but please remember, we lose to a car, often with our life, every time. On the other hand, we’d rather take that chance than grow fat polishing the couch leather with our butt.
You won’t get rid of us, so help us get out of your way. Lobby for wider shoulders on new roads and live with the double pace line. It’s a lot quicker to pass than the alternative.
Thanks for reading. Peace.