I felt a shiver when I saw Doug Oakley’s front page story and photo today about “ghost bike” memorials to cyclists killed in collisions with cars or trucks.
A recreational cyclist and occasional bike commuter, I like to think of cycling as healthy and refreshing. But reading Oakley’s story reminded me how vulnerable humans on a 25- to 30-pound bicycle are when sharing the roads with a ton or 2-ton vehicle that can squash a rider like a bug.
I’ve seen cyclists do unsafe things like riding on the wrong side of the road.
I’ve also experienced moments of terror when motorists doing careless things made me feel like a butterfly in a herd of elephants.
About three months ago while I was riding on a wide and well-marked bicycle lane on Danville Boulevard through Alamo, a sport utility vehicle driver traveling in the opposite direction slowed a little, looked my way, and then turned left to cross the road in my path to reach a side street.
I had no time to stop. I averted a crash by braking and making a sharp emergency right turn onto the side street.
I was left shaking. The driver never slowed.
I believe the woman driving the vehicle had to see me, but miscalculated my speed and didn’t realize she was setting a course to splatter me in the middle of a bike lane. If I had been a young child, the driver might have behaved differently.
Part of the friction between cyclists and motorists is that each each group tends to see things differently from their view point of the road.
From the seat or a can or van, it’s harder to realize the speed of a cyclist.
From the seat of a bicycle, it’s can be hard to appreciate that you may not be easily spotted by drivers from some angles.
Off-road paved hiking and biking lanes – like the Iron Horse Regional Trail through Central Contra Costa County and the San Ramon Valley – keep cyclists and cars apart, but there aren’t enough trails like this to get cyclists every where they need to go.
Inevitably, bicyclists and motorists find themselves sharing the roads.
Many people and government officials see greater bicycle use as a way to keep people fit, and reduce congestion, fuel consumption, smog and global warming gases.
So what do we do about the conflict on the road between pedalers and drivers?
Do we change the law to ban bicyclists from some busy roads, as suggested last year by one Southern California newspaper columnist?
Do we follow the example of some European cities like Amsterdam and develop separate dedicated bike lanes along our roads? How would we pay for that?
And how do we prevent more ghost bicycle memorials being placed on our roads because someone who rode a bicycle for fun, fitness or basic transportation didn’t come home alive?