Whenever I sit down to write I get “cranky“. It has something perhaps to do with old age. But maybe not. It could be a generational thing where as you age you see the world as “going to hell in a hand basket”. But when today’s copy of Adventure Cycling arrived on my desk, I took one look at the Letter from the Editor (pointed out by my wife) and I got cranky all over again. But I felt better knowing that someone half my age was growing cranky too.
I almost wrote this blog entry yesterday (before the issue arrived in the mail), but I refrained thinking that my general crankiness has been on display all too often this week and I did not need to display it yet again. The problem was that a very nice young lady had written an article for MassBike in which she details her ordeal at being doored:
I chose to share my story publicly to let everyone learn a lesson from this crash. A lot of what I learned could already be found at our website, Same Roads Same Rules. Most importantly, I don’t want to deter anyone from biking; I have every intention of riding everyday again after I am fully recovered.
- No matter your confidence level, always ride defensively. Be aware and alert. Despite the increase in bicycling, many motorists still do not pay attention to cyclists, so we have to be extra careful to ride safely. For safe riding tips, visit our bike skills page.
- Don’t be bullied. Even if there are cars behind you, it is more important to maintain a safe distance from potentially opening car doors than to cave to pressure to ride too far to the right. Remember, your safety is the most important thing of all.
- If you are injured in a crash, seriously or not, call 911. I experienced the adrenaline rush that can cover serious injuries. Insist on getting the driver’s information, just like if you were in a car crash.
- File a police report within 5 days. Even if you don’t get the other party’s information, file a police report. These records are crucial to tracking crash data which can lead to improvements in road design or enforcement.
- Be aware of cyclists not only while driving, but as you are exiting your vehicle. It is completely your responsibility (driver or passenger) to look before you open your door. According to state law, it is illegal to open a car door without looking first, and if you hit a cyclist or pedestrian, you could be fined and are liable for damages.
- If you are involved in a crash with a bicyclist, and there are injuries (serious or not), call 911. It is a serious offense to walk or drive away from a scene of a crash. If the bicyclist insists that they are “fine”, you need to call anyway, the bicyclist could still be injured.
If I had it to do over again, I would have insisted that the drivers stay at the scene until an ambulance and police arrived. I am lucky to have insurance, and so getting medical care was not a problem – there are some people with high deductibles or who still do not have health insurance. Furthermore, just like in a car crash, if my vehicle (bicycle) had been damaged then the driver’s insurance would have had to pay for repairs.
Unfortunately, we aren’t yet in a place where drivers take bicyclists seriously and want to blame us any time anything happens. Sometimes they are right, but this time they weren’t. We need to be informed and our own strongest advocates. God willing, this won’t happen again. If it does, I’ll be much better prepared. Take a lesson from my situation and be prepared, too.
My First TakeAway
I have never been doored. I trust however that should I ever be doored I will have the good sense to realize that unless the fellow waits (on purpose) to “door” me at just the moment I am approaching the rear edge of his drivers door I share at least half the responsibility for the accident. It is never the case that the motorist bears the responsibility alone. Why?
To understand the problem you need to think about your pet cat. She probably follows you around the house when you get home and waits (not so patiently) as you hang up your coat and tend to the most important job on the planet, getting her some fresh food. And after that you are responsible for putting out fresh water and then afterwards combing her fur in a manner “just so”. Then she is free to head off to the window seat and survey her empire as is her due.
But as any cat owner knows when your cat is hovering she likes to get up behind you and wait silently as a way of urging you own in your duties. Eventually as you are stepping back from the upper shelf of the cabinet where you keep her food you manage to step on her foot. She yells indignantly and rushes over to your printed copy of the MassBike article and points knowingly at the line that reads:
It is completely your responsibility (driver or passenger) to look before you open your door.
Her point is that when she silently positions herself behind you because you are taller, weigh more, have a larger brain, and brought her home against her will to live with you, and then has to spend the entire day waiting for you to return home to feed her, clean her litter box and generally see to her needs, your are as one ChainLinker put it “to be held to a higher standard” than she. So the fault is entirely yours.
This must be what motorists feel like when they get berated on the ChainLink by cyclists who run red lights, blow through stop signs and are constantly reciting the mantra “Share the Road, Same Rights, Same Responsibilities”. Only as usual they really do not mean that they too have to wait at stop lights and signs, because at best either of these two signals are suggestions not commands.
My cat feels entitled. So do most cyclists.
Never mind that cyclists routinely stop on sidewalks to look for a place to park their bikes and pay little or no attention to pedestrians walking up behind them as they try to affix their locks. Never mind that some begin slowly removing their helmets and backpack or messenger bags without a care to who might be behind them trying to navigate around them as they tend to their bikes.
Never mind that when they feel the need to lock a bike to a CTA handrail making it next to impossible for other pedestrians to climb stairs easily. If they want to lock their bikes where the want that is their right. In fact if they decide to ride down a ramp from street level to the CTA train and risk hitting an unwary pedestrian, that is just fine because as ChainLink’s Gabe says “it seems like a lot of fun”.
Never mind that cyclists routinely lock their bikes to fences on someone else’s private properly and then complain the next day about the disrespect they got from the guard who patrols the property. Everything that happens to a cyclist is the fault of some motorist. And when you are stopped by a cop then you are once again being harassed because you are a cyclist. And why is it that a very nice thing like the Critical Mass Ride has such a negative response from so many people?
It is all because as the MassBike article puts it:
Unfortunately, we aren’t yet in a place where drivers take bicyclists seriously and want to blame us any time anything happens.
Please wait a moment while I grab a hanky and wipe away my tears of sadness at the cruel world that is so against our kind.
Setting The Record Straight
The only one of the two of you who has a front row seat to the dooring is the cyclist. The motorist is likely to be looking forward because that will be where his mirrors are situated. He has to hope that you are traveling pretty much in the sweet spot where his mirror is pointed. And if you are riding at this time of year after 5 PM you are pretty much beginning to need lights. So if they are not on and burning it is quite difficult for the motorist to tell you are approaching.
My cat is the one facing forward when I suddenly step on her toes. The cyclist is in the same position facing forward. He is the only one of the two who has a direct view of the situation, not a reflected view. And there should be no gaps in his field of view as their often are for motorists who can only view an approaching cyclist riding to his left in possible two of the three mirrors on his vehicle. And it all depends on where the cyclist is to ensure that if you are there you can be seen.
Never mind that cyclists often have not a single bit of reflective clothing on in the evening and often ride without benefit of any lights whatsoever. Like kickstands, baskets and racks, lights represent extra weight that slow you down. And who needs that as you try and zip along as rapidly as possible. Oh the gal in the MassBike article probably forgot to point out that lights front and rear are usually required by ordinances as well. They certainly are in Chicago. But again I seldom see any lights on bikes of cyclists as they zip along in the near dark dressed in dark drab colored outfits.
I ride with two lights on the front of my bike (one is a flasher) and the other an LED powered by a hub generator. I rely on these two to visually announce my presence even in broad daylight. One the rear of my bikes are two red flashing lights that allow motorists approaching from the rear to see me. I have a reflective vest for evening and night riding that is a high-vis yellow and when worn in the daytime makes me quite visible.
My seat bag is yellow and a high-vis SMV triangle hangs of it. I probably ought to get a high-decibel whistle to blow when riding past parked cars in the event I spot a driver sitting inside the vehicle. It helps to alert folks audibly as well. I figure that both he and I are in a partnership in which we mutually announce our intentions and our presence so that collisions that neither of us intend never happen.
And now you are free to read the cranky writings of a much younger man as he tries to deal with the inevitable sense of entitlement (read selfishness) that rules the world these days. Cyclists are about as rude a bunch as you are likely to find when it comes to taking care of stuff that they get to stay in when touring.
But their lack of respect for others extends even to their time. You only have to attend one of the myriad rides put on by folks on the ChainLink Forum (and that includes Critical Mass Rides and the Tours put on by Lee Diamond) to realize that coming to a ride start on time is like stop signs and red lights merely a suggestion.
It is not unusual for rides set to kick off at 10 AM only get underway an hour later. It happens because the group is unwilling to police itself. Nobody wants to be that “cranky” dude who complains that things are starting late. About the only time this group ever gets tough is when they are dealing with motorists. And then they “try and read the poor soul the riot act”.
About the only other group that behaves this badly are the very wealthy. They have a profound sense of entitlement. I guess that cyclists are perhaps descended from such stock themselves. I dunno.
Out on the Trail
As Vince Lombardi famously said, “What the hell is going on out there?”
As you begin to read this, I’d like you to look over to the next page and read the reader letter titled “Ordway out.” Okay, you must be back. This letter appeared in my email inbox at the end of August and, unfortunately, the subject matter didn’t catch me off guard. A few weeks earlier, we heard from a church and another facility, both of which offer hospitality to cyclists on the TransAm, stating that they also would no longer be welcoming traveling cyclists on their premises. When the first one of these arrived, I figured a few bad apples out there had ruffled some feathers, nothing more.
Recently on Bikeportland.org, there had been an open discussion about an Australian bicycle traveler calling himself Ian who had been preying on the unsuspecting good people of Oregon by misrepresenting himself and his situation to relieve them of certain sums of money so he could continue his journey to who knows where. If the pictures of Ian posted on the site were accurate, it should have been obvious that he probably wasn’t cycling more than a few miles a day, but the cash flowed anyway. Come on, Ian. This is the best scam you can come up with, posing as a down-on-his luck traveling cyclist? This is America. If you’re going to scam people, you’ve got to think bigger, you know, too big to fail and all that.
So what do we have here? Are the highways on which cyclists travel being invaded by ne’er-do-wells who through their less-than-admirable behavior are splattering road grime all over the good reputation of the the vast majority of traveling cyclists and the community as a whole? Is this new Golden Era of bicycle travel being threatened to any significant degree? As many may already know, June Curry, the Cookie Lady of the TransAm recently passed away. June is a legend of the TransAm and we named our Trail Angel Award after her (read more about June in Dan D’Ambrosio’s profile on pages 24-29) and Gillian Hoggard received the Trail Angel Award in 2006. And a church is closing their doors to cyclists? This is not good.
I’m hoping this cluster of news about bad behavior is an anomaly and that good people who offer assistance and hospitality along the roadways of America won’t have to think twice before doing so. It’s these encounters that often are what traveling cyclists most fondly remember when their journey is over, as Willy Weir so often reminds us in the pages of Adventure Cyclist and as Tim Cigelske reveals in his essay, “The Kindness of Strangers” on pages 36-37.
So when you’re out there on your bicycles, remember that you represent a community of people who have built a fine reputation that needs to be fiercely protected. Don’t be like Ian. Be more like Ghandi.
Editor, Adventure Cyclist
Today I withdrew my home from the TransAmerica Trail map [section 12] and from Warmshowers. I would like to take time to explain why with the hope some lessons might be learned if you’re planning an adventure that will receive hospitality from people such as myself. I have welcomed cyclists at my home for over 10 years. It started when I rescued two brothers from late-night sprinklers in the town park. It’s been a joy meeting 100- plus cyclists each summer … everyone with a different reason, and a different season, for their ride.
It used to be commonplace for the cyclists to notice that the property was a project in motion — stuff being built, painted, or maintained in some way. Without exception I would be asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The trailer used by cyclists has been painted and roofed and many other helpful things have been done by visitors over the years. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished in just 15 minutes.
These small gestures were very uplifting to me. In my mind, what I offered was paid in full by the sweat equity put in by the cyclists. For me, the deal was more an exchange than an act of charity on my part.
But it seems different these days. Out of the 115 who stayed so far this year, only three people offered to help. I pressganged some due to circumstances (I wish you could see the end results of your handiwork — many thanks.) The rest of them? Oddly, it seemed that I somehow owed them, that they were entitled to my hospitality.
A second major issue is the assumption that because I’m listed on the map or had been recommended by other cyclists, that I was then obligated to be available whenever it suited the cyclists’ needs. I’m sorry about the head winds, the heat, the breakdown, or whatever, but arriving at 1:00 AM is simply not appropriate.
From my position, it seems traveling cyclists now take hospitality for granted. Being listed by Warmshowers had a detrimental effect. While visitors used to appreciate a spot on the floor and a shower, these no longer seemed up to their standards.
The last put-off was the junk left behind — cigarette butts chucked off the veranda, fruit scraps on the steps, trash strewn about the trailer. Really? I don’t believe my listing on the map mentioned maid service. Where’s the respect? So if you find yourself receiving hospitality while on a cycling journey, at least make an offer to assist in some small way.
People will be far more likely to provide the same for those future cyclists who will follow in your tire tracks.
Despite my disappointment, I still wish you all happy cycling and fair winds.
We need as a class to “grow up”. I am frankly happy that the coming budget wars will pit us against other transportation users without any clearly earmarked dollars for bicycle infrastructure. If nothing else what little we are able to get for biking will perhaps be all the more cherished because of the pain endured in securing it.
But what is even more important is that we will have to learn to deal with the motorist population with greater respect if we ever hope to get them to agree to give us dollars for our pet projects. It will have to be more of a two-way street. And that is as it should be.