Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aren't you happy to get here safely?

I'm on the road at the same time and on the same route every morning. I see the same motorists day after day.

I know when the Crotch Rocket Kids are coming because their motorcycles have a distinctive high-pitched whine. These two guys ride to work together every day. They're normally in echelon and I think that's probably a good idea on a relatively narrow road.

There's Dinky Boy in an econo-box that sounds as if it's powered by a lawn mower engine. The car seems to be taller than it is long.

I saw Scooter Guy most mornings last summer, but I heard he was involved in a crash with another motor vehicle, and I haven't seen him since. When I arrived at work that morning, some co-workers were waiting out front to see if I was on the bike. They'd heard about the crash north of the base and were concerned that I was involved. I suspect there may have been some betting going on. I liked chasing Scooter Guy when I had a tailwind.

Black Helmet Guy rides a Harley. It makes the usual thumpa-thumpa exhaust sound. Fortunately, the bike is still equipped with original mufflers so it's not terribly loud.

White Helmet Guy rides a quiet Harley too. But he's a dick. He's blasted by me very close while laying on the horn. There's a problem with daily commuting – especially when our hours are the same. I watched for him on my way home one afternoon, and then hooked him as he was passing. He reacted by going over into the on-coming lane. I could hear him yelling but I couldn't make out what he said. (For those who may not know, hooking is an illegal maneuver in bicycle racing. Normally, it's done during a sprint when a rider is trying to pass. The leading rider does a quick wobble that forces the overtaking one to slow or change his line. Hooking can easily result in a crash. I would imagine that hooking could be considered an illegal maneuver under our traffic laws too, but I've never heard of anyone being charged with it.)

I saw something this morning that was simply mind-boggling. As I approached 46th Street from the north, the light was green but I knew from long experience that I'd never get through it. The dump truck driver behind me, however, was undeterred by the prospect of the light changing. Sure enough, well before we reached the intersection, it turned yellow and then turned red. The dump truck never slowed. The light had been red for at least a second before he got to the stop line. He barreled on through. Cross traffic had quite sensibly remained stationary when their signal turned green. But the truly amazing thing was that the dump truck driver applied his brakes in the middle of the intersection, slowing as he exited it to the south, and then immediately turned left into a diner parking lot. He was willing to endanger several lives in order to save a minute or two in getting to those biscuits and gravy.

It wasn't over yet.

Cross traffic started moving. I waited for the light to change. More cars and trucks were queued behind me. The light changed, giving southbound traffic a green. Again, I looked on in amazement as traffic coming from my left didn't slow down. Five cars and trucks ran the light well after it had turned red.

An all-too-common complaint from motorists is that cyclists don't stop for red lights or stop signs. It's beginning to look as if motorists won't be bothered with them, either. There's a huge difference between a 250 pound vehicle and one weighing 2000 pounds or more when it comes to a collision.

While I locked up my bike at work, another co-worker was getting out of his car in an adjacent parking space. “Aren't you happy to get here safely some mornings?” he asked. I gave him my usual boilerplate answer – that I'm more concerned with dogs and skunks on the road than motorists, and that the most dangerous part of the ride is the trip across the parking lot. But after watching the mayhem at that intersection, I'm not so sure of these pat answers.

Later in the morning, I saw a letter from Jerry Rink in the Tulsa World. He complained about encountering a bicyclist doing '5 mph in the middle of the lane.' He yelled at him to get over and the cyclist informed Rink that he (the cyclist) had the right of way. Rink had the usual bitch about cyclists restricting traffic, but went on to say this:

“I'd have liked to run him aside if it weren't for the legal problems!”

I think there's clearly an implied threat. If Rink met a cyclist when there were no witnesses around, how could we expect him to react? Would he react as angrily to a tractor or a couple of motorcycles rolling along slowly? I'd suspect he would not, if only because a farm tractor could destroy his car, and annoying motorcyclists is a good way to acquire a large boot print in the door. Cyclists are fair game, however, because it's unlikely that we can catch him.

Motorists have a common assumption, sometimes called the universal law of speed, that presumes they can go as fast as they want to, whenever they want to, and that anything that causes them to slow down is inherently un-American, anti-social, and often times downright evil. Going slowly is a sin. Cyclists are big time sinners and their low speed causes other, presumably upright citizens to fall prey to the same lack of morality. Or some such bullshit.

A cyclist's relatively small size and obvious vulnerability makes harassment easy. I think that laws requiring a minimum of 3 feet minimum separation when passing a bicyclist is a good first step. South Carolina recently went further with 56-5-3445. It's a misdemeanor to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of anyone on a bicycle. LINK (In Oklahoma, it's a felony to throw an object at a motor vehicle. No similar provisions apply to cyclists, however, since a bicycle is a “device” not a motor vehicle.)

An obvious question about these laws has to do with enforcement. In my experience, unless a police officer witnesses the offense, it's difficult or impossible to bring charges. That may be changing as more cyclists use small, unobtrusive video cameras like the Oregon Scientific ATC2K. I'm thinking about getting one, though not for pursuing scofflaw motorists.

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Blogger Bujiatang said...

In my darker moments I want to get a conceal and carry license. Nothing quite like a Glock 20 poking out of your pants to make a driver back the hell off? or they'll feel threatened and react unpredictably.

Which is worse I think. So I don't.

12:43 AM  
Blogger lemmiwinks said...

IMO, there is no excuse for running a red light, the amber gives you plenty of warning! And as you observed, it's for the most trivial of reasons that red light runners see fit to endanger other road users lives.

Bujiatang, isn't carry concealed weapon why everyone is so polite in Texas though? I think your idea is not without merit ;-)

1:33 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I had a CCW when I lived in PA. Having a 38 snubbie tucked away in a pocket doesn't make you brave or foolhardy. The opposite is true, in fact. I didn't want to get involved in any confrontation.

But...there are times I've thought about getting one of those realistic Uzis and slinging it over my back when I go out for a ride. I just think about it. The local PD would be on me like stink, and so far at least, I've had a good relationship with them.

8:36 PM  
Blogger danc said...

An information report with local law enforcement is a big step. As more cyclists report mischief by "Rink-oids" then it's on paper.

Yep, police can not write tickets unless it happens in front of the them but reports document if public officials took reasonable precautions.

Look at the Colorado "Aggressive Driver" approach: Some states allow the DUI phone number for aggressive drivers.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

That's good advice, Dan. I hadn't thought of it.

1:03 PM  
Blogger danc said...

Really CycleDog?

I sense Ed W, Bujiatang and lemmiwinks generally agree "weapons are poor idea for resolving bike safety issues". A fascinating editorial "Guns for Safety? Dream On Scalia" to chew on ...

2:39 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Honestly, Dan, I didn't think to make a complaint. In similar circumstances, our local PD will put an extra patrol or two in the area if citizens complain - when they have the manpower to do so, of course. I think Tulsa PD will do the same. But if you're out in the county - in the sheriff's jurisdiction - only God will pay attention. TCSO is one tiny step removed from mall security guards, and it may not be a positive step.

Gotta keep that in mind for the next time, 'cause there will be a next time.

5:18 PM  
Blogger SD_pedalpower said...

We had a similar perceived threat from a local radio person. Our bike club is sending a letter to the FFA in addition to getting our state bicycle coalition to send out a letter. A similar thing happened in Ohio and the FFA fined the radio station and the money went to cycling education.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...

I'd think openly carrying a long gun at the very least is legal in Oklahoma, at least outside of urban areas. I've seen it done in Texas -- folks in public with a rifle slung over their shoulders.

What's the law in Broken Elbow?

4:51 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Of course, most employers (and certainly Ed's employer) have very tight restrictions on bringing firearms to the workplace, so carry -- whether concealed or not -- is moot for a discussion on a bike commute.

I just looked up the law in OK -- open carry is only allowed inside of a motor vehicle, or outside of a motor vehicle if you're on your way to go hunting, recreational shooting or a gun show. Commuting to work with a gun on your back is not legal in Oklahoma.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Getting a concealed carry license here is straightforward. You take a day-long class, demonstrate proficiency with your chosen firearm, and pay the state a fee. I qualified with a .22 semi-auto pistol. That allowed me to carry any pistol, derringer, or revolver.

PA was different. My license there had a description of the one and only handgun I could carry, and included its serial number.

I didn't follow through with the OK CCW license. Sure, I took the class, but between one thing and another, I couldn't justify the state's fee. I think it was $125 back then, and at the time, my kids were small and money was tight.

But you have to realize that in Broken Elbow, normal laws don't apply. For that matter, the laws of physics and logic seldom apply either. That's only natural since Broken Elbow is in the middle of Rod Serling County.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Apropos to this discussion: cyclist fatality shoots teen who attacked him in Detroit.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Fritz, I saw that earlier today. (I'm on vacation so I have time to putz with the computer!) Even if the shooting turns out to be justified, the tragedy spreads through families like ripples on a pond.

One cautionary note - don't jump to conclusions based on what you see in the news.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

It's sometimes a little fun to fantasize about what we'd do when packing heat, but when somebody actually dies, the fun quickly evaporates.

1:43 AM  

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