The other day, I had a nice reminder about the importance of riding safely and wisely. I saw a cyclist almost get hit by a car.
I was running with a friend on the trail where it intersects with a busy road. The traffic signal started flashing “Don't Walk” as we crossed, but we made it to the other side with plenty of time. We continued running up the trail, and then, from the opposite direction, a cyclist came speeding around the corner. He showed no signs of slowing down.
“He's not going to make it,” I said to my running companion. I turned around to see the guy riding into the intersection just as the traffic signal gave drivers the green light. He kept going, forcing the motorists on the far side of the road to jam on their brakes to avoid hitting him. One car was almost hit by the car behind it. “Idiot!” I yelled as the cyclist sped away.
It made me really mad.
I have to confess that as a cyclist, I understand what was probably going through his head as he approached the intersection. The “Don't Walk” had flipped from flashing to steady, so it was obvious the traffic signal was changing, but the cars had not yet started moving again. If he stopped, it would have meant jamming on his brakes – he was approaching the intersection at a pretty fast pace – then unclipping, pushing the pedestrian button, and waiting for the traffic light to change again. It would have meant a delay, and more importantly, it would have lowered his average pace.
As cyclists, we've all been there, out on a good ride, thrilled about pushing our average speed higher and higher. We don't want to slow down for anything. There's a great sense of accomplishment when rolling back into the driveway having gone further and/or faster than before.
This guy was one second – even less – away from getting knocked to the ground. And if there had been a chain reaction, an impact from a car further back in the pack pushing a car into the cyclist lying on the pavement, it could have been deadly.
And why? Because unclipping is annoying? Because it's a bummer to have your average speed drop after all that work?
It made me angry because incidents like that make motorists hostile to cyclists. Heck, I called the guy an idiot and I was just a mere spectator. He was reckless, and he put the burden on motorists to keep him safe in spite of his irresponsible behavior. He created a problem for the drivers, a problem they didn't deserve. No wonder motorists hate us.
It made me mad because what if a driver had hit him? Imagine how horrible that person would feel, even if it had been impossible to stop in time. It's not fair to saddle someone else with that kind of guilt.
But it mostly made me mad on behalf of his family, the ones who were a fleeting moment away from getting the dreaded phone call: “I'm sorry to tell you there's been an accident.” I thought about his wife, kids, brothers, sisters, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. I imagined his children growing up without a father just because he didn't want to take the time to stop at a red light.
I doubt anyone has ever stood at a funeral and said “On the bright side, he was pushing an impressive 22.7 average mph when he died.” No one would care that he had to unclip and pause his ride. They would just care that he was gone, forever.
I'm a cyclist. I understand the myopia that can overtake you on a ride, especially towards the end. I know what it's like to be almost home and want to get there as quickly as possible. But taking a few extra seconds or even minutes to get home is better than never getting there at all.