THERE’S a special dynamic created when motorists and cyclists share a road. Writing as a driver, I’d like to address riders directly, hoping to open a tribe-to-tribe discussion about an element critical to our almost anonymous interactions.
Fear: Yours really should run rampant, I think, but here I refer to the trepidation of drivers steering massive machines that — mishandled in one moment — will leave you crippled, maimed or dead.
I experience this whenever I see a cyclist at the edge of my lane. You won’t see me coming, won’t hear me until I’m passing just yards away. Even then you won’t know if there’s a tailgater behind me, or some Grand Prix wannabe slaloming up fast or a twit to my left texting an emoticon.
I, in turn, can’t know if there’s a pothole ahead of you, busted asphalt you’ll need to dodge or someone in a parked car about to open a door in your face.
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All that’s certain is that for several seconds, your life’s in my hands.
And you are so fragile, a slow antelope pacing an elephant herd. You trust that I’m not oblivious, distracted, half-tanked or a full-blown sociopath eager for sport. Your faith bewilders me, frankly. While I don’t challenge your legal or moral rights to ride, sometimes I wonder about your sanity.
You’ve been safe from me, so far, but not always from others. I’ve tended to three cyclists I found broken beside roads, watching each go into shock, once while distracted by white bone splinters exiting a deep red wound.
The last victim was my 15-year-old son, who, “because I was being an idiot Dad,” spent four days in a hospital room, concussed and abraded, waiting to see if his spleen would burst.
Here’s something I hope cyclists consider: Fear frays my nerves. Yours too, I should think.
While I doubt the infractions committed by all Washington cyclists equal those of Seattle’s Audi drivers last week, concern for your vulnerability amplifies other emotions provoked by your actions, thoughtless or deliberate.
Not fair, just true.
For example, I drive to town on 6 miles of a two-lane road where there’s no bike lane, no paved shoulder and no passing allowed. I routinely cross double yellow lines to give cyclists more room. While these are mildly risky moves — a little unsettling, technically unlawful — they’re such obvious precautions I never consider blowing on by a cyclist.
Forgive me for grinding my molars when a pair of cyclists pedal side-by-side on this stretch or a club outing spreads out four deep. These riders exploit my caution and concern. I am also unhappy when a cyclist darts out from a downtown bike lane without signaling or glancing behind him or her. The only reason I don’t hit my horn is because antelopes are so easily startled.
Rightly or wrongly, my reaction to your sin is different from my anger at an Audi driver. He’s in an armored elephant, safe behind air bags, likely hazarding only damage someone would pound out at a body shop. You, however, risk a pounded body, or much worse.
That threat that fills me with something more wrenching than rage: fear.
Safe cycling. Please.
Seth Norman is a writer, editor and journalist living in Bellingham.