Be Like Mike (or Betty and Graeme, or Robert)

Is it possible to live one’s own life vicariously? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading the summer’s blog posts and watching/listening to/reading all the links. What a summer! I guess you call that reminiscing, or nostalgia, not living vicariously. (Did I really do that?) Anyway, I’m itching to get back on the road. Anybody want to take me to New Zealand or Australia for the winter (here)/summer (there)? I’m ready to ride.

My daughter showed me this video yesterday. I hope the tandem cyclists from our summer trip see this.

Bicycling magazine used to have an annual contest to win the bike of your choice. You had to do or write something for your entry. One year was “Baikus”, short poems about bicycling, though they did not have to follow the formal structure of Haiku. I sent two entries: one called “First Ride”, about my daughter’s first ride, when I let go of the saddle and watched her ride away; and another called “Last Ride”, about my imagined last ride resulting in death from massive heart attack while riding down a mountain road, found with a smile still on my face. In the poem I would be, like Jiminy Cricket, 93.

I’ve since decided 93 may not be old enough. I might want to stick around long enough to break Robert Marchand’s Hour Record for the over 105 age group. (And I noticed that the original song said “I’m no fool, nosiree, I want to live to be 93”, but the safety cartoons all ended up at 103.)

Hats off to Graeme, Betty, and Robert! May we all continue doing what we love for as long as we love it.

More kids growing up

I went on a long ride Sunday – long mostly because of the 20+ mph headwind for the first 35 miles. I got home in time to see Joel Paterson and the Modern Sounds at the Pursuit of Joel PHappiness Festival. Joel is a phenomenal guitarist who can play anything. He has a number of bands to give him a chance to play multiple styles. The Modern Sounds play old jazz and swing with a little rockabilly, R&B, and blues in the mix. He started playing in these parts as a kid, then grew up and moved to Chicago. He also figures into my life in an indirect sort of way.

Those who know me in another part of my life know I work in health care. It was Joel’s mom who started me on that path. When I was 20 I injured my ankle. I was treated in an emergency room (after fashioning a crutch to get back down from the mountains, but that’s another story) while traveling but it didn’t get better. Walking was an interesting adventure. Running was out of the question. I went to my local free clinic (The Near East Side Community Health Center, which has merged into Access Community Health Centers, run by my friend Ken Loving – another story for another time).

In the free clinic, there was a volunteer position called “Patient Advocate”. The Advocate’s job was to act as a medical assistant (gathering health history and chief complaint) and more. It was the advocate’s job to be sure the patient’s needs were met. The advocate helped the patient formulate questions for the doctor, guided them with follow up questions as needed, and ensured that their needs were met before the doctor left the room.

Joel’s mom was my advocate. (She had also been my sister’s high school classmate.) Before I left the clinic that night, she extracted a promise that I would return as a patient advocate after I saw the orthopedic surgeon they referred me to.

I went back and volunteered as an advocate for a few years. Something must have stuck with me, as I became an Occupational Therapist about 25 years later. Patient advocacy is still an important part of my job.

Joel has a YouTube channel that can give you an idea of his range. Or you can look at what others have uploaded here. I’m not sure what to pick to just link to one or two things. Here’s a Scotty Moore tribute:

Here’s a bit of swing:

How about blues?

Now go listen to him live and buy his albums. A musician can’t make a living if all we do is watch his/her YouTube videos.

Back to bikes for a minute. A while back I posted a series on bike safety. I thought I was done but I left something out – and it’s something I’ve used the past few days.

It’s a baseball metaphor. For those of you who have played, you know what it means to “look the runner back”. You can skip the next paragraph. For those who don’t, read on.

If you’re playing shortstop and there’s a runner on second and a ground ball is hit to you, your natural play is to throw the batter out at first; but you don’t want the runner on second to go to third. You “look him/her back”. You make eye contact in a way that says, “If you break for third, you’re out. Better stay where you are.” When the runner turns back to second, you make your play at first.

It works with drivers. You’re at a four way stop. The car to your left was there first and has the right of way. You let her/him go. The car behind her/him decides to go at the same time. You look her/him back; making eye contact in a way that says, “wait your turn.” That driver know it’s your turn to go and was hoping you’d be cowed because their car is bigger than your bike. Most of the time, the driver will acquiesce, knowing they were trying to pull a fast one. If they go anyway, you let them. You both know what’s what.

In this way you can be an assertive, not aggressive, bicyclist.

I think I’m done with this topic.

One last thing about safety and etiquette. This may seem obvious, but traffic laws are intended to make traffic flow more smoothly by getting us to follow some basic principles.

Stop signs are there to tell people going one direction to stop. The clear implication is that people going the other direction don’t stop. It makes things nice and orderly. We don’t hit each other. That’s pretty much the way most traffic regulations work.

Sometimes, someone tries to be polite and stops when s/he doesn’t have to. Let’s say I’m proceeeding north on my bike and you’re proceeding east in your car. I’m stopped at the stop sign with my foot on the ground. You don’t have a stop sign. Convention says you keep going, but you want to be polite to the bicyclist and you stop and wave me through. Now what? I can accept your generous offer and go, or I can point to my stop sign and wave you through.

intersection 1

Let’s say I (bike is the white car) take you (you are the blue car) up on your offer and I  start to cross the intersection. A car behind you (red car), wondering why you stopped for no reason, pulls around and hits me. Oops.

intersection 2

Or maybe there are two lanes and the car in the next lane over doesn’t know why you stopped and continues through, since he has the right of way. Oops. (Sorry about the white arrow indicating the bike turning the wrong way in this instance. I “borrowed” these diagrams and added to them. Think of the bike going straight.)

intersection 3

Or maybe the traffic going your way stops but traffic going the other way doesn’t. Oops.

Or maybe you change your mind and decide to go again; maybe you remember you’re in a hurry, maybe you didn’t think I took you up on your offer soon enough, maybe you just have it in for bicyclists and decide to run me down.

In all of these scenarios, the bicyclist loses. In all of these scenarios, the bicyclist is at fault in the crash, for failing to yield the right of way. Maybe in the last paragraph’s choices, where the very car that waved me through hits me, I have an argument. But that supposes that: 1) I’m alive; 2) I don’t have a head injury resulting in amnesia for the time surrounding the crash (common in even mild traumatic brain injury or concussion); 3) the motorist admits fault; 4) the police/judge/jury believe the bicyclist over the motorist. We all know that bicyclists can’t be trusted. In the post “Better Safe than Sorry”, I alluded to the “otherness” ascribed to bicyclists in our car-centric culture. My daughter reminded me that this experience is common to all “other” groups. We are seen as representative of a class and not as credible as the dominant class. The bicyclist in this scenario may be considered an unreliable witness because he might have a head injury and thus remember it wrong (ironic, if this is actually someone who does remember), or just unreliable for his “otherness”.

Regardless of the question of fault (actual or ascribed), it is always the bicyclist who comes out of this scenario with the physical injuries. That’s why, if you try to wave me through a stop sign out of politeness or solidarity or for any other reason, I probably won’t take you up on the offer. I risk being seen as rude or unappreciative, but I don’t risk being dead.

P.S. I will admit that I accepted a “wave through” this winter. I was stopped at a stop sign, foot down, waiting for traffic to clear. The next car that approached on the through street was a police car. The officer stopped and waved me through. The temperature was -5° Fahrenheit. There were no other cars approaching from either direction. Rather than “argue” (even if only with hand signals and pointing, as his window was closed) with a police officer on a cold day, I went through the intersection.

P.P.S. I can’t end this topic without acknowledging John Forester, a bicycle transportation engineer, originator of the “Effective Cycling” program, advocate of “vehicular cycling”, and one of the prime thinkers in the area of bike safety. I also want to acknowledge Bob Mionske, former professional bike racer and now attorney working in the field of bicycle safety and rights. He writes a regular column for VeloNews. Some of the ideas in the last three posts certainly came from them.

P.P.P.S. A Dude Abikes posted on safety this week, about a campaign in Austin – “Please be kind to cyclists” – check it out.

Next week: urban cycling, San Francisco

Better Red than Dead

I’d rather be alive than dead right. Sometimes the law is on your side but you’re still dead. So we’re going to talk about the law but also about staying alive. I know some stupid bicyclists and I know some old bicyclists. I don’t know any old stupid bicyclists.

Generally speaking, you are safer on a bike if you operate it more like a car than a toy. You are generally safer if you operate in a predictable manner. We’ll go into some examples of those.

In Wisconsin, a motor vehicle passing a bike is required to allow at least three feet of space. In many states (including Wisconsin), a bike is required to stay as far to the right as practicable. This does not mean “as possible.” You don’t want to ride in the “door zone”.
DSC_1226Riding in the door zone either means you get hit if someone opens their door or you end up swerving in and out of traffic. In the picture you can see that only the very far left edge of the bike lane (if that) is a safe place to ride. Safer in this instance is in the traffic lane. Alternatively, you can ride while looking through the rear window of every car to see if someone is in it and might suddenly open a door. That was easier to do before the advent of tinted glass. (And you still need to watch everywhere else.) Bike lanes, to be safe, need to be outside of the door zone. Bob Mionske, writing in VeloNews, goes into this in more depth.

What does operating like a motor vehicle look like? If you’re going to make a left turn, signal your intention, change into the left lane, and make your left turn from the left lane. A left turn from the right lane is not expected. If you’re going straight and traffic is turning right, don’t ride to the far right of traffic, get into their lane. That way they don’t turn right into you.

Sometimes we forget where roads come from. Paved roads arrived primarily through the work of the “Safe Roads Movement” of the League of American Wheelmen in the 1890s. (The organization is still around but is now the League of American Bicyclists or Bike League. Wisconsin has long been known for its great system of secondary roads – why? Because family dairy farms were on those roads and the milk trucks had to get to them to make pickups in any weather. Now that the dairy industry is consolidating into fewer and larger farms, Wisconsin’s secondary roads are deteriorating.

Bike path or road? Most bike paths are actually “multi-use paths” or “shared-use paths“. They are intended for bikes, walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, sometimes horses, strollers…If you are riding closer to the speed of walkers you are probably safer on a multi-use path. If you are riding closer to the speed of a motor vehicle, you are probably safer on the road. The walkers are safer with you on the road, too.

Be visible and make noise. I wear bright clothing. I have a bell on my bike. I find it is most useful on shared-use paths. Calling out “on your left” doesn’t work very well. Hearing the word “left” makes many people swerve to their left. The sound of a bell seems friendlier than yelling and people can usually place the sound. If it’s coming from their left, they move right. See above re: speed. If you’re on a shared-use path and there are walkers, ride more slowly than you would on a street or empty path.

With cars, a bell is seldom loud enough and it doesn’t carry a sense of urgency. When a car is running a stop sign into my path, I loudly yell, “STOP!” That seems to have a better effect. Plus I don’t have to get my thumb to the bell and I can use my hands to avoid the car (by steering and/or braking).

Communication carries other benefits. When I stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, they often thank me. When in an ambiguous situation I often wave drivers through. They usually smile and wave back. Those smiles feel good. I can only hope that those interactions have some influence on those drivers the next time they are thinking “those damn bikers!” instead of “that @sshole!” (See last week’s post.)

By ambiguous situation, I mean things like: when two vehicles arrive at a stop sign simultaneously (at right angles to each other), the law requires you to yield to the vehicle on your right. Otherwise, whoever got there first has the right of way. If it is not clear who got there first, a gesture clarifies intent. The right of way is something to be yielded, not something to be demanded. Notice there are no “assert right of way” signs, but there are “yield right of way” signs.

I thought I was going to put a bunch of diagrams of potentially dangerous situations in here. Others have done that. One example is: https://bicyclesafe.com.

Spring comes to Wisconsin.

What else can you do? We (my family) are members of AAA, ostensibly for the emergency road service. But that also means we are contributing to an advocacy group for motor vehicles. I decided to at least equal that donation with donations for bicycle advocacy. The Bike League is a good place to start. Most states have an organization. In Wisconsin, it’s The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Some places also have local advocacy organizations. Spend at least as much to advocate for your rights as a bicyclist as you spend for your rights as a motorist.

Totally unrelated: Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Tammy Wynette. I saw her perform in the Sun Prairie High School gym, wondering how she had fallen so far so fast. My friend Jeanette loved to sing Tammy’s “I don’t wanna play house“, but I have to admit that my favorite is below: