Thursday, December 13, 2012

Con-Sonar! CRAZY IVAN!!!

That line from the movie The Hunt For Red October has taken on new meaning for cyclists on Multi-Use Trails.  In the movie it is used to announce when a Russian submarine turned stopped and turned to see if anyone was following it.  In cycling terms, it describes when a pedestrian or runner does a 180 degree turn immediately in front of you without looking or warning.  

I don't intend this post to slam runners or walkers in any way.  I honestly do both and it is actually quite hard to remember to look and signal before you do a turn... especially when running.  You're thinking about 100 things and in your zone a bit... and the possibility of a cyclist coming up behind is not always top 5 on that list of things.  

This morning's commute involved the rare, and extremely dangerous Crazy Ivan executed by a large number of runners.  I slowed as I approached a group of 8 runners.  I rang the bell once from 20 bike-lengths back.  I rang it again at 10 and a third time at 5.  I then called out "passing on your left".  The MOMENT the words left my mouth, all 8 turned left into me.  

I don't entirely know how we all survived unharmed.  I flat-spotted a rear tire, grabbed a fist full of brake, made a strange noise and did a bit of agricultural exploration.  At least 3 of the runners did some fancy dance moves as I rolled through the middle of their running pack.  Two of them screamed.  None of us made contact.  I kept the bike upright.   3 of them rushed over to apologize.  No-one was angry.  There was no bad outcome out of the whole thing... in fact, two really good outcomes.  There are 8 runners that are a lot more aware of the need to look over their shoulder before doing quick changes of direction and I get to write a little about how to help prevent incidents like this.

From the cyclists point of view, it helps to warn early and often.  I try to warn twice by bell and once by voice.  If I get a wave on the first bell, I will forgo the second bell and just talk to the person.   It also helps to slow down a bit.  I know that interrupts people's workouts, but we shouldn't be pushing the speed envelope around other trail users anyways.  Think of it as an opportunity to accelerate and build some of that power in your legs.  You'll benefit next spring and live to see it too. ;)

From the runners point of view, it helps to be very aware of your surroundings.  Headphones are never a good idea on a multi-use trail.  I know walkers and runners (and cyclists for that matter) don't want to hear that, but it is true.  I hear people say they can hear cyclists approaching, but that is really impossible.  Some of us fixie riders are virtually silent unless we announce with bell and voice.  Additionally it takes the focus of your mind away from your surroundings.  That is the actual reason for having the headphones on... letting your mind focus on something other than the work that your legs and lungs are doing.  

All trail users need to keep a closer eye and more attentive mind to their surroundings on the trail.  I think we're all guilty of letting our guard down from time to time.  It is human nature and most of the time it doesn't hurt anything.  Now and then the situation gangs up on us and a lapse in concentration can contribute to an accident.  

Keep it safe out there!  

Happy winter riding!


Monday, December 3, 2012


One of these days the chip on my shoulder about law enforcement people who treat people with attitude rather than respect is going to get me into a lot of trouble.  Today was definitely not going to be that day. 

I was standing at the intersection of 15th and Penn. NW, next to the East White House Security Entrance, waiting for the light to turn green to ride the one block to my office.  I was doing so at the exact same place and relatively the same time as I do 5 or 6 days per week for the last 7 years.  I'd lined up to move with traffic rather than take the cycletrack.  I do that on purpose because I make a right turn in about a block as there is not a great way to safely and legally cross three lanes of traffic to make a right turn.  I feel, and probably am, much safer riding in the traffic lane and turning right from there.  

I'll take a little break from today's story and give you some helpful hints for dealing with law enforcement.  

These folks have a very difficult job.  They see some of the worst things that humanity dishes out.  That gets them quite a bit of respect in my book.  Here's what I suggest you do when a law enforcement person asks you to do something..... EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG!!!
  1. Do what they ask you to promptly and respectfully.
  2. If you've got a smart comment to make, you're better off if you keep it to yourself.
  3. Don't be overly surly.  Just do what they ask and diffuse the situation. Be calm, relaxed and responsive.
  4. If the opportunity presents itself to talk calmly with the officer about the situation, then do so.  Be ready to listen to what they have to say.  Be prepared for them to not want to hear a word that you're saying.  It is best to do this AFTER you've finished doing what they've asked you to do.  They're more likely to listen, and you are less likely to sound like you're arguing with them.
Now on with our story.... 

I'm standing at that intersection, waiting to move.  My light is about to turn green.  There is a van stopped in the median, waiting to turn left into the White House security area.  I've left room for that person to drive around me and line up perfectly with the entrance.  I've also left enough room behind me so that if someone is coming out of the entrance, they can make a right on red turn onto 15th street southbound.  That's when I hear:


I hesitate for a moment... not sure if the man yelling at me is talking to me.  I cocked my head to see if it was.  The light turns green and I'm about to take off when he yells at me a second time...  "The bike lane is over there. GET THE HELL OUT OF THE ROAD!" followed immediately with a "You on the bicycle: HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!"  I stopped, turned walked to the sidewalk and faced extremely angry Secret Service Security detail person walking toward me who is now yelling and spitting mad.  While this was happening, the van that was waiting to make the left turn ran the red light and headed into the security entrance.  

A quick note about the legality of the situation... 

The officer was completely wrong.  As a cyclist, I can use the bike lanes if I want, but I'm also able to move lawfully with traffic.  The "TBLIOT" (The Bike Lane Is Over There) attitude is very common with drivers and law enforcement people.  It isn't always easy to get people to understand that there are some times when riding in the bike lane isn't the safest place.  For my riding, I tend to use bike lanes and cycletracks as often as possible.  Sometimes when making left or right turns off of a road, it is safer and PERFECTLY LEGAL to use the traffic lane.  

How did I do on my checklist from above??? 

I did item #1 from above.... probably not as fast as the officer would have liked, but I honestly couldn't tell who he was yelling at immediately.   I walked toward where the bike lane crosses 15th street.  I also did #2 from above perfectly, even though about 1000 smart comments came to mind sooooo quickly.  The guy followed me as I walked over to the place that is painted for the bike lane to cross.  I managed to do #3 from above pretty dang well... I tried to sound sincere and genuine.  It isn't easy because when someone yells at you in such condescending and disrespectful way, it is easy to get flustered and behave in a way that doesn't help resolve the situation.  Personally, I think that becoming overly formal is just as bad as being sarcastic.  Being calm, confident and respectful seems to work best for me.   With that all going for me I figured I might as well try item #4 from above.

Now back to the story.... 

I don't know if the guy finally recognized me (we have a good history from past encounters), but he actually let me talk a little as I waited for my light to turn. 

"I'm not trying to argue with you here, but I'd like to point out a few things.  It is legal for me to travel on the road as a vehicle.  The place that I was standing was selected very carefully and with a lot of thought.  Standing there allows vehicles from behind to make a right on red and NOT be blocked by me.  Vehicles turning left into the security zone can do so and miss me by more than 5 feet.  I dress very visibly on purpose so that I'm easy to miss.  When the light turns green, I am able to ride in the lane and I don't have to criss-cross with traffic to do so.  Standing where you suggested puts both me and other traffic at risk."

The officer listened, but wasn't going to respond.  He relaxed a bit and didn't look like he wanted to beat the crap out of me.  When I rode away, I crossed over traffic and headed down Pennsylvania Avenue in the traffic lanes.  I looked back and he watched me go.

I'm interested to see what happens tomorrow when I pull up to the exact same spot.
Be safe out there.