Friday, May 22, 2009

Seeing the Future

Riding in the city requires foresight. There are a number of forces at work against you. Cars. Pedestrians. Potholes. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Being safe means being able to anticipate what is going to happen next. People who have been riding cities for long periods of time develop a sixth sense, an awareness that mostly not even aware of. It leads them to tell non-riders that it's really not that dangerous riding in thick urban traffic.

It is. It's very dangerous. But there are some things you can do to develop this sense, to make yourself a little safer. Here are some tips (and I'd love to hear more if anyone has them):

1) Know your lights. I'm talking here about both the traffic lights AND the walk signs. I find it really, really valuable to know when walk signs signal an upcoming red traffic light or when a red light gives way to a walk sign moving the same direction, a situation that makes the intersection relatively safe, rather than crowded with cars moving perpendicular to your path. The truth is, I cheat on lights all the time. I run them. But I don't do it in the kamikaze rush I did ten years ago, plowing into the intersection and hoping to figure my way across once I got there. No. Now I know the lights that have long yellows. I know the timing of the turn signals and the walks. I can look at the walk sign and know what the traffic light will do. I use all that information to make decisions about when to plow forward and when to pull up.

2) Read the pedestrians. Pedestrians are slower than you are. By and large they look before they cross in front of cars (if not when they step in front of bikes), so coming to an intersection, you can usually tell whether you need to stop by seeing what the pedestrians are doing. Here on the East Coast, no one waits for the walk sign. Folks cross against the light all the time. You can use them to know what's going on down roads you can't see down yet. You can also use them as shields, since cars very, very seldom plow through a gaggle of foot-bound humanity. I use them to protect me from turning cars and as canaries in the mine of wide intersections.

3) Profile drivers. If you see a motorist on the phone while smoking a cigarette, it's a good idea to assume they're going to drive like an asshat. If you see a driver ahead of you squeezing into the bike lane (where there are bike lanes) or switching lanes without signaling, you really have to be extra careful passing them. Also, you should ALWAYS beware of women driving Volvos, men driving pick up trucks, cabs, buses, cops and box trucks. I won't get into the reasoning behind singling these people out. Just take it on faith that they are dangerous and keep a safe distance.

4) Talk to yourself. The biggest danger in urban riding is ADD. There is so much input coming out you at high speed from every corner of your vision, that maintaining concentration is a real challenge. I talk to myself, articulating what's going on in front of me. If I see a cab driver getting ready to pull out of a cab stand, I say, "Douchebag in the cab. Douchebag in the cab," over and over until I've passed the danger. It makes you look and sound crazy, but it reduces the risk of getting creamed by a douchebag.

5) Use your lizard vision. Coming into a crowded intersection, it's very difficult to see all the things you need to see. At times like that I try to let my sight blur a bit, using my peripheral vision to see left AND right at the same time. This is especially useful when watching for cars on one side and pedestrians on the other.

6) Sometimes brake lights are turn signals. In Boston, only about 40% of the population uses their turn signals. Every time I've been hit or nearly hit, it's been because a driver has suddenly cut across my lane with no signal. I've come to see that when a car brakes coming into an intersection, it's often because they're going to turn. I try not to get myself between them and their turn. I try to slow and insert myself in the space behind them, so that, as they turn, I can slip ahead of them on the left, without blocking traffic or getting crushed.

There is more. I will try to get more of these things down in the future.

Be safe.

Video coming later. It's Friday.

1 comment:

Seth said...

i fell over laughing. "Texter in a hummer. Texter in a hummer." I chanted to myself not a few hours ago. Fantastic post, thank you. I will be forwarding this to those in the know.