Who is Chris Boardman?

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

For those who follow cycling, the answer is no doubt obvious, just as “Who is Frank Shorter?” would be for a runner.[1] But for me, Chris Boardman is a new-found national treasure, albeit one that belongs to Britain.

Chris Boardman
From the current home page of his web log: https://www.chrisboardman.com

Listen to what he says in an interview on the BBC, an interview occurring in the eighth month of the covid19 pandemic:

I’m very, very wary of using the term ‘opportunity’ in the midst of a pandemic, where people are dying, but I think we’d be very foolish not to notice some of the things that happened when we effectively turned off global traffic, and I suppose in a sense we started a worldwide consultation on how we use our roads. And we found that when you gave people quiet streets and you can hear the bird song and we took away the traffic—people wanted to ride bikes and they did that in the droves. And we saw an increase across England, I think, Department of Transport tagged it at over 300%.[2]

Lauren Laverne, the host of BBC’s “Desert Island Discs,” rightly sets him up as a spokesperson for biking: “British cycling is currently booming, and he’s arguably the man who lit the fuse.”

Super Boardman

On his web log, he writes, “Trained as a carpenter, nobody outside of the sport of cycling would have known who I was until 1992, when I took Great Britain’s opening Gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics astride the infamous Lotus bike.”[3]

Boardman 1992 Olympics
From Boardman’s web log, https://www.chrisboardman.com/about/

After he won the first British gold metal in cycling in 72 years on the revolutionary carbon-frame bike, he became, according to Laverne, the “first Brit to win the Prologue in the Tour de France two years later; then set the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] absolute hour record in the now-famous Superman position with his arms stretched out to minimize drag.”

Citizen Boardman

The competitive achievements continue; they are well-documented and well-known. But it’s the non-competitive side that gains the attention of Person vs. Automobile. After retiring from racing and pursuing several ventures (including the creation of his own line of bicycles), Boardman has become the Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester. According to a Manchester government web page: “Cycling and Walking Commissioners from across the UK have today called on the government to empower them truly to do their jobs by giving cycling and walking the funding it deserves, making a political commitment to minimum quality levels and accounting for the true cost of car use to society.”[4] And I ask myself: does anything like this exist in the United States? Or has the love of driving rendered that unpatriotic?

In this role, Boardman says, “I just want people to use bicycles to get around, and I care more about that than gold medals by a million miles. My definition of success isn’t winning; it’s the guy using his bike to go to the shops.”[5]

He continues, stating that being Commissioner of Cycling and Walking has “got nothing to do with cyclists; I think this is the weird, almost perverse bit; this is for people in cars, because it’s not people who already ride a bike that need convincing. You need to be able to look out of a car window and think, ‘Oh, I quite fancy that,’ because if you don’t, why would you get out of the car?”

As was clear to Boardman, what people needed was a safe space, so what they set out to build in Manchester was a fully connected network that could safely be used by a competent 12-year old. It will take 10 years to complete. It will bring Britain closer to the Nederlands, a country successful at self-propulsion because of how they use their streets. Somebody walking has precedence over someone on a bike, who has precedence over public transport, which has precedence over people driving. “Everything they do from legislation to the streetscape reflects that.”

If all were well in the world, this Person vs. Automobile site would not exist, nor would this final biographical note. Speaking to the British television, ITN, Chris Boardman said it was his mother who inspired him to ride.[6] This statement is, unfortunately, part of the story of his mother’s death when she was run over by a pickup truck in a roundabout. Both Boardman’s parents were bicycle enthusiasts. His mother, 75, was out riding and fell off her bicycle. Before she could clear out of the way, a driver, who had 4 seconds earlier been on the phone, ran over her. He went to jail for 30 months and lost his license for about 18 months. This loss of his mother, according to the “Desert Island Discs” interview, is something Chris Boardman continues to grapple with. He advocates for harsher penalties for careless driving, not wanting prison sentences as much as permanent revoking of driving rights.

In Memoriam

It is the elderly who are at greater risk of most things, and that may have contributed to the passing of a friend of a friend, Anne Seller, 79. She lectured at the University of Kent in Canterbury throughout her professional life. She visited Boulder several times, teaching at the University of Colorado as an exchange professor. After retirement, she practiced art and “sang in the Amici choir, contributed to reading groups, and was actively involved in the St Paul’s Church community.”[7] On November, 11, she was hit by a van on a street outside a Waitrose grocery store. The street does not look menacing, but only a week earlier a 20-year-old man was struck and killed by an automobile on the same road. Darkness probably played a role in both collisions, happening as they did at night.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Incidentally, in 2009, Boardman “took part in the London marathon, finishing in 3hrs 19min 27sec.” according to Wikipedia Chris Boardman.

[2] Chris Boardman was interviewed on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[3] Chris Boardman, About.

[4] Empower Us to do Our Jobs….

[5] Again, from the interview on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[6] Motorist jailed for 30 weeks over death of cyclist Chris Boardman’s mother.

[7] In memoriam: Anne Seller.

Incidents #1 (Boulder, Denver)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

The honeymoon is over: even a pandemic cannot clear the streets for long. I know, I know, it’s a sign that national economies are surviving. But, my, for those who spend most of their time on their feet or on their bikes, the quiet, clear streets were wonderful.

A couple of incidents have come to my attention lately: a bike fatality in Boulder and an apologetic driver in Denver.

Bicyclist Fatally Hit

Last year, I mentioned the role of the ghost bike—a white bike placed where a car or truck has hit and killed or seriously maimed a bicyclist.

Driving on South Boulder Road, which connects Lafayette and Louisville with Boulder, I recently noticed a ghost bike.

ghost bike
“In Memory of Perry Nelson   –   1963-2020”


South Boulder Road has by far the widest, safest shoulders. Unfortunately, there had been construction when the accident occurred, with plenty of orange barrels and constricted lanes. A photo from The Daily Camera shows the construction in progress: construction on South Boulder Road

The report in The Daily Camera succinctly summarizes the event:

Perry Nelson, 57, of Louisville, was biking west on South Boulder Road at 11 a.m. July 11, according to Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis.

A 67-year-old man from Boulder was driving a BMW SUV east on South Boulder Road when he made a left turn at 76th Street, striking Nelson in the intersection.

Nelson was taken to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital, but was declared dead upon arrival. The driver of the SUV was not injured.

The article continues to explain that at the time of the accident, bikes were required to merge with the traffic but were not disallowed.[1]

An obituary provides happy facts about Mr. Nelson’s life and family, as well as a photo:[2]

Perry Nelson

Apologetic Driver

This post from nextdoor·com was passed onto me from someone who lives in Centennial, Colorado. The incident probably occurred in Highlands Ranch. It closely echoes an incident in Louisville, Colorado where a woman also nearly hit a bicyclist whom she didn’t see and apologized profusely.

TW
Highlands Ranch Golf
I didn’t see a biker. So I was driving in my minivan with my kids in the car, in our neighborhood. I stopped at a stop sign, didn’t see any cars so I went forward. I did not see a man biking, dressed in bright orange and yellow. He must have been right in my blind spot . . . . I didn’t see him . . . . Luckily he swerved I think and I didn’t hit him [sad face]. I want to find him, apologize and tell him I will be so much more careful. . . . so I turned around to find him and apologize. Unfortunately when I did find him and pullsed over to apologize he was still extremely angry and yelled in my face. [More apologies follow.] Please forgive me [praying hands and heart] Your neighbor.

It’s refreshing to have that kind of honesty, the kind that mentions “dressed in bright orange and yellow.”

Good for her! (And good for him, having dodged her.) Stories like this appeal to me in part because often when a car or truck hits a bicycle, there’s a tacit (or spoken) assumption that the bike wasn’t following the rules or any wisdom. Often the initial newspaper story will suggest the driver was not at fault (at times because the police report leans that way), and only later, after the news has become a short revision or retraction, does it come out that the biker was doing everything right. Anyway, good for her!

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Mitchell Byars, Boulder Daily Camera, PUBLISHED: July 21, 2020 at 11:15 a.m. | UPDATED: July 21, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.: Louisville cyclist hit and killed in crash on South Boulder Road

[2] Originally published in the Daily Camera, the obituary can be found on an aggregator, Legacy.com

Wait, Wait, Peter, Don’t Run From Me

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post offers some quotes from Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running (2018), a confessional book, both humorous and insightful.

covers: Incomplete Book of Running

Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! is also a notable amateur runner in his own right. At the age of 46, he ran a sub-40 minute 10k, a sub-90 minute Half Marathon, and a 3:09 Marathon. In his words, “Sub-three [hour marathon] people, while not quite the separate species that sub-2:30 marathoners are, are still different from the rest of us. If you run a 3:09 marathon, you’re a great amateur runner and you should be very proud, as I was. If you can run a 2:59 marathon, then you can do anything, including, perhaps, depending on the day and the field, winning the thing” (143).

Some of the readers of this web log are “different from the rest of us,” but even they would probably appreciate the book for its humor and honesty. One of my daughters lent me the book and said Peter was not as snarky in the book as he is on the radio show. I completely agree, and this makes him more lovable.

Peter Sagal also qualifies for “person versus automobile.” One day while riding his bicycle, an “Orange Nissan of Death” failed to yield to him at an intersection, with the result that he left a Peter-shaped impression on the car and had to recover from a broken back. His critique of the American dependence on machines is worth quoting at length:

Citizens of these United States don’t so much travel as we are processed through space, like some sort of industrialized, extruded meat product, human Slim Jims. Metal boxes carry us to processing centers that put us on conveyor belts that put us in metal tubes that take us to other processing centers and conveyor belts that put us in different metal boxes that take us to temporary storage cubicles, many of them with lovely minibars for overpriced sustenance. Like hamsters in Habitrails, we think we’re free, because that’s what the enclosure’s designers want us to think. If we didn’t do something drastic to punch through the walls, we’d never even know we were trapped. (xii)

While Peter, as do many of us, finds running a way to explore a city, he concluded some cities are not worth exploring that way, such as Los Angeles: “Eventually, I realized all that brown stuff hanging around the horizon was being sucked into my lungs whenever I ran, and I gave up running to devote myself to more practical forms of exercise, like failure” (32-33).

Running appeals to the minimalist within us, the part that sees no need to accessorize:

No: you have everything you need to begin. If you don’t have sneakers, just grab your most comfortable shoes, or go barefoot on dirt or sand. If you don’t have shorts, get an old pair of jeans and cut off the legs. If anybody judges you for wearing ratty clothes, one of the privileges and benefits of running is leaving people behind. (35)

Before setting his personal record on the marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon, he realized he had “no notion of what the course would be like…”:

So I consulted Ian Chillag, a Wait, Wait producer, onetime Philadelphia resident, and 2:39 marathoner.
I asked him, ‘Any advice on the marathon?’
Chillag said, ‘Yeah, don’t be stupid.’
‘Don’t be stupid?’
‘Yeah, you’re always stupid. You always go out too fast. So don’t be stupid. You want to negative split this course. If you cross that halfway mark fasther than 1:37:30, I’ll hit you.’ (137)

He did cross at 1:33, wasn’t hit by Ian, didn’t bonk—but it is refreshing to hear the sometimes snide host of a radio show allow others to call him stupid.

Part of the impetus behind his 46-year old effort at a new personal record was to refute an economist (Professor Ray Fair) who predicted that, “on average, marathon times inevitably decline about a minute per race for every year of age past forty…” (129-130). And so it was that on finishing the Philadelphia Marathon, while he “had not reversed time, or gotten any younger,” he had shown, at least to himself, “that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped” (143).

During this amateur running career, Peter’s marriage was failing terribly, and he occasionally likens a marriage to a marathon for which one has not trained. The two were not related only metaphorically: running was what kept him above water, mentally, during this period:

The next year, 2012, was the last year of my marriage, with its many and increasing trials, and during that time, and in the years since, I have often tried to hold on to that feeling from the early miles of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Not the confidence, or even, God help me, the sense of having been well and truly prepared for what I was enduring, because I knew, as my divorce unfolded, that I had never trained a single moment for that. No: what I have tried to remember, and occasionally achieved, is that sense of handing myself over to the moment I was in, trusting that what had brought me there would carry me through, allowing things to transpire not with effort, but with something like ease, even grace. (144)

Peter then ran two (and about 24/26) marathons in which he guided runners who had severe vision problems. The first provides the epic story that is important to the book but also has been told outside the book: he was guiding William Greer whose occipital lobe had been damaged years before, with the result that while his eyes worked fine, his brain could hardly interpret the images it was receiving. This run occurred, epically, in the 2013 Boston Marathon, co-inciding with the bombs detonated at the finish line.

The second runner he guided was Erich Manser in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Erich suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, which narrowed his field of vision to the point that it was as if he saw the world “through a cardboard toilet-paper tube” (146). It became clear to Peter that “Erich never complains, about anything, despite his surfeit of reasons. Maybe I could absorb some lessons from him; after all, he also found it difficult to see his kids. (I was known around Team With A Vision for my tasteful sense of humor.)” (156)

Guiding Erich became problematic when Peter began to get dizzy, either from dehydration or from not taking some medications he had left in another city. Luckily, another available guide, Monte, joined him, so he was able to hand Erich off to Monte. They continued while Peter drank Gatorade.

This was worse than death; this was failure. In the end, just as I had feared would happen when I guided William the year before, I had promised somebody I’d be there for him and I couldn’t do it. I cheesed out. I hadn’t been strong or dedicated enough. I’d blown it. Well, add the 2014 Boston Marathon to a long list of things attempted but not conquered: marriage, fatherhood, lawn maintenance, baseball…
I got another cup of Gatorade, and as the runners streamed by, I thought about Jacob Seilheimer. (162)

Jacob was a man who, in 2007, “ran” the Boston Marathon course, after the race had ended, in roughly eight hours, due to his obesity and lack of training. He was someone Peter, in his cockier years, hated for not applying himself. But later Peter got to know him and realized “Jacob has carried with him more burdens, handicaps, and back luck than I…Could imagine” (167). Inspired by these reflections and refreshed by the Gatorade, Peter began running again, catching Erich and finishing the race as his guide.

The book ends happily, as many do, with the acquisition of a couple of dogs, something Peter’s marriage disallowed because of his wife’s allergies.

Post script: I would be remiss not to mention what is likely the most useful chapter in the book, Chapter Five. It covers both his anorexic tendencies and his discovery of what a good diet consists of. He writes, “At the age of fifteen I looked into the mirror and saw somedoy I didn’t like, so I started to run away from him. I used obsessive running as a way to make my fat self disappear, as quickly as could be managed” (83). The problem was deeper than fat: he couldn’t see or accept himself; he couldn’t even see that he had become thin.

On dieting, he writes, “One thing that will help of course is diet, and that too, is something your running will affect, and something that will affect your running. By diet, I mean what you actually eat, not what some magazine or author or murdered doctor or celebrity or wife of Jerry Seinfeld recommends you should eat” (89). This sentence is followed by common good advice about eating well without swallowing a new neurosis in the process.

Covidiocy, Covidity, Covitality

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

I was pretty sure I had invented all those words, but that’s not the case. Covidiocy refers to people who make inane statements or perform inane actions relative to covid-19. Covidity refers to having a proclivity toward respecting the guidelines for slowing down the spread of the virus. Covidity has its own Facebook page. Covitality predates covid-19. It is a kind of therapy for adolescents (especially). It phonetically contrasts with co-dependence. In Person vs. Automobile, however, I give it a new meaning.

Covidiocy

The facts do keep shifting concerning the virus, but that does not exculpate conspiracy theorists concerning covid-19. The theory that comes to mind is the one that states the threat is manufactured by the US or a consortium of governments. I’m thinking of Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, who said, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated.”[1] If I thought my faith could keep 1,000 people safe from the virus, even though that’s a tall order, I guess I’d keep meeting with them, as he has been even after being cited on six counts of violating the governor’s executive order.

There’s a bitmapped message floating around on Facebook that generally seems to be posted to show that the covid-19 threat is minor compared to well-known causes of death. Generally, I like that approach: we often fear the unlikely dangers while we ignore the most likely danger. While a fear of flying is involuntary, it was the drive to the airport that put us on the statistical radar.

However, I decided to check the sources for this info graphic, since some of the causes of death (starting with the beginning of 2020) seem dreadfully high (and they are). But in the process, using the same source, worldometers.info, I compared the 2020 world-wide-death-count numbers as of 4/2/2020 with those of the 3/25/2020 info graphic (an additional 8 days). The count of ALL of the causes of death was 109% greater except covid-19, which was 249%.

Here’s the info graphic:

Here’s my comparison (except I couldn’t find hunger statistics):

It is this rate of covid growth that concerns epidemiologists (but not perhaps conspiracy theorists).

Covidity

Not every pastor—in fact very, very few—has ignored the mandates and recommendations to avoid public gatherings. Take my sister, for example. She resides in Oklahoma as a Methodist pastor. Oklahoma is among the five states that had, as of April 3, done the least to prevent social gatherings.[2]

She, herself, is a woman of faith, but she doesn’t take chances. After her husband returned from a trip in his automobile that required him to leave the state, she quarantined him for 14 days just to be safe. (Don’t read too much into this!)

In my peer group, I occasionally hear millennials dismissed unfairly through a kind of bigotry and over generalization. This irritates me because when I dream at night, I’m usually a millennial by age. It also irritates me because in several respects, millennials are on top of their game, including recognizing a social threat when it wanders into town. My daughter and her husband returned from China (and Paris) only to find Colorado becoming a hot spot. They quarantined themselves for 14 days. When we took our first carefully distanced walk, they were quick to note how I and a few other, older passersby failed to cover our mouths when we coughed. Kudos, sharp witted millennials.

Covitality

Covitality, as I use it, refers to the hidden physical opportunities during this time of distress. No doubt, many of us breathed a (perhaps contagious) sigh of relief when Governor Polis issued the order to stay at home. It of course allowed for essential services, such as liquor stores and dispensaries, to remain open. That was nearly a given. But it also allowed for going outdoors to exercise at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, the amount of drivers on the road subsided drastically. First in China and now in places such as San Francisco, the air is becoming notably cleaner.[3] Los Angelas has now cleaner air than it has had since World War II.[4] Similarly, the number of car accidents is plummeting.[5] Finally, life is quiet. In fact the earth is quiet, allowing seismographs to detect smaller earthquakes.[6]

While the cause for this freedom from traffic is truly awful, the result has been heralded by bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians as a long-sought advance in society. I used to seek the trails to avoid cars, but now I seek the empty roads to avoid all the people on the trails.

A friend of mine who (like many) cannot visit her aging parents and who has had to learn to teach her students online—in other words, who is paying a price for the pandemic—remarked to me that she thought it good that we have to slow down. She hoped—as I do—that when the virus subsides some of the good habits it caused us to acquire will not.

One Good Habit

Closing with a video as I often do, here is one from Don Bushey (who authored a post about almost dying on his bicycle) that might cheer you up:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] He’s quoted in an online site, Reason, which, quoting Christianity Today, provides this: “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” pastor Tony Spell told CNN affiliate WAFB. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

[2] According to an April 3, 2020 article in the Guardian, Which states have done the least to contain coronavirus?, the states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

[3] The stunning impact of COVID-19 social distancing on air pollution.

[4] As of April 6, 2020: As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades.

[5] See, for example, Traffic collisions are plummeting in several US cities and Car crashes down by 75% in Phoenix metro area as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[6] According to this article, the Earth has quieted down to the level normally reached on Christmas day: Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves.

David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

He owns a very nice bike helmet, he says, and even wears it if he needs to ride in gnarly traffic. However, with dedicated bike lanes, such as along the West Side of New York City, he lets his (now) gray hair blow in the wind. He doesn’t want to unnecessarily risk “helmet hair.”[1]

David Byrne on bike, nice helmet in basket (from NY Times interview on Youtube )

Continue reading “David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle”

The Most Dangerous Activity in which I Engage (guest post, Don Bushey)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

[Don Bushey, owner of Wilderness Exchange and, along those lines, quite active in rock climbing and skiing, wrote the following in an email.]

I honestly think that recreational road riding is the most dangerous activity I engage in—at least statistically this seems true. The main difference is that with the other dangerous things I do—rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing—there are behaviors and actions that can minimize and reduce my risk. With road biking, it is entirely out of my control (except for wiping out), and getting hit by a car from behind is a purely objective danger. I should tell you sometime about my near death experience that I had on a road bike up Sunshine Canyon . . .

[So I asked for more, getting the account along with his theory of risk ~ Louis]

Near Death in Sunshine Canyon

One cool crisp Fall evening about eight years ago, with the light reddening through the slot of Sunshine Canyon, I reached the end of the climb up Poorman’s on my road bike and pointed my front wheel down the steep [Sunshine Canyon Drive], winding through the canyon.

Don's road bike
Don’s road bike: “Her name is Tomi. She’s Italian and dreamy!”

This is where the thrill lies with road biking—the stoke—the rush. I took a deep breath and performed a little self-assessment, as I always do when embarking on an experience like this. Do I feel balanced? Strong? Relaxed? Are there anxieties and apprehensions? If so, are they real or imagined? This will determine the speed and commitment level I am willing to give to the descent. I exhaled and realized that I was tuned in and feeling great. I launched into the descent and quickly gained speed and velocity.

I love this [particular] downhill because there is such light vehicular traffic, and the grade and the angle of turning are perfect—allowing the rider to push speeds as fast as a bicycle can travel (~50 mph) with only one mandatory switchback to brake.

I quickly gained full cruising speed, feeling my sweet Italian handcrafted steel frame flexing and carving beneath me. I felt like I was flying!

You try to zone in and out, gaining a new hyper-awareness of your surroundings; your visual perspective increases, and you begin operating from an intuitive place, rather than an analytical one. Do the movement of bushes on the roadsides indicate a deer hazard? Does the rustling of leaves in the trees suggest a breeze that you may need to counter? Is that water on the road or a mirage? What are the options and ways out if so?

In this hyper-aware state, I saw a car several hundred yards down the canyon making a left turn on Timber Trail, directly in my path of travel. They saw me, and completed their turn (meaning they got out of my lane and were now headed up their dirt road), so I continued on, without needing to brake.

The very next moment, now only a couple dozen yards from that intersection, a second car sped up and initiated the same left turn.

This can’t be happening!

map of sunshine canyon
Larger-than-life Don sees second car immediately in front of him, and, as he describes, narrowly misses death. (both the bike and car icons created by macrovector – www.freepik.com)

In a split second, my awareness changed from enjoying the thrill of a recreational road ride, to facing an almost certain head-on collision with a car at full speed. I vividly remember seeing myself from above, like I was watching a movie. I was not in my body anymore. Operating on some form of primal intuition which I’ve never before or since been able to access, I saw myself turn into the lane of oncoming traffic, bearing down on my front wheel, initiating the deepest and fastest carve (as we skiers say) and immediate deceleration I have ever achieved on a bicycle.

I miraculously stayed on the bike and did not lay it down. Fortunately, there were no other oncoming cars. Still mounted on my bike, I slowly came back down to earth, body coursing and shaking with adrenaline and endorphins. Pulling over, I buried my face in my palms, weeping uncontrollably.

Death on Lookout Mountain

Several years after this incident, my friend Tom was killed on a similar descent down Lookout Mountain in Golden. A car swerved into his lane, ending his life, while leaving behind a widow and a son. Road biking is like Alpine climbing—so full of objective dangers. It’s guilty of subterfuge—an objective danger fox dressed in subjective sheeps’ wool. The actuary rate far exceeds the 8 in 1 million chance I have of dying rock climbing. Person vs. Automobile? Auto wins every time. It’s the most dangerous damned thing I do. But I love cycling and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Why Don Rides Again and Again

“With great risk, comes great rewards”
-Thomas Jefferson
“Except when road biking”
-Don

Bicycles are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all mankind, except for the wheel, of course, which was only a small step forward in the invention of the bicycle. It’s hard to imagine a more direct union of human and machine—the stuff of dreams and imagination.

They allow us to become faster than we are; we soar, we carve and bank into turns, experience g-forces, exhilaration, acceleration, and an overall sense of fun and well-being—all generated by gravity and our own power.

Riding bicycles—whether engaged in recreation or transportation—is a risky proposition. The outcomes of interactions with cars have been sadly topical on this blog, and, leaving cars in their garages, the possible outcomes of mountain biking at 40 mph down steep forested trails over rocky mountainsides are obvious. Acceptance of risk is highly individual, and our relationship with risk is at play with almost every decision we make; in a way, it shapes the way that we express ourselves in the world.

Outdoor adventure sports like climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing have informed and shaped my relationship with risk in almost every way—except, perhaps, running a business, which is ten times scarier than any of these sports.

But recreational road biking is not one of these activities where the Jeffersonian risk-reward ratio quite meters out.

Road biking is rife with objective risks, as I conclude with references to mountaineering and climbing. Subjective risks are risks that can be mitigated by an individuals’ judgement, behaviors, and decision making. Objective risks are risks out of an individual’s control. In Alpine climbing, which takes place in remote high mountain areas, objective risks like rockfall, icefall, lightning strikes, and avalanches, although mitigable, are an accepted part of the game. In sport climbing, where there are fixed anchors and a controlled environment, there are almost never objective dangers, and with proper use of equipment, the accepted risks are perhaps a sprained ankle, or an overuse injury. Tragedies in this environment almost always involve human error. Every climber quickly comes to a place where they are comfortable with their level of risk, decides what is acceptable and not acceptable, and works at exercising good judgement to ensure a long career.

None of this explains why I continue to ride my road bike. As I said, “acceptance of risk is highly individual.”

“Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement” -Mark Twain.

Driving with a Distracted Mind

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Smart phone usage prompts this post. Nearly every driver knows the dangers, but not every driver feels the dangers. Hence the advantage of being a pedestrian. Frankly I’m surprised there are not more car-to-car, car-to-bike, and car-to-pedestrian collisions. The human body and mind are wonderfully made.

The underlying problem is of course distraction. Drivers were instructed to “keep your eyes on the road” long before the mobile phone. But somehow people like myself hone in on texting and map reading as the biggest threat.

Tommy, Can You See Me?

One comedian says he feels safer with intoxicated drivers on the road than around texting drivers. At least with the intoxicated driver, he pleads, there’s someone driving.

I know what he means—as does a Utah study that suggests people using cell phones had a slower reaction time than drunk drivers.[1]

The graph below suggests the increase of iPhones and the increase of pedestrians killed by cars are related:

iPhone usage and pedestrian deaths increase together
(from https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-future-97db92c4-0aaa-4aa3-9fa8-263e28492fcd.html#story1)
(Click here for the embedded web page with its additional commentary on the role of SUVs )

Approximately 6 additional pedestrian deaths of every 100 result from smart phones. The statistic probably cuts both ways: surely pedestrians are distracted from cars while they focus on their mobile device.

A bus driver recently told me (adamantly) that mobile phones should be automatically shut off in automobiles. His opinion gains authority from his eagle-eye view and exposure to driving habits. That, my friendly driver, will never happen. What is less unlikely is for governments to require smart phone screens to go black when in visible proximity of a driver.[2] Yes, there would be an emergency override for…uh…emergencies.[3]

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

Unfortunately, turning off smart phone screens near drivers would be insufficient. Sound, also, should be turned off.

Here’s a chilling account of an accident that appeared to be caused purely by audial, not visual, distraction:

In January 2004, at 4:00 p.m., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-year- old woman ran a red light while talking on a cell phone. The driver’s vehicle slammed into another vehicle crossing with the green light directly in front of her. The vehicle she hit was not the first car through the intersection, it was the third or fourth. The police investigation determined the driver never touched her brakes and was traveling 48 mph when she hit the other vehicle. The crash cost the life of a 12-year-old boy. Witnesses told investigators that the driver was not looking down, not dialing the phone, or texting. She was observed looking straight out the windshield talking on her cell phone as she sped past four cars and a school bus stopped in the other south bound lane of traffic.[4]

Studies show that hands-free driving makes no statistical difference in the number of accidents. The same appears to apply to hands-free texting.

A writer in Scientific American believed that voice-controlled texting (like hands-free driving) would be significantly safer than manual texting. He recanted. Then he reconsidered, but ultimately conceded that even voice-controlled texting is too dangerous to perform. His conclusions were based on a 2013 study from Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Can You Feel Me Near You?

The root problem lies in the mind. One can have his or her eyes on the road, one ear open, and still, if involved in any other task beside driving, be more likely to hit somebody or something. A study produced by the AAA and referred to in a Nightline clip claimed that the biggest crash-related distraction occurs when drivers talk to someone else in the car.

Oooh, Tommy

Here’s the clip from Nightline. Might be more compelling if the driver crashed while talking to the expert about the dangers of talking while driving (because, while the driver keeps her eyes on the road, several studies suggest it’s the mental distraction—not the visual—that is most dangerous). (Viewer caution: After the first few seconds the video gets unnecessarily depressing—unlike my posts!)

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Found in a section called “Driving risks of hands-free and handheld cell phones” of the National Safety Council publication, Cell Phone Policy Kit. The study is cited on page 19 (using the PDF numbering, not the footer numbering).

[2] Obviously the facial recognition capabilities of smart phones bring the technology right to the doorstep of this dictum: driver looks at the phone, it scans his/her face, detects eye contact, turns off screen.

[3] The override would be similar to pushing my iPhone SE’s “on” button five times. It gives 3 options:

[4] Found in a white paper called “Understanding the distracted brain” of the National Safety Council publication, Cell Phone Policy Kit. The study is cited on page 10 (using the PDF numbering, not the footer numbering).

Hit! or Hit and Run? (Denver-Boulder Reports)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Crossing the street should not be a death sentence. (Richard Retting, quoted in Denver Streetsblog)

I am capable of hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist or wheelchair in a crosswalk. I am capable of driving away, hoping I’m unnoticed. Both those events are unlikely, but I am capable. Whether as a victim or a victimizer, I can always say, “That could’ve been me.”

Bicycle-car accident
(from Serbian Wikipedia) Bicycle-car accident; cycler driving on a priority road hit by a car which didn’t stop at STOP sign. Photo by Petar Milošević. Bike was being ridden by Petar Milošević before the photograph was taken. He wrote to me that after this event he bought a bike helment in preparation for the next time he was hit by a car. That time arrived, and he, again, survived.

Hit

About a week ago (July 25), approximately a half mile north of Washington Park in Denver, a woman, Alexis Bounds, was hit by a vehicle while riding her bicycle. She was taken to the hospital, but died. According to one source (KDVR), “The driver of the car, David Anton, was allegedly driving roughly 20 mph when he made a right turn and failed to yield to the cyclist, who was riding in a designated bike lane.” The driver was cited with “careless driving resulting in death,” which carries with it a penalty of 12 points, resulting in losing one’s driving license.

The “car” was a dump truck or garbage truck (reports vary). The victim was a mother of two young children, one of them a new born. The mother had taken a break from biking while she had been pregnant. This was her first day back on a bike, and she rode to Washington Park (Denver Post).

A witness at the scene, quoted in another source (the DenverChannel), said, “We tore our shirts off and tried to rip them up and start some tourniquets . . . and just comforted her and tried to keep her conscious until the fire and paramedics could get there.” A bicyclist, Joshua Garrity, was interviewed about the street where the woman was hit. While he normally “feels safe” in that area, he aknowledged “‘That could have been me.'”

Hit and Run

A few days before the Denver fatality, an experienced bicyclist, “Andrew ‘Bernie’ Bernstein, 34, was biking west on the right shoulder of Arapahoe Road near Legion Park [in Boulder] between 4:30 and 5 p.m. July 20 when he was hit from behind by a vehicle” (Daily Camera, Aug. 1, 2019). He was reported as being critically injured but stable. The police now believe they have a photograph of the vehicle that hit Bernstein without stopping after the accident. Bernstein’s brother said the bicycle “was snapped in half,” making it hard “to believe the driver did not realize they had hit someone.”

A Hit and Run makes the drivers who stop after hitting a victim appear virtuous. And they are in that respect. I assume that many hit and runs result from drivers who are intoxicated, high, or otherwise likely to find the charges against them compounded if they are interviewed by the police.

How Frequent?

I have a friend who recently remarked that a climber falls fatally from the Flatirons above Boulder every other week. While that’s clearly not the case,[1] a biker or a pedestrian in the Denver area gets hit by a car every day on average, and one of the victims gets hit fatally about every other week.

According to a February 2016 report on bicycle accidents published by Denver Public Works, in 2012 there were 322 crashes (p. 6). A crash is defined as an accident involving a fatality or more than $1,000 in damages. That is nearly one serious collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle each day in the Denver area.

Between 2008 and 2012, only four collisions resulted in fatalities (two of those being hit-and-run events), putting Denver at that time among the safer cities for fatalities (p.6). However, that number has risen drastically. “The recent deaths continue a terrible pattern. In 2018, Denver counted six bicyclist deaths….” (“‘Stop killing us’: After a deadly month, Denver cyclists will swarm streets”.

A parallel report focuses on pedestrians involved in collisions with motor vehicles. It uses the same criteria (death or over $1,000 in damages) (Pedestrian Crash Analysis, October 2017). In 2012 there were 215 collisions, 23 of which were fatal.

Ghost Bike

When a fatality or critical injury results from an accident between a bicycle and a motorized vehicle, a “ghost bike” is put at the scene of the accident as a reminder that a life was lost or severely damaged by the incident:
Ghostcycle-2005
One of my coworkers was killed when a truck hit his bike on Valmont Road (Boulder). When I visited the intersection, a ghost bike was there. Once you’ve seen a white bike in that context, you never want to see another.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] I did a cursory search for climbing deaths in Boulder County and found only two for this year: one at Boulder Falls and one in Eldorado. The Eldorado climber was free soloing. Most climbing deaths result from free soloing (we cannot all be Alex Honnold, nor should we be) and scrambling (“hey, I’m out hiking but I think I could climb that…”). Concerning the Flatirons, there was a non-fatal fall this year. You can watch a video from this climber who had his camera on when he fell (while scrambling).

Good News for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Below are some recent events that chip away at the disproportionate role of the automobile in Western society (and, technologically, almost all society is Western).

  • Everywhere: Protected bicycle lanes make even automobile drivers safer
  • Colorado: New legislation increases penalty for drivers who hit vulnerable individuals
  • Spain: People protest automobile pollution in Madrid

Protected Bike Lanes

As reported in “CU Denver Today” an extensive study recently concludes that adding protective bike lanes (i.e. lanes with a physical barrier, not just paint) to city streets not only makes the bicyclists safer but all the drivers safer.[1]

The study points out that it is not an increase in bicyclists but apparently  an increase in non-negotiable structures, such as protective bike lanes, that makes drivers more careful. One thing this conclusion means is that cities should build the protective lanes before waiting for an increase in bicycles (and bicyclist fatalities), knowing that the lanes will benefit everyone on the road from the outset.

The embedded video in the article deserves viewing, not only for being informative but for its animated sketching (3 1/2 minutes).


New Colorado Law Should Concern Careless Drivers

Recent legislation in Colorado (Senate Bill 19-175) adds consequences to drivers who hit vulnerable individuals (including pedestrians, bicyclists, and those in wheelchairs). According to a summary in Streetsblog, Denver, prior to the legislation, “drivers could severely injure someone in a crash and receive just a four-point penalty on their license. If the driver had a clean record, they could have caused injuries in three more crashes before having their license revoked under the state’s 12-point system.” (This is alarming.)

Under the bill signed into law May 29, 2019, “[n]ow, such an offense is a class-one traffic misdemeanor that could result in a license suspension, paying restitution to the victim and other penalties.”

Protests Against Relaxed Law in Madrid

As many of us recognize, for several years the United States has been rolling back regulations against pollution (“83 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump” New York Times). Against similar moves, many citizens in Madrid are currently resisting their newly-elected mayor’s recent rollback of a law that protected central Madrid from excessive pollution.

They are protesting during a historic heat wave in Spain. While spontaneously igniting chicken manure is not altogether uncommon, it does suggest temperatures that would make an outdoor protest uncomfortable.

Madrid Protests
Madrid Protests (from a video on the BBC website, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48814970)

 

____Footnotes____

[1] While I’ve provided a link to a December 2018 version of the study, a paywalled version bears a 2019 date, although I found no obvious differences when comparing a few sections.

Driver Apologizes to Biker (Louisville, CO)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Below is an exemplary message written from a driver to a bicyclist after a near collision in Louisville, CO last week. As I post it (with the author’s blessing: “Louis, yes! Please feel free to use whatever you want. Maybe that will increase the chances that he’ll see this somehow!”)… as I post it, I know that the faults are bi-directional, and that drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians all make mistakes, the salient difference being the degree of vulnerability.

I quote at length because the driver, Mary, is so honest and avoids the old “sorry, but…” construction so many of us rely on. This is pure remorse, no blame, a rare confession:

I ordered lunch at Lulu’s today. I was being an impatient little piggy and trying to rush to my boyfriend’s BBQ nachos, so instead of parking normally I decided I would be an idiot and make a u-turn in the middle of the street to nab a parking spot closer to the restaurant. I wasn’t paying attention and almost backed into you as you were riding your bike past me.

When you rode past me you said, “Hey, that’s illegal!” which is 100% true.

Instead of apologizing, I leaned out of my window and cursed at you.

Two people from across the street told me I almost hit you and that I shouldn’t have cursed you out. Also true.

I’m writing here in the hopes that you’ll see it because you probably live in the Louisville area.

I just wanted to say that I’m really, really sorry. I have no idea why I responded that way, but I could’ve hit you or worse and you’re someone’s family member/significant other/loved one. I’m not sure what happened in my brain in that moment. I think I panicked and then lashed out because I was panicking. Sometimes when I get these spikes of anxiety it results in anger instead of normal, healthy behavior.

I also think I have all of this internalized guilt for being here in this town and taking up space. I come from a town that I was pushed out of thanks to gentrification. And I know I’m a part of that problem here. The least I can do is be kind and respectful and conscientious towards others — especially to the bikers who are much more vulnerable on the road. Not that these things are an excuse.

I didn’t do the right thing in the moment, but I really hope you see this, and if you do, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you’d like. I’m sure from the outside to anyone reading this it seems very dramatic and mopey. I just have to find some way to take responsibility for my childish behavior, whether what I did was big or small or somewhere in between. I don’t want to be like those people who pushed me out of my own hometown.

To anyone reading this, please have a good day, and try not to be a shitty, dangerous neighbor like I am. 😬🙄

Thank you, Mary!

Post-script: just as this apology was posted on nextdoor·com, a more recent apology appeared, coming from another neighborhood.