Cyclists aren’t gophers – don’t make them roadkill

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 18, 2009 

With this week’s warmer temperatures we can at last see bare pavement again. And one sure sign of spring are gophers, already scurrying about. Unfortunately, many will become roadkill.

But there’s another sign of spring I’m desperately hoping will not become roadkill: cyclists.

Now, 45 years ago as newlyweds, my wife and I took our cycling quite seriously – of necessity; that is, we didn’t own a car, but did own a bicycle built for two. And oftentimes as we pedalled about the town where we lived, delighted kids standing along the curbs would sing to us that quaint old ditty: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. / I’m half crazy all for the love of you. / It won’t be a stylish marriage. / I can’t afford a carriage. / But you’ll look sweet upon the seat / Of a bicycle built for two.”

Well, we survived those romantic days without any confrontation with far more muscular highway traffic. But sadly, many today will not be so fortunate.

I asked coffee companion Rick Ducommun his thoughts on this. As you may recall, Rick is the financial planner whose long-distance cycling exploits, energized by pecan pies, was the topic of our Jan. 16, 2008 column. He wrote me about the very real danger Cochrane-area cyclists face of becoming roadkill:

Picture this. You are driving your car along highway 1A. There is a cyclist on the shoulder. Ahead are two cars, one passing the other, and they are coming straight at you. You veer right. You hit that cyclist at 100 kph.

It happens in slow motion for you. The rear wheel crumbles; the bike and rider flip back, over your hood. There is no scream, for before she knows it, her torso has landed on your hood, and head (with helmet) has smashed on your windshield. The helmet has smashed your shatter proof glass, and her skull explodes. You are now on the brakes, so the body, already limp, slides forward, bike upwards and down your hood, where it now hits the pavement in front of your car. You are screaming and so are your tires, so you can't hear the skeeeek of metal or plastic slide, and the smell of burning Lycra and human flesh are mixed with your tire rubber.

That limp body bounces, but its high friction and low mass has less inertia, so your front bumper hits her a second time. There is blood everywhere, and the first thing you see is that the pattern is sickly similar to the deer blood marks from other collisions. You look in your mirror and the other two jerks didn't even see it.

You plea to God to let this be a dream. You come to a stop, undo your safety belt, open your door, get out, take one look and vomit, then immediately sob. That is your end game, my friend; this is your nightmare come true. That woman is somebody else’s daughter, neighbour, lover, mother, customer.

Or picture this. Same set up. You are actually seeing this develop well before it happens. You are able to take evasive action; that is, you gear down, which releases your cruise control and as the engine slows down the vehicle, you apply sufficient pressure to the pedal beside the gas pedal – the brakes. Before you put yourself into that trap, you can safely take the shoulder and be stopped before you even hit the cyclist.

In a worse-case scenario, you take the ditch. You curse, of course, and you’re mad as heck. Okay, why not take a really good look in your review mirror and try to remember what those two stupid drivers were driving. But you thank God that you are smart, and you have a great story to tell the boys at the bar – the one about the two idiot drivers who took your life and the cyclist’s in their hands.

Which picture, my friend, do you see yourself in now?

—Rick Ducommun, Cochrane

I’d like to add my own post script to Rick’s sobering letter. Right here inside our town there have been so many occasions when I’ve come close to making young cyclists into roadkill. It hasn’t been about any inattention on my part. Rather, it has been about kids, so happy to be on their bikes once more after a long winter, racing along sidewalks hidden from traffic by bushes and fences. Without even looking up, they charge across intersections, oblivious to the cars coming at them. Perhaps they have wrongly assumed that they have the same right-of-way as pedestrians at crosswalks. But of course, the cars have no time even to slow down.

Parents, please teach your kids safe cycling habits. And drivers, be extra cautious these days. Kids aren’t gophers. But then, neither are other cyclists. Let’s not turn them into roadkill.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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