Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Near Misses

I feel really bad.

I didn't get out of the office till well after sunset this afternoon. One of the advantages of winter is that although the recreational paths aren't lit, exactly, they are rendered a little easier to see in the dark by the absence of leaves in the trees overhead, and the general reflectiveness of the snow. (I'm still taking the paths, because so far my usual route is still clear, with the wind sweeping the pavement free of what snow there is.)

But, it's still pretty dark out there. My headlights cut the shadows a little, but not really that much. So any pedestrians on the path show up mostly as dark shadows until I'm pretty close. As I was making my way along the path, near the river, before the highway underpass, I noticed a figure standing in the grass at the edge of the path. I swung a little to the left to get out of her way, and was distracted by the glow of a smartphone screen reflecting off her jacket (which I hadn't noticed before.)

When I looked back at the path, there was a small terrier practically underneath my front tire. I yelped. So did the dog's owner (which is how I know she was a woman) and the dog skittered out of the way only just in time to avoid my hitting it. I didn't have time to hit my brakes. I barely had time to register that the dog was there. And for a few moments afterward, I just kept pedalling, trying to process what had just nearly hapened, and being very glad that I hadn't hit the dog. Would I have killed it? Or just hurt it badly? I would have gone flying in either case. I was glad I'd had my helmet on.

And then I realized that I really should have stopped and gone back to talk to the woman. Not necessarily to apologize, although I probably would have - really, no one was at fault in this. The dog could have had a light on it, or a leash. She could have been watching instead of texting. But I could have been paying better attention to the path ahead of me. And she couldn't have been expected to be on the alert for cyclists after dark in early December - there aren't that many of us on the paths. And I really, really, should have stopped to make sure she and her dog were okay. Now there's a good chance that in her mind, I'm one of those reckless cyclists with no regard for pedestrians, zipping along unaware and unconcerned, a danger to myself and others (and others' dogs.) But the longer I thought about going back, and the more space stretched out between me and her, the more awkward it felt to turn around and go back. After all, no one was hurt. The dog is fine.

But I feel really bad. So if you know anyone whose dog was nearly run down by a cyclist this evening, tell her I'm sorry.


  1. Kate,

    I'm not sure I have your email address. Could you mail me? I have some curious photos that look like they might be Mike, and I'm concerned.

    - A

  2. These are recreational paths. They are not made for cyclists anymore. If you use the path along the canal - I think they keep that open all year now. The other paths, not so much.

    Dogs are a real wild card on paths - you really have to watch out for everyone. I find cyclists that bike at night without lights the worst because they are closing in on you at 30 miles per hour unseen and silent.

  3. Speaking as a dog owner who walks her dog off-leash (in areas frequented by bikes, walkers, etc.), I really don't think you should be the one feeling guilty here. For starters, the path in question is not an off-leash area, it is a multi-use path. That means bikes, joggers, etc. The dog owner was not acting in a responsible manner. An off-leash dog must be completely under your control at all times and you must be hyper aware of your surroundings. She should not have been occupied with her phone, she should have been watching the path for traffic, keeping her dog out of (harms) the way. There is only so much that you on the bike can do when approaching an off-leash dog (especially one you don't see until right close to.) You can't predict what they will do the same way you can with people. When I am walking my dog on the path by my house, I always know where she is, who is coming and I make sure she is out of the way. I have trained her to leave the path and stay off it until bikes that are approaching have safely passed by. That small, hard to see dog shouldn't have been on the path, in the dark, off-leash with an owner who was not aware of her surroundings. A lighted collar at minimum if she is going to use that path after dark. You were lit and should have been easy to see if she was watching. That said, chances are she doesn't have any way to ensure the dog gets or stays out of you way, so even if she had seen you, the dog likely wasn't fully under her control anyway. Even if her back was turned, she should be able to hear you coming. I don't have any trouble hearing bikes approaching me from behind and I always have time to get the dog out of the way when I do. Bikes and off-leash dogs don't mix. I see people riding their bikes through Conroy Pit (an off-leash park) and it is a recipe for disaster. Dogs running around all over and fast moving bikes, not a good combo.

  4. Like Ruthanne said, you were lit, and she wasn't, so it was her responsibility to see you.

    As you observed, your light doesn't illuminate very much; it's more for others to see you. All pathway users should have a light so they can be seen.

    If I am riding along the pathway at night and a cycling coming in the other direction doesn't have headlights, I turn mine off. I figure if they want to make it hard for me to see them, why should I make it easy for them to see me? Let them suffer too!

    - RG>

  5. I have to admit to thinking, as I was replaying the incident in my head, that maybe this would serve as a reminder to watch her dog, so maybe I was doing her some sort of backhanded good. But that felt a little like self-justification at the time. :-)

  6. RealGrouchy - you really live up to your name. If you can see them coming in time so that you can turn off your light to surprise them, is it really dark or is that just your mood?