Monday, November 9, 2015

Safer (paradoxically)

People I'm connected with on social media and the like probably know by now that I was in a fairly spectacular car accident this week. It was pretty dramatic, and both vehicles were absolutely totaled, although, amazingly, everyone involved walked away (gratitude is due to crash test engineers). 

So, that happened. I was fine: no real injuries, no whiplash even. But I didn't get on my bike for a couple of days because I was being careful in case my stiff neck was something worse, and because I hurt my left hand enough that I didn't think I wanted to squeeze brake levers with it for a bit. I did drive (my car wasn't the one that was wrecked) and observed that although I didn't consciously have a problem with it, I did have some slight physical symptoms of anxiety walking to the car with the keys in my hand. 

But I rode my bike downtown for a meeting yesterday. I was kind of interested to see how I'd react. Riding a bike, especially near my apartment where the roads are big, wide and fast, usually feels vulnerable. I'm usually on alert, and on a bad, jumpy day my trip can be hellish in spots. I wondered if, having just been through a car crash, I would have any problems. 

Short answer - no. I felt relaxed, almost relieved. In part, I think, because I was only going about 10 miles an hour. That feeling of being less trapped on a bike? Yeah, there was that, too. I was far less tense than I'd been driving the day before.

It wasn't like it was a breeze, but it was all the normal stuff. A guy decided to squeeze past me two abreast with another vehicle, without slowing down, on Heron, and made me shout. A woman merging onto Bank rolled slowly forward, not looking at me, as I zipped by in front of her with my hand up in a "stop" gesture, calling out "whoa, whoa, whoa." On my way home, some idiot crossing Bank from a side street in a sedan exhibited all the signs of "bike blindness" as he started to cross the street just as I passed in front of him. A police car (sigh) ignored my signal that I was moving left to avoid parked cars, and just cruised on past me, cutting me off between the parked cars and his lane. 

All normal. I yelled when I had to, to get the dude in the sedan's attention (he stopped). I shouted "asshole!" when I was startled by the old guy in the station wagon who buzzed right past me as I was nearly on the Billings Bridge (I also rolled up beside him as he was stopped in traffic at the bridge, glared in the side window at him, and caught his eye - but stopped short of tapping on the window and starting a conversation.) All normal: the everyday startles and shouts of my regular commute.

In fact, being on my bike was comforting. I was going at a reasonable, human speed. I felt less trapped - by the road, by the vehicles around me, by my momentum and vector. If I needed to stop, I could: right at the side of the road if I had to. I don't think I've ever before really appreciated the way bikes can just cruise along at the edges of that stream of cars, without having to be caught up in it. I felt totally in control. I felt safe. 

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