Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unsafe at anyspeed?

Yesterday I witnessed an accident between a bicyclist and a pedestrian. I’m sure this has happened many times before but it got me thinking about some things.

This accident happened on a dedicated cycling path, really a road for bicycles going north towards Tai Po Market from where I work in Sha Tin. This is a quite busy cycling area with lots of people on it at all hours. As the only road going the same way is a freeway it is a really nicely thought out way to make the eastern New Territories somewhat bicycle friendly. But there is a sidewalk and a public park area just beside the path that accesses a causeway along the ocean where people fish or walk or look at the gorgeous view.

I was on my evening ride puttering along at about 25K an hour and was passed by a guy on a full race rig Cannondale road bike. He was in the drops. Pumping the big ring and passed me like I was standing still. I actually thought “My, God, if he doesn’t look where he’s going rather than stare at his front tire he’ll kill someone.” Well, about 3 or 4 minutes later I rounded a bend and saw him T-bone and old woman who had stepped out into the cycling lane. He just nailed her. I mean he knocker her across the other lane and into the bushes. She didn’t get up. He went over the bars and landed face first on the concrete ripping the front out of his team replica jersey.

I stopped to render some first aid. I called an ambulance for the old woman who was unconscious and asked the rider in Chinese if he was all right. He replied in English that he was not badly hurt and then started swearing at the old woman he’d just T-boned. Before the police could get there he picked his bike up and just zoomed off at 45K per hour again. I couldn’t help thinking “I hope your fork snaps” as he left. I then had to convince the police when they showed up that I was not the one who’d nailed the old woman.

Here are the questions I thought about on the rest of my commute home: Granted the old woman was where she shouldn’t have been but the rider was going way, way to fast for the conditions he was riding in and was, in my opinion, more to blame. Especially in his total lack of any compassion for the person he nearly killed. Part of riding safely is anticipation and he could have avoided this accident with a little less speed or a little more attention to the road in front of him. Indeed, most of the blame for this was his. I ride that track everyday almost and have never hit anyone. But there are lots of really unsafe riders on this path and even more pedestrians and joggers on it when they shouldn’t be. So, should cycling areas like this be patrolled by bicycle police to both keep pedestrians off them but also to ticket unsafe riders? What about a speed limit for bicycles on paths like this? Should riders be required to pass some sort of licensing test as do automobile drivers before they are allowed on the roads? What about an annual inspection of bicycles like autos have to go through to ensure they are safe and in good working order?

Lastly and this is the one that people are not going to like, Are full race road bikes safe to ride in a setting like this? I see these guys all the time with their head down, in the drops with no view of the road in front of the bike beyond about 18 inches. As the bars have continued to go lower over the past 15 years this problem gets worse. Has the: stiffer, lighter, more aero, and faster mantra created a generation of not only dangerous riders but bike designs that are so extreme that they cannot be safely ridden outside a rice? I don’t even think I could tilt my head back far enough to see down the road on a typical bike made in the last 5 years. You can’t drive a formula 1 racer on the street because they are unsafe in general traffic. Have full race road bikes reached the point where they are unsafe, at amost any speed around other bicycles and pedestrians? I am afraid, in many cases the answer may be yes. The question is what, if anything can be done about it?

Until Next Time
Fai Mao

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