Monday, June 17, 2013

Crash

Last Friday I was riding Ramesh's first SF2G after a spectacular 40 day run where he placed a remarkable 6th in the Strava May Massive, simultaneously winning the individual ranking of the Team Commute Challenge, then with just a single day off, rode AIDS LifeCycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. After this amazing demonstration of unfettered excess he wisely took 4 days off before calling a Friendly Skyline ride for Friday.

The Skyline route has two options between CA35 and Hillcrest Blvd southbound: either the shoulder of the 280 freeway (which is exceptionally open there to cyclists) or the San Andreas Bike Trail. For obvious reasons the trail is the most popular choice, although when I'm alone, unless I need to use the toilet available halfway down the trail, I choose the freeway. It's wide and, in my view, quite safe, with the exception of the exit ramp where I like to check behind me to make sure there's no cars overtaking me. But I don't have much issue with the San Andreas Trail: lines of sight are generally good and foot traffic is light.

I was at the front as we approached the northernmost trail entrance, near San Bruno Road, which SF2G traditionally uses. But I wasn't paying attention and overshot it. No big deal, I decided: rather then turn back I'd take the following entrance a bit further south. I prefer this one since there often seems to be more congestion near the initial entrance.

I got there ahead of the other riders, so figured I'd take advantage of this situation by riding to the toilet and using that. This probably wasn't the best plan, since by the time I'd finished the others would have passed me, but I rode onward anyway.

Up ahead three women were walking side-by-side, taking up 75% of the trail width on the right. This somewhat annoyed me: would people walk that way in a road? Would they drive that way in a road? So why is it okay to do it in a bike path? In any case, I'd pass them on the left.

But then things went horribly wrong. Just as I was approaching, she moved left into my path. There's no rational basis for such a move: hear a rider overtaking and move to fill the only gap available for him to pass? But I already knew there wasn't much rational thought at play here, given how they'd been walking as I approached.

I thought a collision was unavoidable, but somehow I managed to get my bike past her on the left side. I bumped her with my hip, however. This wasn't good.

The next thing I knew I was on the pavement. The walkers came over to see if I was okay, then the other SF2G riders came by and offered help as well. The woman who I'd bumped with my hip was upright and said she was okay: I might have bruised her. After expressing some restrained frustration over how they were taking up essentially the full width of what's a mixed-use bike-pedestrian path and a major cyclist transportation link, I apologized for having hit her.

Russ, on the ride, was going only as far as San Mateo so he generously stayed back when I told the others to go on. The walkers also left when I said I'd be okay, although another walker, John, super-generously offered me a ride home. With Russ's help I was able to eventually get back on my bike and slowly, very slowly, ride back to the trail entrance where John had parked his car. John joined us there and loaded my bike into his vehicle and drove me back to San Francisco.

I spent the rest of the day mostly sleeping. The next day I went to the ER to get checked out: my helmet had been cracked and the clinic I like to attend recommended an ER. But the ER wasn't worried about my mental state, so they took a few hip X-rays and declared me fracture-free. So no repeat of the pelvic fracture I suffered in Athens in 2001 descending Parnitha. I'm not only off the bike for now, but so far, using crutches to get around. But at least my recovery should be a lot quicker without a bone injury.

I'm super-grateful to Russ and John for helping me at the accident sight, John for getting me home, and special thanks for Cara for helping me out after I got home. Hopefully I can get back on my bike soon. Alta Alpine 8-pass is certainly looking unlikely at the moment.

Looking back on the incident, the take-away message is I simply cannot assume pedestrians on bike paths are going to be predictable. So first: get a bell, which allows a friendly, nonintimidating notification of my presence. People like bells: they bring back memories of childhood bikes with streamers flowing from the handlebars, or maybe even ice cream trucks delivering tasty treats on a hot summer day. Then to make sure I see the reaction before attempting a pass. Then, and only then, to pass. It's a bit frustrating because when I'm riding to work my goal is to get to work, sooner better than later, and while I'm a big believer in safety and courtesy first, when others show no courtesy (for example by taking up an entire trail) that's a problem. But people aren't going to change their behavior based on my judgements and views: they act like they act, and I need to work around that. If time matters, take the 280 shoulder, otherwise just accept the fact it's going to be slow.

Next on my shopping list is a bell:

bell

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