Thursday, June 20, 2013

San Andreas Trail crash: reflections

It's six days since my crash, and I'm still a long way from recovered, X-rays showed no fracture, but bruising and muscle damage resulted in substantial disability. Only yesterday was I able to start walking again, and only barely and painfully. Today the pain is less, but I still prefer using crutches to get around. I can't lay on my preferred right side, the side on which I crashed, and laying on my left side becomes uncomfortable due to my right leg not being sufficiently stable in that position. I tried acupuncture on Tuesday, and will return on Friday, but while that was a nice sensation when it was being done, I'm not sure it had lasting benefit. Yet I continue to improve day-by-day, so it's likely a matter of patience. I continue to apply heat and ice to afflicted areas, and use tumeric for its anti-inflammatory effects (at the suggestion of the acupuncturist, although there's questions about the absorptivity of tumeric).

The thing about the crash was my low perception of risk at the time. While the ride I was on was planning on doing both the San Andreas and Sawyer Camp sections of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail, I was going to skip the Sawyer Camp section due to its blind corners and heavy pedestrian traffic, most notably women pushing baby strollers.

The San Andreas Trail, on the other hand, has less foot traffic and superior sight lines. Then when I overtook the 3-abreast walkers, while I found it notable they were taking up the 75% rightmost portion of a bidirectional mixed-use trail, something I viewed as irresponsible and dangerous, given that I could see by them and that there was a clear line for me to pass I viewed it as very low risk.

This situation was unlike, for example, where a single walker is in the middle of the trail, with passing options to the left and right: such a user may move either left or right when you attempt to pass. But in this case it was unambiguous, the only rational response was for them to converge to the right of the trail (where they should have been in the first place), expanding the gap to the left where I was passing. Moving left would make absolutely no sense unless they perceived I was aiming to hit them or else unless they wanted to hit me. I felt only my usual level of alertness when passing them, which is considerable, but no sense of exceptional risk.

Yet move left is exactly what the women on the left did, and without warning. My amazement at this irrational behavior was tempered only by my desire to not slam into her with my front tire. And while I avoided doing so, bumping her with my hip but missing her with my bike, I ended up hitting the pavement hard. I didn't even skid. Just whack -- into the pavement. Fortunately she was fine: she didn't even lose her balance.

So I'm left to look back upon this incident to ask what did I do wrong? And the only response from a self-preservation view is that pedestrians simply cannot be trusted to act in a rational, self-preserving manner. I simply must assume they are going to do the stupidest, least predictable thing possible. At least until I have their full attention. Which is why I'm going to install a bell on my Ritchey Breakaway, my commuting rig of choice.

This isn't a matter of "blame". I may as well blame a squirrel for darting under my front tire at the last moment. It's not about who's at fault: legally I'm certainly not at fault: the California Vehicle code says a pedestrian has "the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard", yet this is almost exactly what she did. Instead it's about pragmatically avoiding this situation occurring again. It would have taken me 10 extra seconds to slow down behind them, request they move to the right, wait for them to do so, then proceed. If I had to do that once per commute, and I commute 50 times per year, then that's 500 seconds lost. Sure, I'd prefer not to lose 500 seconds, but it's now been a week since the crash, and there's 0.6 million seconds in a week, so 500 seconds per year for insurance against slamming into the pavement is pretty damn cheap, no matter what the vehicle code says.


inthewoods said...

Hi, I don't know you, I'm just an occasional blog reader. Sorry about your crash. I am always nervous when approaching groups of people meandering on a path. I think back to Men In Black: "A person is smart. People are stupid."

djconnel said...

Good quote. Injuries are part of riding, running, or for that matter, life. Focus on any one and it's easy to identify what could have been done differently. I try to not do that, but it is frustrating. Two big events coming up, one Diablo Hillclimb were the motivation to pay more attention to my diet, lose weight I shouldn't have gained last year, and get a decent result on one of the few local hillclimbs on the schedule (3). Then the next week the Alta Alpine 8-Pass Challenge, which would have been a huge personal accomplishment. Hard to not feel frustrated over having squandered the fitness to meet these goals. We make enormous sacrifices to put in time to train, other things are neglected, and to have it all flush due to a stupid incident is tough. But it is what it is.

Mike Munrow said...

Dan, I'm really sorry to hear about your crash, it's really awful. My polices regarding MURPs (Multi Use Recreation Paths) are:
1) Avoid if possible
2) Never try to make good time
3) Approach peds slowly, assume they will do something stupid.
4) DON'T say "On your left" -- seems to elicit a move to the left more than 50% of the time.
5) When passing, either
a) Go into stealth mode and get by them silently and quickly OR
b) Get close, on one side, so binaural hearing might help and say a friendly greeting. Then pass after they have made a move.

As you note, the time savings by not slowing isn't worth it. You can also think of this slowing as informal intervals :-)

Hope you heal quickly!

djconnel said...

Thanks for the comments and the wishes! Ah, stealth mode: I was a fan of stealth mode, but unfortunately I fear my loud PowerTap hub betrayed me. I think I'll give up on stealth mode from now on.

SumisuYoshi said...

Oh man, I totally feel you there. I haven't had any crashes, but I've had some REALLY close calls, from both kids and adults. I generally watch peds as I'm getting closer to see if they're moving predictably or not. If they are I tend to go by without saying anything. If they're moving unpredictably I'll call on your left from some way back, it has served me well most of the time.

djconnel said...

Thanks! It's been 8 weeks and I did my first outdoor ride today. I have two injuries: one in the groin, one in the glut area, and they are healing slowly. But physical therapy has helped. The ride today was an easy ride around San Francisco, rough roads uncomfortable, but otherwise manageable. I can also run again, but just a few slow strides.

In response to this incident, I know own a shiny new brass Incredibell. The sound is quite impressive: it can't but make you smile to hear it, and as a side effect, realize I'm there.

SumisuYoshi said...

Hopefully the bell saves you any further trouble!

I remember how antsy I was to get back out and do something when I got injured running (cyclist on the sidewalk that I had to dodge, and dodged right into a trip and ended up with a hematoma on one knee and a giant scrape on the other). It was my recovery from that injury that actually got me cycling!

Good luck with the rest of your recovery, and may the pedestrians get out of your way!