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Hazards of Bike Commuting

by Frank Mungeam

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews


Posted on September 14, 2007 at 2:06 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

All month, KGW employees are Going Green by participating in the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's "Bike Commute Challenge." We're sharing the stories of our two-wheeled adventures here in the Going Green blog. Here's Gina Zandy's story:

Unlike a lucky co-worker who had "the perfect commute" this week, my Monday bike ride to work was quite a different experience.

I started out on my normal route in Northeast Portland down NE 53rd, which is a bike route. I crossed Halsey into a quiet neighborhood without a lot of traffic, expecting an uneventful ride, at least until I reached the busier streets.

That's when I came close to becoming roadkill! There are no stop signs on this section of 53rd between Halsey & Glisan, but there are stop signs for most of the intersecting side streets. So when I saw that a large yellow school bus was approaching an intersection and would get there at about the same time as little old me on my bike, I wasn't worried. The driver had a stop sign, there were no cars parked on the street that could have blocked the bus driver's view of me, and I was pretty confident the bus would stop. I was wrong.

The bus slowed down and then rolled through the stop sign! I had to swerve and the driver had to slam on the breaks. I was quite shaken for a few more blocks and that's when the rage kicked in! That bus almost hit me! I almost died!

Maybe it's because school just started up again and the driver was out of practice, maybe it was a new route, or maybe it was early in the morning and he wasn't quite awake yet. Either way, I was appalled that someone who drives for a living could be so careless.

I wished I had written down a license plate or bus number so I could call someone and complain. I made it to work and told all my co-workers about my near-death experience on the way to work.

Then I remembered an incident from about 5 years ago when I first moved to Portland. I didn't own a bike, hadn't been on a bike in about 15 years, and had no interest in cycling. I was in my car, driving one mile to work (embarrassing, I know) and I almost hit a cyclist riding through the park blocks. I just didn't see her.

She yelled at me to watch out and I realized it was a co-worker. Oops! I felt horrible, admitted to her later that day that the driver was me, and apologized. She was very nice about it and swore that she didn't hate me.

It's funny how things change in 5 years... but the two incidents made me realize a few things. First of all, drivers have a lot of things going on, too and if they don’t see a cyclist, they aren’t necessarily a bad person. Everyone has a bad day, a morning when they are extra tired, or a drive when they have a lot on their mind.

Cycling to work has made me a better and more alert driver when I do get in my car.

Second, riding the streets of Portland isn't like other exercise where you can let your mind wander, make your grocery list in your head, or think about what you are doing later in the day. You really do have to pay attention every second you are on that bike.

Even though I have been bike commuting a few times a month for more than a year now (more frequently in the summer) I concentrate more than ever. I assume that every driver is going to roll through that stop sign, that every driver doesn't see me, and that every intersection is an accident waiting to happen. Maybe I'm paranoid, but with the number of near misses I have seen with my own eyes, and the number of stories we cover in the news, I'm OK with that.

I’m not scared of riding to work, just a little more cautious. There is something very liberating about leaving your car behind and just relying on you and your bike for transportation. In fact, I'm going to ride to work again tomorrow. Watch out school buses!

Gina Zandy