You almost hit me with your car.
Okay: maybe it was not that close, a week ago last Tuesday night, when I rode my bicycle past your canary yellow Ford Mustang convertible, such a sweet car to cruise around in, on the first warm night of spring. You were stuck in traffic. I was pulling up beside you on a long straightaway. One of the gifts of cycling is that in heavy traffic, bicycles can go faster than cars.
I pulled up beside you and said, “Nice car!” “Thanks!” you replied, with a smile, and then I zoomed onward and you waited for the light to change in the distance. And then you finally caught up with me and I wondered if maybe you’d greet me with, “Nice bike!” or “Beautiful night for a ride!” but as you drove by, you never looked up, or out either. You just looked down at your phone, clutched in your right hand, your left hand casually draped over the steering wheel.
Man, your eyes were locked on that screen: and not on me. Not on the road. Not on the bright blue sky at dusk or the azalea bush in explosive pink bloom on the roadside. Mesmerized by a glowing electronic talisman, you were not really there, driving. You were somewhere else: lost in a text or a photo, or another “important” cyber message.
And I just wanted to say to you, “Pay attention: please.”
Pay attention to me, so your 3,800 pound car doesn’t drift over into the shoulder and clip my 17 pound bicycle, splay me out on the road. Crack open my skull. Break my leg. Scrape my skin raw. I actually, really, wanted to yell at you, with full volume: “HEY! PAY ATTENTION!” You see, as a cyclist, I don’t want to be a statistic, one of the more than 800 bicyclists in the United States who will die in 2017 on the roads, or 45,000 who will be injured.
Cycling has always been risky, sharing byways and highways with steel behemoths whizzing along at 50 miles per hour, while I make my way on two wheels, pedaling at 13 miles per hour. And yes, cyclists can be as clueless and stupid and rude as drivers. Riding in packs and hogging the road. Drifting from side to side. Ignoring traffic laws. I get why so many folks just cannot stand bikers.
But since distracted driving is now the norm in our world, as drivers juggle their smart phones while also thinking they can simultaneously and safely drive, cycling is akin to “Death Race 2000”. So along with drinking coffee and putting on make-up while you drive, and yelling at the kids in the backseat and feeling around on the floor for that dropped quarter, you are also using your phone.
And most certainly, not paying attention.
Our lack of vehicular focus is taking a toll, and not just on cyclists. In 2016, 399 people died in vehicle crashes in Massachusetts, a fifteen percent higher figure than 2014. This two year spike is the highest increase in fifty-three years. Deaths and injuries from accidents are up in thirty nine of the fifty states. Government and highway safety experts agree it is directly caused by distracted driving.
When you or I so need to text a smiling emoji to a friend, our eyes look down or look away for just a second and then…we crash. The four wheeled machine we are supposed to be in control of is always capable of instantaneously hurting and killing another: your kid in the back seat, your neighbor on a bike, the guy you know from work, on his mountain bike, out for an after dinner ride.
And then we’ll hear or read that he died because someone’s Facebook status needed updating. She died because she loved that Instagram post and just had to respond. The toddler on the tricycle died because you were using an app to order a pizza. And you died, YOU: because you had to send just one more text. Just one.
All for lack of paying attention.
So in these cycling months ahead, if you see some guy on a purple road bike with a lime green helmet and a day glow yellow shirt and you hear him yelling, “PAY ATTENTION!” that just may be me. I do so not to be rude but to survive. Let’s share the road in care, civility and most importantly, with full attention. I promise to watch out for you and I ask you to promise to watch out for me, too.
And if you are behind the wheel of some hot rod or antique classic, a cherry red Mustang or jet black Porsche, watch for a thumbs up and my grateful smile too.
See you on the road.