Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Last Monday: I gather up my things, sling my bag over my shoulder, and grab my bicycle. I am headed from my home in Somerville to an afternoon shift waiting for me at my job in Jamaica Plain. It’s sunny, but cool. Sixty-three degrees or something. This is perfect weather for riding your bike.

Crossing from Cambridge to Boston over the Mass Ave bridge, I noticed two cyclists standing side by side in the bike lane ahead. I hate passing cyclists on the Mass Ave bridge; people drive across it so fast that dodging out of the bike lane to pass someone makes me nervous. Oh well--there's no one behind me, so I drift out into the next lane.

As I round the crest of the bridge, I suddenly see why they have stopped in their tracks. There has been an accident. A motorcycle and a pickup truck have crashed. A couple other vehicles are nearby; it’s not obvious if they were in the crash too, or just stopped because of it.

Both the motorcycle and the pickup truck are totaled. Broken pieces of the motorcycle are strewn all over. The horn in truck is blaring continuously, stuck somehow from the crash.

I can't tell how they crashed, or how the vehicles had been traveling. It is as if they are toys that were dropped carelessly by a child, tumbling randomly into their positions on the bridge.

At least half of the bridge is blocked off by the wreckage; cars traveling in either direction are sharing the portion of the road remaining open. No emergency crew has responded yet; traffic is still trying to continue around the accident.

Slowing to a stop, I see the bloodied body of the motorcycle driver. He is on his back in the road, a man over him administering compressions to his limp, lifeless chest.

“No way he survived,” I think to myself. I can’t help it; the vacancy in his bloodied face is too haunting for someone still alive.

His leg is broken at the shin, bones jutting out dramatically from the wound. It looks like someone tried to put his leg back into a natural position, but didn’t get it quite right. I can’t tell if it is still attached to him or not.

A cyclist joins the man doing CPR. With her helmet still strapped to her head, she takes over the respiration in between compressions. As she lifts her head, blood is on her cheek and chin.

Blood is pooled around the body, breaking off into a little stream that rolls down the bridge a little and pools up again. The blood in the second pool has turned thick, growing into a gruesome blob on the asphalt.

Nearby, a brown liquid pours freely from the pickup truck. Is it gasoline? Is it dangerous? The liquid forms it's own stream and subsequent puddle on the bridge. I hear sirens approaching now.

I hoist my bike over the railing and onto the sidewalk, and hop off of the road. On the sidewalk, I see the biker's damaged helmet. Why is it all the way over here? Did it slip off his head in the crash, and this is where it landed? Was it taken off for the CPR, and thrown?

Fifteen or twenty other people stand around on the sidewalk, watching. We just look on, helpless and horrified. All of us worthless, with no special skill or knowledge we could offer up that could affect the shocking scene before us. We just look.

Next to me, a woman is sobbing uncontrollably into the shirtsleeve of her companion who holds her. Did she see the accident? Did she know the man in the road? Was she the motorist who crashed with him?

A fire truck pulls onto the bridge from the Boston side, with another behind it. They will try to clean up the accident and get the bridge open again. I’ll only be one more thing in the way; it‘s time to go.

As I walk down the sidewalk, someone shuts off the horn in the pickup truck. At the end of the bridge, the railing drops from the sidewalk. I walk back into the bike lane, throw my leg over my bicycle and pedal away from the accident.

Such violent death is a shock to behold. We are all aware that death exists, and that people do die in these streets--hundreds every day. Still, it remains very unsettling to see firsthand.

Evidence of our mortality surprises us. We are forced to consider how fragile life really is, and it can be disturbing.

Just a block away, two cars run a red light. They missed the light by a long shot, conjuring up the blasting horns of nearby vehicles and a few people shouting out their windows.

The boisterous din of traffic seems especially vulgar after beholding such a grisly, tragic scene. What’s wrong with you? Don‘t you know someone was just killed back there? But they do not; they are still lost in their own moment and they must race on. My somber thoughts will not be shared here.

The last three miles or so of my journey unfold beneath my wheels, my concerns reduced to nothing in the wake of death. Death, so ultimate and unforgiving, leaves our problems meaningless and our plans trite.

I am grateful for my safety. I am grateful for my life.

I arrive at work, lock up my bicycle, and head inside. A coworker, Alan, greets me as I pass through the doors.

“How was the ride in today?” he asks.  I blank, momentarily unsure how to respond.

“It was fine,” I hear myself saying in reply. “This is perfect weather for riding your bike.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Door Dodging

As you may recall, last week we talked about cyclists getting "doored." We also talked about reckless cyclists, painting things bright colors, and why these two people should never reproduce. And I don't mean with each other. I mean either of them, with anyone, ever, for fear of perpetuating their preternaturally stupid dispositions through the haplessly tainted genes of their lineage.

No one wins when a cyclist is doored. Not only can a cyclist be terribly injured or killed in the event of a dooring, but much more importantly the motorist could get a small scratch on the door of his BMW:

I legally parked on a street corner not far from M street and Wisconsin in Georgetown, Washington DC yesterday, and made sure there's nothing coming from either direction before opening my car door to get out. Just when I opened it half way, a man on a bike came from around the corner and collided with my car door. He fell, and my car door is damaged by the collision. Who's fault is this? I would not be able to see his coming from around the corner. Also there is barely a scratch on the surface of the door, but it won't close properly and the warning light is always on. 

The above is a query posted on "Bimmerfest.com," which is dedicated to bringing the douchebag community together. The post is an amazing example of someone who has completely convinced themselves that there was nothing they could possibly do to stop themselves from opening their car door in front of a cyclist rounding a corner.

"Just when [he] opened it half way," a cyclist rounded the corner. Unfortunately for the cyclist, BMW's now have a standard feature that forces you to finish opening the door all the way once you have started, or it will enter self-destruct mode.

"Who's fault is this?" the poor BMW owner cries, lamenting the damage to his car door, which alone is worth many times more than the combined value of the cyclist's entire extended family's worldly possessions.

Well, obviously it must be someone else. I mean, if you looked both ways before you opened the door, that's pretty much all you can do. It's not like you could actually watch the door open, like, the whole time you are opening the door. That's impossible; no one can exert such a tremendous display of focus on such a complex mechanical process.

The first fellow douche to offer comment had this to say about his comrade's predicament:

You were not operating the vehicle, so you have no control over the actions of the bicycle driver, this is not your fault.

Wow, he was not operating the vehicle? Incredible! I guess BMW's are completely automatic now, and they even open their own doors without any input from the motorist. Either that, or someone else opened the door (I'm guessing it was...the cyclist?).

It also falls under the Comprehensive area of your Insurance, which is the same as vandalism, storm damage etc, so your deductible should be lower, and also will not effect your insurance rate or driving record.

He has pretty good insurance if obstruction of traffic is covered by the "comprehensive area" of his insurance. I guess when you own a BMW, you need insurance that is so good you can actually break the law and it will not "effect [sic] your insurance rate or driving record."

The driver is from Washington DC. Let's review DC traffic law 2214.4:

No person shall open a door of a vehicle on the side where traffic is approaching unless it can be done without interfering with moving traffic or pedestrians and with safety to himself or herself and passengers.

Doesn't all that legal mumbo-jumbo just make your head spin? I'm not even sure what they just said! Fortunately, it doesn't matter at all if your sweet law-defying insurance lets you ignore the rules of the road with impunity from behind your fully-automatic self-opening BMW doors.

Yes, dooring a cyclist is a tragic event for BMW owners indeed. However, as hard as this is to believe, it is typically even more tragic for the cyclist. The most dangerous consequence of colliding with a car door is sometimes not  the impact with the door itself.

After crashing, the cyclist usually falls away from the car, into what is in most cases a lane of traffic. This is the cause of most dooring fatalities--the cyclist crashes into the door, falls into live traffic, and is struck by another vehicle. This phenomenon is demonstrated in the following video:

The video is pointlessly accompanied by the Rolling Stones song, "Paint It, Black." In retrospect,  the lyrics should probably have been changed to say, "I see a red door and I want to paint it orange."

This easily preventable death trap has become an unfortunately all-too-common scenario all over, as cycling becomes a more popular way for people to get around in urban settings where bicycle infrastructure is an afterthought.

The noble bike lane, marking off a safe chunk of the road for cyclists of all skill levels, is unfortunately predisposed to a fatal (sometimes literally) design flaw: all too often, the lane is sandwiched between rows of cars. On one side, cars zoom by terrified cyclists at a desperate pace, and in the other they park and their doors automatically self-open.

This puts the trajectory of the opening door squarely in the bike lane.

As a cyclist, you are being very foolish if you expect all people to remember to look where they are opening their doors. There are far too many people driving around completely oblivious to their surroundings to expect that level of foresight and planning from every driver you ride past.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is many people forget to look when they open their doors. No matter who you want to blame it on, it's a fact. People park their cars, their journey is over, and they sort of forget that traffic continues on without them. They collect their things and expel themselves from their vehicles into the outside world, ready to venture out bravely on foot. Sometimes they forget to look.

Yes, you are supposed to look. Yes, it's the law. Blah blah blah. All of those things are very nice to think about. However, the law will not actually protect you from a car door as you crash into it, here on this physical plane of existence we ride in. If you want to ride safely, unfortunately it's up to you to protect yourself.

As a careful cyclist, it's wise to ride well outside the boundaries of the "door zone." You should pretend that every single door you pass by is going to swing open right in your face. Ride far enough out that if a door did open, you wouldn't even have to swerve out of the way to avoid a collision.

This puts you right near the outside perimeter of the bike lane. This is the safest place to ride.

This may seem counterintuitive to new cyclists, as it puts them significantly closer to cars that are actually moving along at a decent clip. However, the truth is most road users are better able to avoid you when they are actually driving, and their car doors are not self-deploying into the bike lane.

Further to this, many road users will give you pretty much the same amount of clearance no matter where you are on the road. If you are well inside the bike lane, chances are their car will be right outside it. If you are positioned closer to the edge, they will be forced to move away. Some drivers will give you three feet of space regardless of where you are, and may even sneak into the next lane over a bit to make sure they don't hit you.

People's natural instinct is to not hit you, as much as your presence on the road might irritate them.

For this reason, it's a good practice to ride near the outside edge of the bike lane at all times, even if there are no cars parked on the other side of your lane. Cyclists often have to swerve unexpectedly to negotiate bad pot holes or other road hazards. You should avoid swerving out into traffic, so the more space you have reserved to swerve inward, the better.

Even if there is no bike lane, you should take plenty of space for you and your bicycle. Taking up about a third of the lane is practical.

Remember, you should imagine the door zone is everywhere--even if there is no bike lane, and even if there are no parked cars. Inexperienced cyclists are sometimes inclined to swerve in between parked cars if there is a space. Don't do this! Fight your subconscious urge to distance yourself from traffic and stand your ground!

Swerving between parked cars can temporarily pull you out of the line of sight of drivers behind you, making you and your bicycle a surprise when you have to reenter the flow of traffic. It's best to maintain a straight path so they can see you and give you an appropriate amount of space.

If riding outside of the door zone doesn't leave enough space to share the lane with a car, take the lane. In this situation, you have a right to occupy the whole lane. This prevents a car from trying to squeeze past you, which could put you in danger.

When taking the lane, it is appropriate to signal to traffic behind you. Don't just signal, though: turn and look. Make sure whoever is behind you sees you, and is aware of what you are doing. If they don't see you or are not paying attention, you might have some quick thinking to do to avoid an accident. Stay sharp, and don't assume people know what you are about to do.

If you encounter a vehicle parked in the bike lane, you should be prepared well in advance to signal out of the bike lane and take up the actual lane until you are safely past the offending double-parker. This applies to situations without a bike lane, too. Any time there isn't room for you, another car, and your own safety, take the lane.

"But won't cars behind me honk at me?" Well, it is certainly a possibility. They could also present you with a passionate display of their very freshest language and wave flamboyant hand gestures at you. Tolerating this type of abuse, however, is a small price to pay in exchange for preserving your safety on the road. Getting honked at is way better than getting run off the road, getting clipped by someone's careless miscalculation, or getting doored.

If you are a spitter, spit to your left. Not in a "Watch out or I'll spit on you" kind of way, just in a "I happen to spit in this direction at random intervals" kind of way. If motorists perceive it as a threat or insult, you are not doing it right. It should be casual.

Most drivers will actually reward you with plenty of extra space if you are a casual spitter. Running you off the road isn't so bad, but risking saliva landing on their BMW is just unthinkable.

It sounds wacky, but this is actually a tried and true Grant Petersen technique. If you are not already a spitter, I am not saying you should start spitting. Your safety on the road doesn't depend on correctly discharging your saliva while you ride.

It's just that a lot of cyclists spit, for whatever reason, and if you are spitting anyway then give it a shot. Think of it as trying to land your spit right on the imaginary border of the space that you would like cars to give you.

And finally, on occasion you may be forced into a traffic situation where it is not possible to take the lane and there is not enough space to get out of the door zone. In this situation, my only advice is to slow the heck down.

In tight situations like this, you should be going slow enough to make an abrupt stop at the drop of a hat. Again, ride as if every single door could pop open right in front of you, because one just might.

Learn to do the "quick stop," which is explained in this very dorky video:
It's actually worth practicing this move on an empty street or in a parking lot until you get the hang of it. If you have to ride right next to parked cars, try not to be going so fast that you can't pull off a quick stop in front of any door you are passing by. If a door does open in front of you, the slower you are going the better.

Alright then, you know what to do. Have fun and be safe. Watch out for douchemobiles with fully-automatic self-opening doors, mind your rightful space on the road, spit to the left (optional), and slow the heck down if you have to.

Please ride safely. You don't wanna end up scratching somebody's nice door.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blaming the Victim

Recently I was shocked, disgusted and embarrassed of my species to discover that many people hold the insane belief that a cyclist is at fault in the event of a “dooring.”

In a post last week, New York City blogger and cyclist Bike Snob reports on a morning show segment that was broadcast on ABC Australia. The segment discussed a new campaign to increase fines for motorists who door cyclists, in an effort to hopefully get people to look behind them before opening their doors. You may view a video of the segment he is talking about here.

This is a good idea; many people who can't be bothered to check and see if they are about to kill someone or not will still take a moment if it means avoiding a fine. This is the same principle that coaxes people to sometimes yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk. It doesn't make a difference in every case, but most people who occasionally need to cross a busy street would agree that it is better than nothing.

Bike Snob then describes an exchange between the two news anchors that occurs after the segment (starting at 3:32 in the video):

However, shortly after that they cut back to the studio, and that's when these idiots once again prove that the movie "Anchorman" was indeed a documentary and that TV talking heads are vapid numbskulls who should never, ever be allowed to say anything that isn't written down for them beforehand:

"Just to even the ledger up a tiny, weensy bit," says the Bruce on the left while making a crushing-your-head motion, "Did I hear him say it's always the motorist's fault or is my hearing failing?"

"No, we both heard that," replies the Bruce on the right smugly.

"It's not the case," declares Bruce on the left.

"I would say that you probably need to take that comment with a little bit of caution," ejaculates the Bruce on the right moronically.

"A sackload of salt, not just a grain," quips left Bruce, and then goes on about how "...we've all seen our fair share of reckless cyclists as well so I think it's very unfair to purely blame motorists 100% of the time."

Are you kidding me? Cyclists are to blame for doorings? What kind of morons are these? The most reckless cyclist in the world is not going to run into a car door intentionally. The most oblivious, headphone-wearing, red-light running dolt with an iced latte in one hand should never have to collide with a car door that opens unexpectedly in their path. If you open your car door in front of a cyclist, it is your fault.

This is not just my opinion, it is the law. You can disagree with me, but it makes you sound really stupid. Dooring a cyclist and saying it's not your fault is like someone running a solid red light at an intersection, and saying it's not their fault that the light was red.

Anyhow, the next day the news station was compelled to release the following retraction:

News Breakfast:  On May 7, the program interviewed Garry Brennan from Bicycle Network Victoria about a campaign to increase fines for motorists who open their car doors into the path of cyclists.  After the interview we suggested that cyclists should share some of the blame for ‘dooring’ incidents. The law states that this is incorrect. In every ‘dooring’ incident it is the fault of the person opening the door for not exercising due care.

In the wake of their publicly broadcast stupidity, they decided to try and save some face by acknowledging their comprehension of the law.

The true horror behind this story, however, had already been revealed: these two idiots nonchalantly spewing alarmingly irrational rhetoric on a nationally broadcast news service on the other side of the world are most likely not the only ones who actually believe this backwards lunacy.

I find idiocy this profound to be rather vexing. Not so much as a cyclist, but as a person who still entertains that old-timey notion that people do their best to feed little morsels of rationality into their thought processes.

Blaming a cyclist for a dooring accident is like blaming a fish for becoming ensnared in a fisherman's net. Yes, the fish may have physically propelled itself into the net, but obviously the fish wasn't trying to get itself netted. No one would say the fish had caught itself.

And still, there are many among us secretly harboring this mind-boggling lack of personal accountability. Despite their alarmingly fragile grasp of rationality, in many cases they are still allowed to drive their cars around and fatally door people.

As a rather unique and arguably endearing example of a misdirected sense of personal responsibility, this idiot painted the inside of his car door orange. Thankfully, he included a little "how-to" on Instructables.com, because it's pretty hard to wrap your mind around a complicated project like pointing a can of spray paint at something.

It has likely happened to all of us: we're casually opening the door of a car when another car or bike comes whizzing past, nearly hitting the door because they didn't see it opening.

Notice how the wording very specifically and purposefully lays the entire burden of responsibility on the oncoming traffic. Here, the person "casually" opening the door is the victim.

Instructables user milesfromnelhu recognized the problem and decided to fix it by spray painting a warning strip on the inside of the door.

Oh, thanks for "fixing" the problem. Now your door will be much more visible to any cyclist who is crashing into it as you "casually" open your door in their face.

This is like "fixing" a broken windshield by taping a sign to it that says, "This windshield is broken." The problem has been acknowledged, but in lieu of an actual solution it has only been made uglier. It continues:

It's true you should be looking in your side mirror before popping open the door, but it doesn't always happen.

 "It doesn't always happen"? Why is the simple responsibility of turning your fat head before you get out of your car reduced to some random event that may or may not happen? If your shoe laces come untied, will you paint them orange so you don't trip on them?

It's true you should retie your shoes if they untie themselves, but it doesn't always happen.

It's tough out there: motorists "casually" open their doors in your face; cops door you, then chase you down and arrest you; people with suspended licenses door you, then flee the scene as you die in the street because they are going to be late for a party; people door you, get pissed off that you hit their door, and run you over on purpose; or some people try to door you intentionally while driving at you in reverse.

In the event that you are doored (or involved in any kind of accident with an automobile), you will need to file an accident report. You should be prepared to have the police involved.

Hopefully, they won't give you a ticket.

Fellow cyclists! Tune in next week for tips on door avoidance.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can you tie your shoes?

I vaguely remember learning to tie my shoes. It was kindergarten, so I was five years old. I remember getting the hang of it, but needing a lot of help. I've gotten better at it since, but not much better.

I remember when I had just started to get good at successfully tying my shoe pretty much every attempt. Some of the other kids in my class were learning the "advanced" technique where you only use one bunny ear at the end, and you sort of loop around it and pull the lace through or whatever, but it was pretty tricky.

By this time, I had gotten pretty good at the two bunny ears method; it didn't really seem worthwhile to learn a harder way. So I just stuck with the old way, and never really thought another thing of it.

Years go by, and I keep tying my shoes and going about my business like any especially accident-prone and relatively insane child does. My laces would come untied, and I would tie them again, and they would come untied, and I would tie them again.

Once in a while, when I am attempting to take off my shoes, I untie the laces on purpose--but this happens rarely, because for the most part the laces are either already undone, or I tear my shoes off without undoing the laces. Later, I would jam my foot back into the shoe while the laces were still tied, making tying the laces an exercise that would be called upon more or less randomly throughout the shoe-wearing process.

Throughout the day, the knot in the laces would gradually loosen as I walked about. Anything beyond moderate activity (running haplessly back and forth across a soccer field, or falling down the stairs, or whatever) would encourage the knot to loosen more rapidly.

Oftentimes, if I wanted to make it through a gym period without my shoes coming untied, I would tie the infamous "double knot" into the laces.

The double knot was just another basic overhand knot (using the two bunny ears) after the shoe had already been tied. While it's dramatically bulging shape made the knot extremely conspicuous and ugly to behold, the double knot would rarely budge. A given shoe could often be worn for several days on just one double knot.

The only real downside to the double knot was how difficult it was to untie. With no slip in the knot, you were forced to pick at the knot with your fingertips in attempt to loosen it.

Sometimes while trying to coax a double knot free, I would gain purchase on the wrong part of the lace; my subsequent yanking would tighten the knot further. This and other elaborate life challenges would continually vex me throughout my formative years.

Fast forward to last year, age twenty-seven; twenty-two years and likely tens of thousands of shoe-ties after completing my first in kindergarten. By this time, I am a veteran of shoe tying. I can tie my shoes with my eyes closed if I wish, and still do a pretty good job. My shoes still come untied, but it's something I have developed an awareness about and I'm pretty good at retying them right away.

I was at work busying myself with some relatively mundane task (perhaps tying my shoes) when I overheard a coworker talk about shoe tying, and how he spent his whole life tying his shoes the wrong way, and can you believe that, and wow, you do it too? I asked what he was talking about.

Those were the last words I spoke as an unenlightened shoe tier.

What he proceeded to explain to me can basically be summarized by this: a shoe-tying knot is based on a square knot:

The knot that stupid people tie by mistake is called a granny knot:

You can tell which knot someone has tied by looking at the orientation of the bunny ears in the final knot. If the ears are pointing straight out to the sides, then the person has successfully tied a square knot (correct):

If the knot pushes the bunny ears into more of an up-and-down position, then they have tied the granny:

Hopefully your shoes are not as ugly as mine, but other than that your completed tie should look like the top photo.

The secret lies in switching the bias of the laces as you cross them the second time (left over right, tuck under, then right over left, tuck under). If you cross them the same way both times, you get the granny.

The disadvantages of the granny knot are many. First and foremost, the knot is hopelessly unreliable in all applications. The knot can wiggle loose if the load on the knot is dynamic (as it is in the case of a shoe being walked in). Granny knots can also jam up when you are trying to untie them. In the case of shoe laces, the granny knot looks kind of crooked or lopsided, while the square knot splays the laces equally to both sides of the shoe.

No one ever ties a granny knot on purpose.

When my coworker (who shall remain nameless but has something to do with this band) revealed this knotting secret to me, I switched methods immediately. It took some practice to relearn the knot, but I was at least now able to recognize when I had failed and tied the granny. I liked the look of the knot, and how the bunny ears lay symmetrically across the shoe by default. For once, my shoes didn't look like they had a cowlick.

The appearance of my laces, however, was not the most significant change that was in store for me. I didn't notice the phenomenon right away, but since that fateful day my laces have never come untied.

All my shoe-tying days I thought that you tied your laces and they came untied, and that was just a part of life that you had to learn to deal with. Never again!

If you didn't know any of this knot theory but have been tying your laces correctly anyhow, well congratulations. Maybe someone taught you how to tie your shoes properly and you were paying attention at the time. Maybe you just got lucky, and never deviated from that.

But know this: unwittingly tying the granny is a real problem that affects millions of oblivious shoe tiers all over the world.

Some people inadvertently tie a granny once in a while, and maybe don't even notice. Other people tie their shoes wrong every time, and walk around for twenty-two years tying double knots in things and thinking that normal shoes just untie themselves.

If you know someone who suffers from this terrible ailment (known to the medical community as "stupidity"), send them a link to my blog:


If you know someone who does not suffer from this terrible ailment, send them a link to my blog:


And in case you were wondering: yes, I still tie my laces with the two bunny ears method.