Wednesday, June 10, 2009

See, Why Would You Do This?

Look everybody: It's pet peeve time! (I'm writing this because it's against my beliefs to blog about basketball after a Lakers loss, heh. Or, rather, I'm copying this—it's originally from another site of mine. But it's recent.)

I like to bicycle. Not like some friends, who like to bicycle like they like to breathe. (Credit goes to Sandra Boynton for that delectable quote, adapted for the nonce.) But I still like to pedal here and there. So I take it personally when a cyclist every now and then decides they wish to flout one of the basic rules of bicycle behavior—even more that they do it in the name of safety.

They prefer, they say, to ride on the left side of the road.

Note that I'm not talking about people who ride briefly on the left side of the road because their home is on that side, and they're about to make a left turn at the corner, but about people who speak of riding on the left side as though it's some sort of closely guarded Success Secret® of the cycling guild. The justification, apparently, is that it allows them to see oncoming traffic, the better to avoid it. This is wrongheaded on so many levels that it's mindboggling to comprehend. Don't be one of those mindbogglers. Ride on the right side of the road. (Unless you ride in the U.K., or some other of those countries where they drive on the left side of the road.) The reasons are legion:
  • First of all, the most important: Collisions will happen from time to time, whether you can see them coming or not. But riding toward cars means that your velocity is added to theirs, not subtracted, not to mention the prone-to-flipping head-on collision rather than the more stable rear-ender. Drivers will suffer a somewhat higher repair cost. You will suffer a substantially higher chance of dying, and if not that, of serious injury.
  • The higher relative velocity has another penalty: Cars are much larger than you, are moving much faster than you, and take much longer (both in distance and in time) to stop than you. As a result, the car has by far the greater part of control over whether there's an accident. Your ability to see oncoming traffic is as nothing, in terms of importance, when compared to the drivers' ability to see you. And by riding toward cars, you give drivers correspondingly less time to see you and avoid an accident.
  • What's more, most cyclists ride on the right side of the road. Drivers know this, whether they know that they know it, and scan the road accordingly, especially when they're making a right turn onto a major road: At such times, they look back down the road to their left for traffic to avoid. Not traffic to the right, which is where you will be coming if you ride down the left (i.e., wrong) side of the road. A similar comment applies to cars parked on the side of the road pulling out into traffic.
  • The one time when a car is relatively maneuverable on the road is when it is stopped to make an unprotected left turn (i.e., yielding to oncoming traffic). Drivers are then looking into oncoming traffic, where they will see all potential hazards, except—you guessed it—cyclists riding down the left side of the road.
  • Pedestrians are advised to walk down the left side of the road, because they can stop on a dime, unlike bicycles. If you ride down the left side of the road, you will be coming up behind such pedestrians, who may chose that moment to turn on a dime and smack right into you (potentially throwing both of you into oncoming traffic).
I hear this less and less, fortunately, but it still crops up from time to time, from people who should know better. (That's approximately everybody, in my opinion.) I think it stems from the natural inclination to think that if you only have all the information you want, you'll be in complete control over your destiny, but whatever the reason, it's just a vastly inferior decision.

EDIT: Since I first wrote this, I've been informed that there is a specific term for this: salmoning. So don't salmon. You know what happens to salmon after they make their way upstream, right? It's not exactly an unalloyed happy ending.

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