As night falls in the afternoon, a musing on safety

Out of the WSB inbox, from “The Velvet Bulldog,” as the heart of December brings the longest nights of the year:

In the past month during evening driving (read: dark) I’ve had three incidences of narrowly missing bicyclists who were riding without adequate visible materials. One guy was in all black, had no reflectors on his bike and wore no helmet. I kinda wonder if he’s even still alive to tell his tale. Thursday night it was a guy with a few strips of reflective material on his coat (covered by his backpack) but no rear light. I also recently had the unsettling experience of coming around the bend on the uphill side of Admiral near the infamous crosswalk at Alki Mail and Dispatch and a woman was running in the street facing oncoming traffic. She also didn’t have bright clothes on. (Also, I’m really curious – why are runners in the street rather than onthe sidewalk? It seems dangerous.) I just want to ask any of you who are bike riding or running (again–why??) in the street, or if you know someone who does, to ensure you’ve got the gear to be visible in the dark. I’m all about sharing the road with bicycles, but I have to be able to see you to safely share with you!! Thank you!

26 Replies to "As night falls in the afternoon, a musing on safety"

  • Aidan Hadley December 7, 2007 (5:26 pm)

    In all fairness, The Velvet Bulldog, you’re not really “all about sharing the road with bicycles” are you now. As I recall you were one of a small group of commenters with a very anti-bicycle slant who was recently railing against bike lanes. You and some others were going off about those arrogant bike riders who get in your way on the roads. Today’s “question” seems to represent the same frustration with runners or anyone else would get in your way and impede the progress of you in your car. In my opinion we should be asking why MORE space is not devoted to people who choose to walk, run or bicycle in our fair city. Those people aren’t doing anything to worsen traffic, pollute the air and water, or cause us to continue to be dependent on foreign oil from countries that hate us and our way of life. People in cars should be at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to right-of-way!

  • Mike Dady December 7, 2007 (5:47 pm)

    Regardless of what the Velvet Bulldog stated earlier, their suggestion for pedestrians and cyclists to be visible and cautious seems pretty basic to me. There are people out-and-about on foot and two wheels that make even a numb-nut like me seem I have more than half a brain. One little itty-bitty light on the back of a bike on a rainy or dark evening or morning is inviting an accident with a car or, ahem….a mass transit oriented Metro bus. My bike has three lights, and even then I am nervous and avoid busy streets if at all possible because I don’t want to be maimed for life. Or dead. Just yet anyway.

  • Meghan December 7, 2007 (5:56 pm)

    I agree with Mike. If walking, running, or biking you may as well err on the side of more visibility; if you and a motor vehicle have a run in, you’re the one who will loose that battle. I always get nervous passing bikers when I am driving.

  • GenHillOne December 7, 2007 (5:56 pm)

    Aiden, I think the point was that you can’t give right-of-way if you can’t see who should receive it.

  • The Velvet Bulldog December 7, 2007 (6:17 pm)

    Aiden – “in all fairness” if they’re still available, you might want to go back and check bike lane posts before making accusations – I’ve certainly never made any comments against bike lanes or bicyclists at all. At times I ride my own bike to the water taxi or I take public transportation. Again, please review past comments before making unpleasant accusations.

  • Jan December 7, 2007 (6:43 pm)

    I’m sorry Aidan (probably a bicyclist, but just guessing)missed the point entirely on this. GehHillOne put it succinctly. Thinking that you’re better than the rest because you feel that you’re environmentally superior does not necessarily give you a twit of a brain….the message is…for bicyclists, runner,,AND walkers…wear light clothes at night…have reflector tape on clothes, lights on your bike. Use your common sense and don’t just expect that you’ll be seen and given the right of way.MAKE SURE you’ll be seen…and have a safe and great weekend all :)

  • Brian December 7, 2007 (6:44 pm)

    Aidan brings up a great point, if you are a cyclist you need to be visible. But, even the best efforts don’t always help. I race road bikes and put lots of miles on. Just about a month ago I was struck by a guy at a for way stop who didn’t see me coming through the intersection when it was my turn. I had a halogen headlight equivalent to a small motorcycle, 4 rear flashing tail lights and 3 lights visible from the side. But…he was talking on his cell phone and not paying attention. If I was 3 feet further along he could have killed me, but I was lucky and got off with a bruised elbow. Remember that it is actually the law in most cases that a cyclist use the road rather than the sidewalk to keep walkers safe. This doesn’t excuse the repeated stupid behavior that I’ve seen happen by other cyclist, but it’s also really important to keep in mind that the slightest contact with a car can cause massive injury. West Seattle also has crappy roads, so when you see a guy swirving about he’s probably avoiding potholes. It all comes down to common sense and respect for each other out there.

  • Dis December 7, 2007 (6:45 pm)

    Going from Luna Park Cafe to the 7-11 on Avalon, rounding the curve just before the 7-11 is a very dangerous stretch for bicyclists. If I am driving, I always have to be very conscious to leave space on the right side of the car because invariably, I come upon a bicyclist, in dark clothing at dusk, as I round the bend.

  • Brian December 7, 2007 (6:46 pm)

    I’d also like to say that I’m a better cyclist than I am proofreader! I’ll proof…then post next time! :)

  • Jan December 7, 2007 (8:31 pm)

    Brian…you bring up a good point…you were doing what you should be doing, but doofus in the car was on his cell phone. It’s not always the bicyclist that’s doing something wrong, we have to remember to really watch out for the people who are not driving. Again…visibility is the key…and paying attention on the driver’s part.

    Glad you weren’t hurt more…:)

  • evan December 7, 2007 (8:44 pm)

    But what’s the deal with the people walking/jogging in the middle of the street instead of the sidewalks? i saw multiple people on my street doing that after dark last night, and i have seen it late at night in the summers as well. whats the reason for that?

  • mtnpeak December 7, 2007 (9:03 pm)

    I can’t speak for others but when I go running I tend to favor the street. There are a lot of hedges and blind corners around my neighborhood and it actually feels safer than the sidewalk because I can more easily see and avoid cars emerging from driveways. I don’t run on busy streets though, and when I do meet a car in the road I get out of its way and take the sidewalk until it has passed.

  • CMP December 7, 2007 (9:05 pm)

    I only run in the street if the sidewalk is not well lit or it’s closed off for some reason. I also only do that before 6:30 am when there is less traffic. In the winter, a reflective vest is an essential piece of running gear, just as important as my shoes themselves. It’s not that hard to swing by REI (or better yet, order online) to get a $15 vest that could save you from being struck by a car. They also have reflective tape to put on shoes, hats, or anywhere else.

  • Aidan Hadley December 7, 2007 (10:00 pm)

    Velvet Bulldog: My sincerest apologies. I had completely the wrong commenter. I didn’t have time earlier to go back through the threads but when I did I saw it wasn’t you. My mistake. I was thinking of “donald” and some others who scared me with how aggressive they sounded towards bicyclists. I agree with your general point about people needing to make themselves more visible at night. Again, sorry to get you riled. You didn’t deserve that. My bad.

    And Jan, I’m as often in a car as I am on a bike. And not for nothing but it is not about being environmentally superior. To the contrary, I’m just responding to what often feels like aggressive drivers who think they own the road completely and who put pedestrians and bicyclists in danger on a daily basis. I’m not sure about you but I’ve never heard about any hit-and-run bicyclists or joggers. If people aren’t prepared to slow down and brake for people on foot or on bikes they just shouldn’t get in a car in the first place.

  • E December 7, 2007 (10:00 pm)

    Running in the street is not only safer from the standpoint of seeing cars pulling out of the driveway, but also sidewalks tend to be very poorly maintained with lots of bushes growing over them and things to trip on. I always wear a reflective vest and carry a flashing light. I agree with earlier folks that peds and bikes have a responsibility to be as visible as possible. Obviously the cars have a responsibility too. And don’t even get me started on the number of people who have nearly hit me in a crosswalk when I had the light, just because they were on their idiot cell phones.

  • Jan December 7, 2007 (10:32 pm)

    Aidan…I tend to agree to a point If a bicyclist is going to hold up a long line of cars because he/she is going 15 MPH, while the speed limit is 30 MPH, then the bicyclist needs to move…period. I brake for bikes, I brake for pedestrians..when I can see them. But being conscientious goes both ways. One is not more important than the other.Well, except for the pedestrians that have the right of way, when they have the right of way. I guess for those drivers on cell phones, next summer will be a time of withdrawal and a time of big sales for bluetooth. I refuse to talk on my phone while I’m driving. There is nothing more important than paying attention to my driving. Voicemail is there for a reason..if it’s important they can leave a message.

    So…we’re all in agreement then…we all need to watch out for each other :)

  • jrd December 7, 2007 (10:38 pm)

    Oh man, please not another bicyclist vs car driver debate. Listen. I go on walks every night. Now that it is dark when I get home from work, I wear my white hoodie. I’ve also been meaning to find some reflective tape. (Does True Value carry this I’m wondering?)

    But as I am also an evil commuter, and drive my evil car when it is dark in the morning, I know that cars can’t see pedestrians and bike riders as well as they see us. So, when crossing any intersection, even small streets with no lights, or alleyways, I pause and make sure no one is coming – even when I have the right of way.

    I value my life more than making some pompous statement on right-of-way. You’re on a bike? You’re jogging? You’re walking? It takes 1 second to look and make sure someone in a car isn’t going to hit you.

    Again. I walk every night, I don’t even own a cell phone, and the thought of driving and using one is idiotic to me, and I commute.

  • Katherine December 8, 2007 (7:57 am)

    Aidan, I’m pleased to see your apology and admission that you made a mistake. How would you like to run for office?

  • Praying Man-tis-i December 8, 2007 (8:31 am)

    What a hot topic this is! I have sympathy for every side, and I also share in the frustrations. From my experience, as a driver, it’s as annoying for me to see drivers on cell phones as it is for irresponisble cyclists. Perhaps the worst case of irrisponsibility I’ve seen is a cyclist IN TRAFFIC on a CELL PHONE attempting to control their bike with ONE HAND!NOTE: I’m not saying ALL cyclists are irresponsible!

    Isn’t this really a case of every individual doing what’s right, regardless of their means of transportation? Use some common sense, do what’s right, be willing to share the road as much as you’re willing to avoid a trajedy by giving the right-of-way. Oh, and DEFINITELY wear the proper attire, if you’re a cyclist or on foot.

  • SRA December 8, 2007 (9:32 am)

    The original post mentions the woman who jogs on Admiral near the infamous Alki Mail intersection. I too have witnessed what I believe is the same woman at least twice jogging head on into traffic on the street instead of the sidewalk.

    Now I am a cyclist and I light myself up like a tree. I also drive slow and stop for all pedestrians whenever possible. This woman needs to be stopped to save her own life. I almost hit her as I drove up that hill at 5am on a Saturday. There was NO way for anyone to see her, it was merely luck that I did not hit her. She wears dark clothing AND runs into traffic in the street!

    If I see her again I will stop the car and insist that she talk to me. For $20 she can buy a blinking light and a safety vest for crying out loud.

    If any other bloggers know who I am talking about, please pass the word to her with her safety in mind. She apparently runs on Admiral VERY early in the mornings, at least on weekends.

  • Maria December 8, 2007 (1:16 pm)

    I agree that bikes do belong on the road. It would be nice that they obey the road rules. It is fine to follow the road, but not so nice to move along the side of the road at a stop and get first in line which makes everyone behind them have to stay slow behind them.

  • star December 8, 2007 (5:52 pm)

    Correct me if i am wrong, but if you are a pedestrian on the street walking or running aren’t you supposed to walk toward on coming traffic, so you can see them and not get hit from behind? Or is that just a relic of my life in the country? If I’m walking on a road there is no way that I am walking with my back to traffic, because drivers don’t always see you, so be safe and see them!

  • Jan December 8, 2007 (9:37 pm)

    Star..that’s the way I understand it…you walk towards traffic when on the side of the road.

    West Seattle doesn’t have the only problems. Today going to my daughter’s place in Magnolia I came upon 2 bicyclists that were going about 15 MPH in the street, holding up traffic – cars, buses….and they were about 5 feet from a bike lane…and could have cared less. They did have helmets on, though…gotta give ’em that.

  • A December 9, 2007 (12:59 pm)

    I have to say one thing – please don’t walk down the middle of the street! I live in a neighborhood with sidewalks (Delridge area) and there is a couple that ALWAYS walks down the middle of the street WITH their two young children in strollers!! I just don’t understand it. What is wrong with the sidewalk? I have a toddler and I would never teach him that it’s ok to walk down the middle of the street! I am trying to teach him to stay out of the street as it is.

  • m December 10, 2007 (12:56 pm)

    Lots of good concerns posted- hopefully the people that need to read this common sense are seeing this thread!

    I have one more suggestion though- drivers need to turn their headlights on too, especially during the winter months. It’s hard to see silver, black or white cars when it’s gray and raining heavily. Or any colored car if it’s past 4:30 pm.

  • Lilith December 18, 2007 (5:15 pm)

    I totally agree that everyone needs to increase their ability to be seen–it won’t stop people from being stupid, but at least you won’t regret your part in an accident.

    I just went out a couple weeks ago to buy more lights for my bike, as well as a reflective coat and some strips. I bought a couple of flashing lights to put on the sides of my bike, but was counseled against that, the argument being that flashing red lights are generally reserved for the back and may just confuse people. Anyone else have an opinion?

    Also, I was talking to another bicylcist around a month ago at the bridge about spoke lights. I never did find the kid ones, but did find these which are not only cool but would increase visibility from the side:

Sorry, comment time is over.