My Open Apology to a Nighttime Cyclist

Dear Nighttime Cyclist:

I’m sorry.

I didn’t see you.

You hate to hear that, I know. I’m a cyclist, too. I’m sensitive to the issue.

But I didn’t see you.

I’m glad I didn’t hit you. I would have had no excuse. You were riding where you were supposed to be — on the right side of a residential street. And even though it was dark, you had a front headlight.

But I still didn’t see you.

I pulled up to the stop sign. I looked left, right, and left. There were no car headlights. There were no pedestrians crossing the street. Unfortunately, my brain didn’t register your dim, steady headlight as anything other than the park lights much farther away. Until I pulled in front of you.

Then I saw you.

Had I looked for a dim light, had I looked longer, I’m sure I would have seen you. I can and will be more careful. One safer driver.

I’ll see you next time.

But that doesn’t really solve our problem. We cyclists need to be more visible, especially at night.

We need to be seen.

I bought lights last week for my commute. Although I’ve only used them in daytime hours, it was in their flashing modes. Rather than being dim lights that don’t even register on the same brightness scale as car headlights, when flashing they can seem blinding. Or maybe not. I’d settle for being noticed.

I want to be seen.

Would I have seen you if your headlight was flashing? I think so. But I understand why your light was on steady. You wanted to see the road in front of you. A blinking headlight wouldn’t help with that. Maybe two headlights with one blinking, or a blinky on your helmet? The more lights, the better. The blinkier, the better.

I want to see you.

I’m sorry I didn’t.



8 responses to “My Open Apology to a Nighttime Cyclist”

  1. Leroy Avatar

    I don’t have the luxury of living close enough to work to commute by bicycle, and even if I did, I don’t know that I would. My primary use for cycling is to gain a little exercise, try to keep the battle of the bulge in check, and take in a little scenery along the way. As such, I tend to restrict my riding to the local bike trails. Street riding, sucking in all those exhaust fumes while putting oneself in the path of multi-thousand pound hunks of moving metal controlled by other humans who may or may not be paying attention to the task at hand, just doesn’t do it for me personally.

    That said, I had a similar situation to yours, in broad daylight. It happened last weekend, on my way to the bike trail with my bike in the back of my truck. I was on a signalized residential street, and the light had turned green about 30 yards before I arrived, so I already had momentum and continued on through the intersection. Just as I entered the intersection, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked in the rear-view and saw that I had narrowly missed someone on a bicycle who had come out of the shadow of a large evergreen tree, and who was evidently not yielding to the red light facing his direction. Although it would have been clearly his fault, I would have felt horrible for wiping out a cyclist with my truck.

    While it’s true that we should pay more attention while driving our vehicles, I think the onus lies on both drivers AND cyclists to be more aware of our surroundings, particularly when forcing our right-of-way could mean the difference between life or death.

  2. Brent Logan Avatar

    Leroy, “close enough to work to commute by bicycle” is different for everyone. I have the luxury of living only 3.3 miles from work. My work used to be only one mile from kitchen to cube. That wasn’t worth getting out the bike, the helmet, the gloves, and the lock. I just walked. My current distance is nice, but I know many who commute much farther.

    I also have the luxury of living near Portland, one of the most bike friendly towns in the U.S. Although we have some separate bike paths, they’re are primarily for commuting, not recreation. Like you, I’m not afraid of the alert driver; it’s the distracted driver that will run me over. I’m hoping the blinky lights distract in my favor.

    I am jealous of your American River bike paths. While attending UC Davis, we used to live by Discovery Park. I spent a lot of time on the trail that year. :-)

    As a cyclist, the worse thing would to be hit. As a driver, the worse thing would be to hit a cyclist or pedestrian.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim, I agree that both drivers and cyclists need to be more aware of each other. Having the right of way doesn’t guarantee safety. It’s possible to be not only right, but dead right.

    The best bicycling safety tip I know is to ride as though I’m invisible; to a lot of drivers, I am.

  3. Leroy Avatar

    I forgot to mention previously… I have had the unfortunate experience of being on the receiving end of a bicycle vs. auto accident (you were a bit older, so you may not have heard about it when it happened). I used to ride my bicycle to school when I went to the Academy. One morning, shortly before 8th grade graduation, I lost control of my bicycle on the way to school. I ended up landing out in the roadway, right in the path of an oncoming Volkswagen Bug. The driver slammed on the brakes immediately, but it all happened too quickly. When I “came to,” I was lying in a twisted mess, looking up at the bottom of the Volkswagen’s floorpan, with my foot caught up in the front wheel well of the car. Someone came running with floor jack from a nearby gas station, to lift the car off of me. I was very lucky that day, only suffering some pretty major roadburns (no broken bones), and a serious blow to my pride. I think that experience (and my own clumsiness) may add to my hesitation toward riding “in traffic.”

  4. Brent Logan Avatar

    Ouch! That would explain some hesitation.

    I’ve also been involved in a car/bike collision, but at a much lower speed. I also rode my bike to school. I crossed Winding Way and headed up the sidewalk (on the wrong side) to the school’s entrance. As I started across the exit, a car pulled out and pushed me a short distance. No damage to me, subtle damage to the bike’s frame (it never quite shifted right again…) and the wheels became tacos. My bike was out of commission for a while.

    It highlighted for me that biking on the sidewalk is a dangerous condition. Cars don’t expect you there, and you move much faster than pedestrians, so cars won’t look far enough to see you.

  5. gwalter Avatar

    When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike everywhere. Grade school – about a mile, Jr. HS, about 5 miles, HS – about 8 miles. Even during one of my independent study classes in JR HS – I rode all over Tigard doing water samples.

    When I was 15, I rode from Tigard, near Washington Sq. to Hillsoboro to see a friend.

    In the mid 80s, I lived in Sellwood and worked in Beaverton. I rode 18 miles to work – before it was cool, trendy, and most people thought I was stupid. I didn’t wear a bright vest – I had functional, dark, Goretex rain gear. I had no lights – LEDs hadn’t been invented yet, and batteries were heavy. I just rode and was very aware.

    When I was kid, riding all over Washington County, I had several near misses – so I bought a small air horn and mounted it on my handlebars – that worked great!

    I am always frustrated when someone does something that might have increased their chances of being killed by me. I will have to live with their poor choice the rest of my life. They will RIP. That isn’t fair.

  6. Brent Logan Avatar

    Horns are great fun. In fact, I think we talked about this before. Unfortunately, horns are largely “useful” after the near miss and not so much for avoiding them.

    Maybe it’s time to make my bike look ready for Burning Man. That should be bright enough. ;-)

    I hear you on not wanting to deal with the mental anguish of hitting a bike. Slowing down, looking more carefully, and being more deliberate are things we drivers can do. And we bicyclist can ride less erratically, wear more visible colors, and have brighter, blinkier lights.

  7. Brent Logan Avatar

    An update. I just ran across this BikePortland post about Dave Weber, who commutes 44 miles (round trip) each day. Wow!

    It’s not all sunshine and daisies, though:

    “Despite the fact that he always rides ‘as defensively as possible, looking for signs of movement from cars anywhere on my path’ Weber has been struck by people driving cars seven times. These collisions have often left Weber in the hospital; he’s had surgery to repair his face, his hands, and once woke up to find himself in the ER after being broadsided by a truck that ran a red light. According to Weber, his helmet (which he wears ‘anytime [his] bicycle is in motion’) has saved his life on four separate occasions.”

    That’s commitment…

  8. gwalter Avatar

    Ha! Must be getting old, repeating the same old stories every three years! ;)