Venturing onto notoriously accident-prone Pacific Coast Highway is always a gamble in a car, but last week I realized for cyclists, it is closer to Russian Roulette.
Friday afternoon, my roommate and I headed out for a bike ride, braving the hazards of fast-moving traffic to enjoy what is for us and many road cyclists a favorite recreational sport. The route on PCH always makes me a little leery — the ride is beautiful but often drivers buzz frighteningly close to our pedals, such as a garbage truck that charged past us that day. But beyond being annoyed by the garbage flying in our faces and being startled by the seven-ton truck that skirted us, we felt nothing more than typical irritation at irate PCH drivers.
Ten miles later, on the hill just before County Line Beach, traffic was stopped in front of us and people were getting out of their cars and staring. A medic helicopter hovered overhead and all at once we knew something was very, very wrong.
What appeared to be the same green garbage truck was stopped across two lanes of traffic, sandwiched between ambulances. Underneath the truck wheels: a bicyclist.
In 2003, 197 collisions occurred on the 26-mile stretch of PCH between Malibu Canyon Road and Las Posas Road, of which 5 accidents reported involved bicycles. Although one veteran Malibu cyclist said in her opinion, if you bike around here long enough it’s not a matter of it you get hit. It’s a matter of when.
My roommate and I could not see the face of the cyclist, but we saw the cyclist on the stretcher and the medics screaming at us to turn around. We saw a woman frantically waving other drivers out of her way as she tried to reach the injured cyclist. We saw the helicopter whisk away toward Ventura County Medical Center, after hearing from another bicyclist who had a closer view that the person crushed under the wheels was still alive.
Cyclists have an obligation to avoid unnecessary risks and to obey traffic laws just like cars. But cars do not have unequivocal ownership of the road. In fact, one of the main reasons roads became paved at all was thanks to the League of American Wheelers. The cycling club played a pivotal role in petitioning the U.S. government to pave the nation’s rutted dirt roads, organizing the Good Roads magazine in 1892 and the National League for Good Roads in 1893. As such, in our country, motor vehicles and bicycles share the road.
And as partners on pavement, drivers must keep their eyes open for their more vulnerable two-wheeled counterparts.
I am as guilty as the next person for blabbing on my phone while driving, cruising at a “permissible” 15 mph over the posted speed limit and generally trying to do things that aren’t meant to occur behind the steering wheel (i.e. applying mascara, eating cereal or changing my clothes). But rest assured, Friday was a sobering wakeup call. I doubt the person driving that garbage truck had any intention of running a cyclist into the ground. I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Accidents happen. But frequently accidents are a result of carelessness, and carelessness is by definition giving insufficient attention to your surroundings and inadequate care to what you are doing.
Drive responsibly. Frequently we hear about the dangers of drinking and driving — don’t risk the repercussions of being dumb while driving. Be courteous and careful to pedestrians and other cars, but especially to cyclists.
I know I will never look at a garbage truck the same way, and — I hope — I will never drive on this road the same way again.