May 28, 2012 – Share the Road…or, Path
Even though I knew it would be roasting hot this Memorial Day, I didn’t leave for my daily ride until almost 11, taking the Four Mile Run Trail to Shirlington – enjoying its shady and modestly hilly alternative to the W&OD path. On my way home, while waiting to cross Columbia Pike, an ambulance turned onto the path, heading my westerly direction. Inching along behind it, I got a bad feeling as I saw a cluster of people gathered at the edges of the path. Walking my bike around the vehicle, I saw a dazed-looking young man, clad in black lycra bike gear, with bright red splotches of blood glistening on his face. Worse, on the other side of the path, a young woman lay on the ground, a large ace bandage wrapped around her leg like a tourniquet, and a copious amount of blood smeared over large swaths of her body. Bikes lay abandoned on the grass. As there was obviously medical attention at hand, and more than enough concerned onlookers, I continued – ever so carefully – on my way.
I remembered what my friend Gayle said a year and a half ago when I crashed on Labor Day, after a man pushing a stroller on the Custis Trail swerved suddenly in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes and go flying – at high speed – and skidding down the hill toward Rosslyn. “Holidays are the most dangerous times to ride your bike,” she said, “because they bring out people who don’t regularly use the paths and understand trail etiquette.” So here it was – another holiday – another crash. I don’t know how this one happened, but I do know what I regularly encounter on the area’s heavily used bike baths.
A certain proportion of cyclists – mostly, but not entirely, of the male variety – like to ride fast, very fast. Many walkers and runners seem to feel entitled to array themselves two, three, even four abreast – frequently unwilling to yield an inch to bikers, even when passing is politely requested. Dog walkers tend to be more considerate, consistently reining in their pooches when a cyclist gives a passing warning, but children are, understandably, erratic in their movement and must be navigated past with caution. Parents pushing strollers (my personal bête noir, given my traumatic crash) are prone to stopping right on the path to tend to their little ones’ needs or lumbering forward in a state of sleep-deprived oblivion. Given this potent brew of disaster waiting to happen, I’m surprised I don’t see more accidents on the bike trails.
I can understand why non-bikers might feel antipathy toward cyclists – because those who ride aggressively pose a dangerous hazard. But many of us bike carefully and courteously – yet encounter outright and undeserved hostility from pedestrians. To them I offer a line from the outrageously campy and hysterically funny musical Xanadu, that I saw at Signature Theater yesterday: “Don’t harsh my mellow.” That’s what happens when I’m out for a happy hour of bike riding and have my mood soured by other path users who haven’t learned the basic lesson of social cohesion captured by the simple concept, share the road, or, in this case, the path.
I’ve tried to bring my yoga practice to the bike path, not taking it personally when a runner refuses to move over to let me pass safely and instead sneers at me, “you’re supposed to yield.” Sure, I know that, but is it really so inconvenient to move a few inches toward the right so that a bike doesn’t have to cross into what may be oncoming bike or pedestrian traffic? I try to cultivate compassion for what they might be feeling – fear of being run over by a speeding bike, perhaps? (Or jealousy that biking is so much cooler than jogging? Oops, sorry, I guess that’s not very yogic.) Maybe they’re just having a crappy day, despite the feel-good endorphins that vigorous exercise is supposed to generate. Still, I often feel like the ditsy teen in the movie Mean Girls who plaintively asks, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Sigh…