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Bicycle safety depends on common sense

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FEBRUARY 16, 2016

I am one of the head mechanics at BicyCAL, UC Berkeley’s on-campus student-run bicycle cooperative. Besides endeavors on campus, I’ve been working as a professional mechanic for retail bike shops since I was 13. And to top all of it off, I also race competitively for UC Berkeley’s cycling team, colloquially known as Cal Cycling. Needless to say, I ride some type of bike every single day and interact with other cyclists just as much. As a bike commuter and as an avid road cyclist, I am also regularly mixed in with vehicular traffic and interact with countless drivers on a daily basis.

Having spent a fair amount of time riding in states other than California and areas of California other than the Bay Area, I can confidently assure members of this local cycling community that overall, we live in a far more cyclist-tolerant community than many cyclists in other parts of the world.

So, after Feb. 2’s incident involving a vehicle striking a cyclist at the intersection of Fulton Street and Bancroft Way, when BicyCAL, I was initially at a little bit of a loss. For the most part, drivers in the Bay Area are at least conscious of cyclists’ existence as road users if not also courteous to us. While our infrastructure isn’t as advanced as most cyclists’ dream, the Netherlands, it is far better than other major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles.

But when I investigated the incident and learned that the driver of the vehicle was likely under the influence, I suddenly knew how to approach this piece:The issue here is not bike safety within our community; the issue is people neglecting to use their common sense.I regularly ride through the Bancroft Way and Fulton Street intersection, and I have never had a negative encounter with a driver there. Heading southbound, Fulton Street turns into a one-way street with enough stop signs and lights along the way, such that all road users — both cars and cyclists — are slowed to a safe, manageable pace. Sure, the righthand lane that a cyclist is mostly likely to be found on is a ittle narrow, but it’s no worse than riding up Durant Avenue as delivery trucks and the 51B zoom past.

Similarly, though, I know all too well that disaster can strike when you are least expecting it. During my first year as an undergraduate student, I was hit from behind as I was riding toward home on College Avenue — the car accelerated away before I even hit the pavement. I, and many of my friends and acquaintances in the cycling community, have experienced the intense displeasure of being “doored,” the simplest description of what happens when someone parked on the right side of the street opens their door into the bike lane without first checking their  mirror as required by California state law. Even riding through campus can be a treacherous endeavor with everyone glued so intently to their cellphones, with absolutely no semblance of situational awareness.

Since when did people start thinking that it would be a good idea to step into an active roadway while essentially staring at their feet? So, no, the crux of the issue here isn’t what Berkeley and the larger Bay Area can do to facilitate safer travel for cyclists. It’s what we can do on a personal level to assign more importance to these seemingly benign day-to-day encounters. On a broader, more metaphysical level, it’s what each of us can do in our lives to make sure that we are living with consciousness of and for our fellow human beings, to realize that we are not the centers of the universe, and that no matter what, we will all get to where we need to be eventually. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive … It’s as bad, or worse, than the last one. Always use your turn signals. Check your mirror before changing lanes or opening your door. Check again, but this time over your shoulder —  just in case. Put your phone in your pocket when you walk through campus, or, at the very least, step to the side and stop if you absolutely need to reply to that Snapchat. Look both ways at intersections and crosswalks. If you look up from your distraction device and see me on my bike, just keep walking — I’ve already done the trajectory equations in my head so that we will safely avoid each other without impeding either of our forward progress and then live happily ever after.

Do these things, not just because the person you pin under your bumper, or who crashes through your door’s window or who you turn right into at a stoplight has a family and a job and innate value as a human being, but also do these things because they just make sense. Be aware of your surroundings and your presence in this world of others, and we will stop having to have this conversation.

Daniel Rietz is one of the head mechanics at BicyCAL. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

FEBRUARY 16, 2016