I expect to start riding my bike to work as soon as I buy an HID helmet light. But yesterday, as I was reading post after post reporting near-misses and collisions, I began to doubt that I will brave the roads on my bike. The thread "Have you been hit by a car?" (Have you been hit by a car?) was especially frightening.
In the last couple months, a co-worker of mine was driving me to work in his mid-size pickup truck. But now he's walking down the corridors in the form of a question mark. A car smashed into his truck. Because the collision incapacitated his truck, he called me after the collision for a ride home. When I arrived at the scene, I saw that his airbag had properly inflated to protect him from the head-on collision. But he's still walking around like a question mark.
A low-flying helicopter outfitted like a padded cell probably would be a nice balance between convenience and safety. Or maybe the balloons they use to circle the planet would be better. It's nice to daydream about risk-free transportation. Horses and ostriches have not reliably protected their passengers, and camels and elephants require unique environments. So much for them.
I wish there was an article which I could read to convince me that riding my bike forty to fifty miles five days a week through city streets is not, from a probability perspective, more dangerous than these other modes of transportation. It's unlikely, however, that anyone can tell me anything that will help me feel safer. Our fears are rarely, if ever, based on probabilities.
So I'll start to bike to work. I hate driving cars and trucks. I'm afraid I'm going to kill someone (I drive a F-350 dually for business purposes). I'll even ride a horse or an ostrich if the occasion presents itself. But oh how horrible it is to see my friend walking down the corridors in the shape of a question mark!
I live in Tucson, which I am told is an especially bike-friendly city. In a city like Tucson, it's likely that cautious bicyclists are, in fact, safer than even the most defensive automobile drivers. My friend was hit by a senior-citizen, and there are many, many senior-citizens in Tucson. A couple years ago, I narrowly escaped a collision with a senior-citizen who decided to suddenly make a ninety-degree left-turn with traffic moving in the same direction on both sides. But on my bike, I can better separate the younger drivers from the older ones, and I believe with both rational and irrational conviction that older drivers are the most dangerous ones. The problem is only going to worsen. More and more baby-boomers will be joining their ranks.
The irony of riding a bike, which for most will always be scarier than driving a car, is well expressed by these lines from Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," "To sue to live, I find I seek to die, and by seeking death, find life."
Disclaimer: I really don't know if any of the above is prudent. But these are the thoughts I will take with me as I begin, reluctantly, this bike-commuter's life. Any other inspirations will be greatly appreciated, as I am sure to be told by many non-bicyclists that the better part of valor is discretion.