Guest Commentary

A man who both cycles and drives sounds off about collisions

With the warm weather, Tucson is seeing increased bicycle traffic. Inevitably, an increase in ridership will lead to more "user conflicts," including collisions. (We no longer use the term "accidents"; the term "collision" is more accurate and does not imply unavoidability.)

Hold it! I know what you're thinking. Some of you are thinking, "He's gonna rip the motorists a new one," or you're thinking, "He's gonna dump on the poor bicyclists." Actually, I am both a cyclist and a motorist, so do not stop reading here.

First off, let's dispel a couple of myths. Myth number one: Motorists are a bunch of arrogant morons who think they own the road and would just as soon hit a cyclist as break wind, and they cause all the collisions. Myth number two: Cyclists are a bunch of arrogant morons who think that they own the road and delight in blocking traffic, and they cause all the collisions. Neither statement is true in its entirety. The fact is that collision responsibility breaks about 50-50. It's true; ask the TPD traffic cops.

So, since both cyclists and motorists are bad guys half the time, maybe we should stop throwing stones, and give each other a break.

Now, I know that making nice is not always easy. I remember a traffic cop describing an incident in which a cyclist pulled up to a stoplight, did not get out of his pedals in time, and fell into the automobile to his left. The driver exited the vehicle to see if the cyclist was injured. He was fine, the light had changed and he sped off, leaving the driver wondering how she was going to fix the paint gouges and dent left by the bike pedal. This sort of thing not only generates ill will, it is leaving the scene of a collision involving property damage.

Not surprisingly, the biggest violations of traffic laws committed by cyclists lead to the greatest number of cyclist injuries. The two most dangerous, stupid things that Tucson cyclists do are to ride at night without lights, and ride on the wrong side of the street. There is a reason why all traffic drives/rides on the right.

Allow me to relate a personal anecdote. I was heading north on Swan Road, waiting in the middle of the intersection to turn left onto Pima Street. There was a large break in the traffic, and I began the turn only to see a kid on a BMX-style bike riding the wrong direction across my path. I started thinking whether I wanted to run the kid over or get T-boned, but the break in the traffic was large enough for me to pause while the young urchin changed his bad behavior from riding on the wrong side to riding on the sidewalk.

Don't worry; motorists are not off the hook. Here's another anecdote from the same day. I was sitting in a left turn bay on Speedway Boulevard. The motorist in front of me was first in line. We were not at an intersection, but at the turn bay that you use to go to Discount Tire. After waiting for a few cars to pass, the motorist turned left in front of an oncoming cyclist, failing to yield the right-of-way, and almost causing a collision. Fortunately, the cyclist who was cut off reacted quickly and avoided the collision. The driver appeared oblivious. The cyclist glanced after the driver, then continued on his way, clearly a veteran of many such encounters.

Under the law, in general, the same traffic rules apply to both cyclists and motorists. So, we really know what to do. We just need to live and let live, knowing that rectums inhabit both sides.

Speaking of letting people live, when you pull out of a driveway or side street, glance to the right before you go. I know that the geek with no helmet, baggy pants, hat on backwards riding a department store bike with a squeaking drive-train and saddle adjusted way too low is in the wrong for riding on the wrong side, but he still makes a lousy hood ornament.

About The Author

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman moved to Tucson from Connecticut in 1977 and never looked back. He attended the UA, ran for City Council Ward III in 2001, and made regular contributions to the Guest Commentary section of the Tucson Weekly for over five years. He helped launch the Southern Arizona News Examiner. He is a former...
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