Monday, January 12, 2015

Jumping to conclusions about "red running"

There's a link or 2 doing the rounds, basically drawing attention to a sad incident where a young woman was allegedly struck by a cyclist whilst she was crossing at a traffic-light controlled intersection in Enmore, a suburb of Sydney. Allegedly (again, because in truth the "facts" are as yet untested) she had "the green" and thus, by logical extension, the rider was "running the red". Or so we are led to believe, anyway, as the cyclist's POV isn't represented in any story I have seen.

Now it's always unfortunate when people (or animals for that matter) are injured on our roads, and I extend my sympathy to anyone injured in this or any other way, simply "going about their everday lives". I too have been struck by cars, slipped and fallen on oil and grease left by motor vehicles and generally been beaten and battered by the poor state of many roads (as well as the attitudes of many road users). It happens. I've tripped and fallen whilst walking on poorly-maintained footpaths for that matter. So without detracting from the obvious physical pain felt by the young woman mentioned in these articles, for which the media concerned have kindly provided lurid images, I have to agree that life itself carries many risks.

OK, so that's the basic and largely sympathetic background to the story. But I wish to explore it a bit more. Whilst I have generally given up addressing the trolls who are attracted by such stories, once again I am drawn into the fray by the sheer ignorance of many comments. Essentially the debate becomes anti-cyclist, a blanket approach that life would be somehow transformed if "cyclists" somehow vanished from the planet.  Failing that, let's tax 'em into submission. Right - you've heard it all before.

I myself ride, drive and walk and can see (I think) most, if not all sides of this particular situation. I get delayed, I get endangered in all modes of transport. I even know the intersection involved. I don't know for sure (probably no one person has all of the facts) but I suspect that the traffic signals mentioned here are timed too finely for cars, not bikes. So a rider may enter on green yet still be passing through the intersection when it turns red. It's a fairly large, open intersection with a slight rise on the northern side, leading to a hill. Now I repeat again, I really don't know what happened here, but will conjecture that conceivably a rider could enter on the green yet still strike the woman concerned when they, the pedestrian had right of way. As I say, that's conjecture, and it doesn't erase anyone's responsibility; but I put it forward because we really have been led to believe only one set of "facts" so far.

Legally it's still the rider's responsibility to avoid any collision but it's probably not as clear-cut as a car driver deliberately "running the lights". Perhaps a witness can tell us otherwise, however sometimes bikes (and many other vehicles) just take longer to clear intersections. It's physics, not intent to harm. Coupled with a pedestrian lost in their own thoughts, or simply looking by sheer chance in the wrong direction, you have an accident. To label the cyclist (or pedestrian, motorist, or anyone) as "irresponsible" is moot, especially when we only have one point of view available. The legal situation will be resolved but the moral and ethical dimensions may be left unclear. 

In my experience as a road user, if I didn't think I could make it through safely, especially so when the lights had begun changing then I would take action to avoid hitting anyone, irrespective. However I know that sometimes these are split-second judgements involving braking, swerving, surfaces, speed and timing. Until you find yourself in that situation you can't really be certain how you personally would react.  

Now this matters mostly as an explanation, so we can learn from this, without exploiting the situation for other purposes. Indeed if we step away from the individual case here and think more abstractly about the contributing factors perhaps we can address a bigger set of issues about public safety in, on and around our roads.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

One year later and I tempt cycling (and ischaemic) fate...

You may recall that despite having cycled some 300,000 kilometres in this tired old body of mine I still managed to have an ischaemic event (yes, a heart attack) on this very day, New Year's, 2014. As I was doing over 200km a week up to that point it came as something of a surprise to feel a persistent, dull ache that said "stop now" as I crested a familiar hill. Of course being a hardened racing cyclist I pressed on anyway, gasping and yawning, determined to "ride through it".

Until, of course, I just had to stop. I knew, deep down, what it was. Still, I didn't accept it. It seemed so unlikely. So I struck a compromise and turned around, slowly, and crawled - grovelled - home. About 15 minutes after stumbling in the door, I accepted my fate and embarked on a 6 day medical adventure involving 2 hospitals, a late night ambulance ride, 2 cardiologists and 3 stents. A month later I blogged merrily on the topic of not ignoring the bleeding obvious.

So here I am, a year later, still acting the goat. I have just tempted fate and re-lived that epic New Year's Day ride, retracing the exact route and soaking up the pain. Fortunately without the hospitalisation, touch wood. I'd like to say that I've spent the past year steadily recuperating, building up the miles and strengthening my weakened heart. But I haven't. Mind you I started well, with good intentions. I kept to a gentle, progressive plan that got me onto the indoor trainer and then out the door, building gradually. And then the confidence grew. This reconditioned heart actually seemed just as good, if not better than the old one! I set some tougher goals and pressed on. Until I started to tire.

It seemed like I was repeating the very mistake that had got me into this predicament: if in doubt, double the training. Despite the still-fresh memory, I was doing it all again. The training was going up but my form was going down. And then I caught a cold.

Now colds may slow you down but they don't have to stop you, so I backed off and came back. But the cold "freshened up". So I repeated the formula - back off, come back. And the virus came back too. It reminded me of a six-month bout of a "mystery virus" that hit me back in the late 1980s, effectively ending my club-level A-grade racing career. I didn't get a blood test then, sadly, so I'll never know for sure, but a GP reckoned it was mononucleosis. The prescription was "rest". So taking a leaf out of that same book I have had a long, long rest since the end of May.

Which is not to say I haven't ridden. Once a week I've given the bike a spin and tested my form. And mostly my form has been lousy. Given that riding every day is my long-term habit, riding just once a week - and for only 20 minutes or so - hasn't been an easy pill to swallow. And it hasn't been the ideal way to make a post-ischaemic comeback, either.

Which is why re-living my "2014 first-ever heart attack ride" today hasn't been without its measure of risk - or even fear. Sure, I took it easy. Sure, I've done the distance a few times in the lead up. Sure, it's not a century ride. But I'm not nearly as fit as I was then, and the hills are unrelenting. I live on a hill. Getting home is hard enough without worrying about blocked arteries and damaged heart muscle as well.

Anyway, I made it. It could have gone horribly wrong but it didn't. The monkey is off my back (I have avoided riding that route for a full 12 months). Hopefully I will listen to my own advice from here on and build the miles up again - very, very gradually. Fingers crossed.