I confess that I do my best to be a careful and conscientious cyclist. I know and obey the laws… and I do my best to keep an eye open for those who don’t. I know where the dangerous intersections are and at what points I’m safer using the crosswalk than the road or vice versa. I always look in every conceivable direction before crossing a busy road (even when I have the clear right of way). And I obey the laws for motorists whenever I encounter situations in which the motorists may be unaware that there are separate laws which govern legal cycling.
On this particular evening, however, I was being extra vigilant. A friend of mine had loaned me a rather valuable book and had charged me with its protection and preservation. (Including a directive that I was not to spit in it… something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.) Despite the humor involved, I viewed the charge as a serious one and had carefully wrapped the volume an over-sized beach towel and nestled it into my backpack alongside another, similarly protected work. I also determined that I should work extra hard to ensure that if I were in a wreck of some sort, the book would be preserved.
Realizing the unlikeliness of any scenario in which I was sent sprawling across the pavement while my backpack and its contents remained unharmed, it became imperative for me to keep my ears open and my eyes on the road. I made it quickly and safely through downtown without incidence and was feeling pretty good as I approached the empty crossroads.
The particular intersections was used sparingly even at the height of traffic and was usually quite empty at this hour. My light was green and there was no car in sight, so I headed across.
I was about a quarter of the way into the road when an old car appeared over the crest of the nearby hill. In a split second, I recognized that its speed was significantly over the posted limit… and that stopping for the red light was the last thing on the driver’s mind. Gripping my brakes, I halted my bike mid-lane and watched as the vehicle sped through the intersection.
To be honest, it didn’t feel like a close call, despite the fact that it might have looked that way to an observer. I saw the vehicle coming and I reacted appropriately. I didn’t even have to slam on the brakes. What I did wonder, however was whether I’d have seen the vehicle in time had I not been trying to protect my friend’s book.
While I’d like to think that I would have been riding safely with or without the volume, I’ll never be quite sure. What I do know is that I will never view an empty intersection as a danger-free zone again. Cars can come out of anywhere and it pays to be vigilant!