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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bicycles Don't Have to Be Deadly to Pedestrians

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2012 at 9:30 AM

"No one pays any attention to it, of course," wrote the man who photographed this light in Denver last year. - JEFFREY BEALL / FLICKR
  • Jeffrey Beall / Flickr
  • "No one pays any attention to it, of course," wrote the man who photographed this light in Denver last year.

Welcome to The Spokesman, our weekly bicycle column written by French Clements, a San Francisco resident and distance cyclist who considers it pretty routine to ride his bike to Marin County or San Jose and back. He belongs to a club, the SF Randonneurs, and is active in numerous aspects of the cycling community. For those of you wondering, the title of this column is a slightly tongue-in-cheek merging of bicycling and blogging terms, not a claim that Clements speaks for anyone but himself.

--Keith Bowers

In the wake of the tragic Castro bike crash in March, you'd be hard-pressed to find cyclists or pedestrians who don't feel some twinge of connection to the case. Sutchi Hui, a Daly City resident, was crossing Castro Street at Market on foot, just behind his wife, when he was struck by a rider, Chris Bucchere, who's suspected of speeding and being out of control. Hui, 71, died four days later. Bucchere, meanwhile, could face a felony vehicular manslaughter charge from the District Attorney's Office

Everything about this case just plain sucks. Even by the morbid standard of fatal bike collisions, which can be as sensationalized as they are rare, this one sticks out. People try to pin a lot of cartoonish BS on cyclists -- scan the comments of most any blog post or story on the subject -- and most of it we can shrug off. But this case is un-shruggable. There's so much to learn and too much at stake.

Many riders are lucky not to have caused a Bucchere-style crash, yet in their hubris -- going fast does feel awesome -- they see themselves not as lucky but as skilled. At least one video exists of Bucchere in the intersection, effectively showing his luck running out. In an online forum following the crash, Bucchere, probably woozy and dull with medication and adrenaline, wrote, "the light turned yellow as I was approaching the intersection, but I was already way too committed to stop." Those are the words of someone who didn't realize until far too late that he wasn't the rider he thought he was.

Some friends of mine belong to the Mission Cycling Club and have ridden with Bucchere, who rode with the club but wasn't a member. He's known as a decent fellow. But his approach to that stoplight seems the opposite of decent, even without the law-breaking. We see his mentality in riders every day, all over the city, at crossings and descents at least as dangerous as Castro/Divisadero approaching Market, where stop lights on those hills to the north are so temptingly easy to blow through, as Bucchere is reported by a witness to have done.

It might also be that Hui and his wife were among a group that jumped the crosswalk light, which would make the fault line a little blurrier. Indeed, we can't assume that Hui had the right of way. Still, Bucchere could have assumed people were likely to cross the street out of turn. Someone almost always does.

There's a technique Bucchere could have used but apparently didn't (apart from knowing in advance not to speed, at a reported 35 mph, through one of the city's gnarliest intersections). It's called the emergency stop, and you should practice it until instinct takes over. First, bring your crotch well behind your saddle -- that is, most of your torso should be above the bike's rear wheel. You then jam to a stop, engaging the front brake twice as hard as the rear. The video below details the physics at work.

Not only do you make a massive halt, your body's deadly bulk is no longer the first thing to hit whatever you're headed for (if you do, in fact, hit anything). That could be the difference between some serious bruises (or no impact at all) and death. Gents, this move might hurt your plumbing a bit, but it beats felony manslaughter.

By way of maximum contrast to Bucchere's case, take a look at the habits of top-level riders -- professionals and their ilk, a group that Bucchere was decidedly not among. Theirs is an example we can emulate with ease and pride. Sure, pros go fast when on the open road, but in congested areas especially, they're like Miss Manners on a bike. In this city, there's almost no spot that is "open road." So be like a top rider by defensively managing the inevitability of chaos.

The following are a few things we can do to minimize danger to ourselves and others:

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French Clements


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