The Jogger, the Bicyclist, and darkness at the edge of town

Nearly collided with a jogger as I was leaving my driveway today on my motorcycle beginning my pre-dawn commute to work. In the second that that led up to the near miss, I had the full range of emotion, surprise, fear, relief, anger. My purposely trained riding habits kicked in and did all the right stuff allowing me a good solid quick stop with plenty of space from the jogger. But both of us could see that we were on a collision course. It was too dark for me to tell if he had taken a step to save himself but I got the impression that he did something other than continue at speed and on course. He also said something in a single sylabel that I couldn’t make out as he went on his way. But it wasn’t a bad explicative. I would have liked to have said something too. But I hadn’t recovered the power of speech in time before he was gone. Nor was I considering chasing him down for conversation. So. What went wrong that created the near miss? What can I learn from the moment? And what can I do to prevent similar problems?

When I reflect on these near misses, I get a mental drop down checklist that helps me order my thoughts so that I don’t miss anything. The first thing that I ask myself is, “Was I paying attention to the task at hand?” 98% of the time, my first moment of idiocy is due to to my not paying attention. If I can satisfy myself that I was paying attention, then I ask myself, “How did I miss my clues that things were about to go badly?”

To shorten up this post, I was paying attention well enough to ride. But I did miss a bunch of clues that I was on a collision course with this jogger.  My residential area only has street lights at intersections and they are weak lights as it is. I live on an intersection and have a nearly unobstructed view of the a lot of the street. Yet, the light is so weak that I have not seen people in the street in the past until they have said ‘hi’ to me. My bike has very bright lights. But they are very focused and do not light up as wide an area as I would like. The lights are so bright that it is hard to see anything in the dark outside of the lighted area.Two things made this worse. There is a mature tree near the end of my drive that would easily block sight of a jogger. If the jogger is running along in the street as I ride toward the street, our rated of travel can combine to keep me from ever seeing the jogger until near point of collision. This is what happened to set up the near miss. And I would have had the collision except for a bit of luck. As I was preparing to turn right to enter the street from my drive, my eyes were moving to focus to the right. As I went past the tree, I glimpsed a bit of flashing red light. I didn’t know what it was. But I did stop to check it out. At that point the jogger ran into my bike’s cone of light and could be identified. The jogger was dressed in dark blue and was nearly invisible against the dark background of the pre-dawn even as my headlights were shining on him. His little red flashing ‘safety’ light is the only thing that saved me from smashing into him.

My guess is that he could see me coming and was wondering why I wasn’t giving him the right of way? I couldn’t see him at all until that little blinking light came out of the shadow of the tree. Several minutes later as I continued on my way to work. I rued that I had missed a good opportunity to have a nice discussion with a jogger about the advantages of conspicuity and paying attention to one’s surroundings.

Bicyclists have the same problems of conspicuity as runners. Fortunately, the bicyclists are catching on a better and faster than the joggers. About half the bicycle commuters that I see in the pre-dawm gloom have zero conspicuity, no lights, and wear dark clothing. The other half often have lots of reflective gear and lights and are a pleasure to share the road with as they seem to have their wits about them as they ride.

So. What can I do beyond  being more vigilant? Well, I can compliment runners and bicyclists who wear good conspicuous gear and re-enforce that it really helps me stay out of their way. People always appreciate a word of thanks and notice of a job well done. Word might filter out the other joggers and runners that the motorcyclists are good people and well aware of the problems of conspicuity. Would I berate a jogger or bicyclists for not wearing easily seen gear? Of course not! But I might politely say, “Hey, I can’t hardly see you in all the dark clothing. Be careful.” as I rode past.

As noted in my post about the Wave, wave to the joggers that you see frequently. If they wave back, you know that they are alert and have their head in the game. That’s a ‘feel good’ moment and riding the commute is not so lonesome anymore. And it has the added advantage of keeping me alert and my wits about me in traffic the same as I expect from all road users.


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