Every morning I wait with Holly for Tom to pick us up in Davis Square. Every morning I see the same handful of people riding their bikes past at around the same time each morning, but there’s always a few unfamiliar characters mixed in as well. Watching all the bikes and cars ride by, I see far more close calls than than you would think in about 15 minutes along a small one-way street. Even in the completely clear morning, motorists treat cyclists like they’re completely invisible. I see cars overtake bikes and cut them off, race up behind them, only to stop short as if the driver hadn’t looked up until the bike’s back tire was a foot away from his front bumper, and there are more car doors flown open in cyclists’ faces than I would care to think about.
How can this be fixed? Visibility is an constant concern for everyone who rides a bike, particularly urban cyclists riding at night. I can think of one Boston cyclist who has no trouble being seen, even though he rides day or night, with only one reflector strip and no lights. He is lovingly referred to as “screaming bike guy” and he is a Boston institution. He literally yells at the top of his lungs as he rides down the street, which leads me to consider the usefulness of visual aides versus audible ones. We as humans have a strange disconnect between what the eyes and ears perceive. For example, if I’m riding my bike in the bike path and see a car waiting to pull out and the driver isn’t looking at me, I can be pretty sure that they have no idea I’m there. If I yell, or make some other loud noise like ring a bell or honk a horn, I can get their attention and make myself known to that driver, causing them to turn their head to see me. By visual aides alone – lights, reflectors, a bright shirt – there is no way that I can get the attention of someone not looking at me. Obvious, I know, but there are plenty of us who ride as though flashing lights can be heard, and will cause a motorist to turn to see us.