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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

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Saving a Life

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Oct 6, 2009
I had the opportunity to save a person's life last week. It's kind a a bittersweet situation. On one hand, you hope that people don't need to be saved, but on the other hand, it feels pretty good to save a life. I was out riding my bike coming out of the Santa Cruz Mountains into the town of Palo Alto. When eastbound Sand Hill Road crosses Highway 280, the single lane turns into two lanes. That might sound like a good thing for cyclists, but in this instance, it's not.

The problem is that the new lane comes in from the right as it is the off ramp from Highway 280, one of the major freeways serving the San Francisco Bay Area. So, cyclists heading eastbound on Sand Hill Road suddenly find themselves in the left lane when the off ramp turns into the right lane. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be stuck in the left lane of a road that has a 50mph speed limit. When the right lane begins, I want to move over to the right side of the road to stay out of the way of traffic.

Unfortunately, if a car is coming off the off ramp of Highway 280 as I am trying to move into the right hand lane we have a conflict. The powers that be who created this situation anticipated this potential conflict so they put a "yield" sign for the cars coming off the off ramp. Unfortunately, most cars are traveling at 50+mph coming off the freeway don't see the sign and hence, there always seems to be a bit of confusion when the a car and a bicycle try to occupy the right hand lane at the same time.

Which brings me to what happened last week. I was heading eastbound on Sand Hill Road and it being rush hour, I was hyper-sensitive to any potential bicycle-car conflict as I approached the aforementioned off ramp/new lane. Unfortunately, the cyclist I was catching up to in front of me seemed to be in a daze. I looked to the right to see an SUV barreling off the off ramp at 50+mph seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to yield to any traffic coming into his lane.

The inattentive cyclist was slowly moving over into the right lane directly into the path of the SUV driver. A split second before the cyclist became road food I yelled at the top of my lungs 'Dude, watch out for the car.' The cyclist snapped out of his fog, looked over and straightened his right-trending trajectory just enough to allow the SUV to slide past. A fatal collision was narrowly averted.

The SUV driver slowed and I caught up to him. He told me he thought he didn't have to worry about the cyclist because he thought we had our own bike lane (there is no bike lane). I caught up to the cyclist and he thanked me for waking him up.

The moral to this story is that we cyclists may have rights, but we may also be dead right. It is important that we cyclists are always attentive to what is happening on the road and we use our situational awareness to realize when there are dangerous situations developing. Yes, the SUV driver would have been at fault if the collision had occurred, but the cyclist should have realized the dangerous nature of that particular situation and have been more attentive.

Please be careful out there.

Bruce
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