Monday, May 19, 2014

Riding into the scene of a bike accident

As I pulled onto Mass Ave westbound after leaving the bike path, I saw two cyclists in the road, yelling.  I thought they were yelling at a car driver but there weren't.  I came on the scene after something happened.  I asked a driver in the car that I pulled up next to what happened and he said, rather gleefully, that two bikes crashed into each other.  They seemed to be in the middle of the Mass Ave/Route 60 intersection as they yelled and it became clear, even before the driver told me what he knew, that they weren't happy.  Finally one guy leaves the scene of the accident and crosses Mass Ave and hops on the sidewalk and rides towards the bike path.  Yes, he rode on the sidewalk and yes, he shouldn't do that.  The other cyclist, carrying his bike, walked across the median towards the fleeing cyclist.  I was thinking that there would be a fight but the other cyclist was gone by then so that cyclist retreated.  I watched as he got back on the east bound sidewalk and assessed the damage.  I could see, across the full width of Mass Ave, that his front tire touched the down tube and he wasn't going anywhere on the bike.  I imagine that there was at least $500 in damages, which I believe is the threshold in Massachusetts for reporting a vehicle accident.  But it looked like the second party in the accident didn't leave his contact information, just some harsh words.  I wish I had taken a picture of the the cyclist that left the scene but it was threatening rain and I had stashed my sweater, with my phone in a plastic bag in a zippered pocket, in a pannier.

The bizarre thing about this scene was that it seemed like a lot of time passed between when I first noticed the arguing as to who was at fault and when the lights finally changed.  I couldn't tell you if every driver, having front seats to the altercation, just delayed driving off while the light was green to enjoy the show or if there was a time warp, but the process seemed to take forever.  I also couldn't tell you if someone was clearly at fault, although it seemed clear that the cyclist who left the scene was riding against traffic.  But I don't know this.  Perhaps the cyclist who left was unnerved and was just heading back home.

If this seems bizarre and disjointed, you should have been there.

It's not uncommon to see driving that endangers vulnerable road users.  Last week, after someone, seemingly purposefully, buzzed me at the very spot this incident took place, another driver in his Prius, with his coexist bumper sticker, passed me after swerving wildly leaving Davis Square on Elm Street.  I wish he wanted car drivers to coexist with cyclists as much as he wanted religions to COEXIST.  By the way, he was looking up a telephone number and was talking on his phone when he passed me.  Stuff like this happens and you have to ride defensively and I do.  But it's equally common that I see cyclists do dumb things to endanger other cyclists.  I've been watching places where bike paths intersect and, whether or not I am required to stop, I will because half of the cyclists who I notice don't worry over a stop sign on a bike path.  Then I see the results of this incident and feel pretty good about being cautious around bikes as well as around cars.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Diversion on the way to work

I'm a geo guy, having started out in manual cartography (what's that?) and found my way into the digital realm.  My geo work is born of a natural curiosity about place and where I am, along with a healthy interest in maps.  I've always managed to find my way around and not get too lost, at least in my recent memory.  One of my favorite places to run is Estabrook Woods in Concord and I learned the trails by running and seeing where the trails led.  There was always a lot of mystery there, until I started bringing GPS units and recording how and where all of those trails led and intersected.  The mystery was lost but the running, and walking, is still fun there.

Last year I went on a cycling trip that required a Garmin GPS unit.  I reluctantly bought one but it turned out to be fun and a time saver.  When I first landed in Boston and started cycling outside of town I used the Rubel Maps.  These are great maps but have the drawback of having to find where you think you are to figure out where you want to make your turns.  I did my best to memorize the maps so I could limit the number of times I actually had to stop.  This worked for a long time and could still work - I last carried a Rubel map last year - but the Garmin made these redundant.  I bought the Garmin 200, which meant I could bring a breadcrumb trail with me.  And the Garmin would chirp if I wasn't paying attention.  Having the Garmin wasn't life changing but it did make my long memorized routes much easier to change and I did change them.  I was already using and found great routes and interesting passages between roads that I never knew about and rides were suddenly faster, without having to stop to pull out a map to remember where I wanted to turn.  And the Garmin was quite useful on the ride that required it.  That ride, to the top of Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts was on many roads that I had been familiar with at one time, although not recently and I'm pretty sure I would have missed a lot of turns if I didn't have the breadcrumb trail.

A couple of weekends ago I did the Diverged ride, planned by Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles, Honey Cycles, and Ride Studio Cafe.  Rob seems to have time to plan interesting, off and on road rides.  (Rob is planning an all night ride on the shortest night of the year and I'm hoping to ride it.)  I had recently mounted my new Clement USH tires and had a great time off of the road.  I missed much of the Diverged ride when I ran out of time and remembered a section near the McClean Hospital in Belmont as something that I wouldn't mind trying.  Yesterday I thought of trying it and still had the route for the Diverged ride on the Garmin.  Then I thought I didn't have time so I left the Garmin at home.  But once out the door I changed my mind and made my way over to Belmont, at the intersection of Concord and Somerset.  I found the route  I had taken a couple of weeks before, which followed the 2013 Diverged route and made some assumptions about which way to go.  I wasn't feeling lost without the Garmin but I was thinking that I would be late to work.  I came to a sign in a field that told me Coal Hill was to my left, or east.  I knew that the trails that the Diverged route led to Snake Hill Road and Coal Hill didn't sounds like Snake Hill but I took the trail anyway.  Once in the woods I only had one thing to guide me, the sun.  I knew that the route was largely heading east (I was following the route in reverse from the way it was intended by Rob) and in the east was the sun, which was pretty hard to miss.  So as I came to trail junctions, I didn't take the trail less, or more traveled, I took the trail that kept me heading east, more or less.  The trail was a mostly single track, not a gravel road.  And it did have rocks that made travel harder.  I would have felt a lot less confident if I didn't have the new tires, which proved to be a great asset on the Diverged ride.  But I was starting to feel like I might be getting late so I had to move as quickly as I safely could and I had to stay on track.  If I didn't stay on track I would get funneled down to Trapelo Road, which is busy and would take me out of my way and would make me later than I could afford to be.  And, after all, I was just riding to work, not going for a bike ride.  I recall the last turn that took me down the last steep pitch of trail to the little turnaround at the dead end of Snake Hill Road - yes, I made all of the right turns that kept me on the Diverged route, or I made enough wrong turns to get me to the right place.  That last turn was from a broader grassy trail onto a narrower, steeply pitched, rocky trail (probably ordered by Rob) and it was heading east.  It was sort of like the Frost poem, and it led me to where I needed to go.  I was only off road for a mile or less but it seemed like a minor adventure on my way to work.  And it was a lot of fun to not quite get lost while navigating through the woods without a GPS unit.

A bridge over a small stream somewhere west of Snake Hill Road

The rest of the ride was more prosaic.  I found my way back to Concord Ave, which has a bike lane then a bike track, separated from car traffic.  After rounding part of Fresh Pond, I used the walk signal to get me across Route 2, which was a traffic jam.  I found myself on Vassal Lane, which also turned into a very narrow, very congested parking lot.  The congestion was caused by two things - it was trash day and a truck was doing pickup ahead of us, and there was an amazing amount of road construction going on.  I eased on past the congestion and found my way through Cambridge and back onto known travel routes.

My return commute wasn't nearly as entertaining but because of an afternoon field trip, I finally rode the new section of path that parallels Alewife Brook Parkway between Mystic Valley Parkway and the Minuteman Bike Path.  Overall the side trips added 3 miles to my usual commute.  That's not a lot extra for the fun I had trying to find my way with the sun as my compass.

The new path just south of Mystic Valley Parkway