Monday, June 10, 2019

The results of a "pool noodle" experiment

A Muni bus is unable to get around SFGATE Producer Michelle Robertson and her attached pool noodle on Market Street in San Francisco. Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/
Photo: Douglas Zimmerman

Michelle Robertson recently conducted a revealing experiment:

I rode around San Francisco with a pool noodle attached to my bike. Here's what went down. "F--- you, b----," a man shouts at me from the rolled-down window of his silver sedan. We're at the intersection of Fifth and Mission. I'm stopped at the light in the right lane, astride my bicycle, and the angry silver sedan man is right behind me. He wants to turn right on red.

Under most circumstances, an obviously hurried driver such as this one would simply weave around a cyclist, scooching within inches of the bicycle to shave a few seconds off his drive time. But angry sedan man can't get around me — at least not without some problem solving. This is because I have a bright yellow pool noodle, approximately 63 inches in length, tied to the back of my bicycle. It juts about three feet into the right lane — denoting the minimum safe passing distance for cars and bicycles, per California law. (I rode around San Francisco with a pool noodle attached to my bike. Here's what went down.)

Her first finding during the experiment---surely not news to her---an ugly reaction from a guy in a car. But she also noticed that drivers aren't the only ones who indulge in bad behavior on city streets (See this Chronicle story about "really, really bad behavior" by everyone.)

Robertson admits that she's been lucky so far:

Though I've never been in a severe bicycle collision in San Francisco, I experience a breath-catching close call at least twice a week. Much of the time that I'm riding around the city's streets, I'm frightened for my safety, pissed off at a car that's tailing me, or eye-rolling at a cyclist who cut me off. City cycling is a terrifying endeavor, but I've decided the benefits outweigh the risks: Cycling is free, environmentally-friendly, speedy and good for my health. The dangers, though, are immense...

Cycling can be good for your health---until it isn't and you have the inevitable accident, either with a motor vehicle, or, more commonly, a "solo fall" that doesn't involve another vehicle but that can be just as serious (The UC study, "cyclist only" accidents, and infrastructure). 

One also wonders how healthy it is to inhale the carbon monoxide and diesel fumes when riding a bike in the city.

Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius had a similar experience, but, unlike Robertson, he drew the right conclusion from his experience:

...I rode a bike, right in downtown San Francisco roughly three times a week for the last three years. But, I have to admit, about two months ago I quit. There were just too many close calls. Sooner or later I was going DOWN.

She should heed cyclist and author Robert Hurst:

Is cycling dangerous? Yes. Yes, it is. Deadly, no, but definitely dangerous. This is actually a controversial thing to say. There are those who bristle at any suggestion that cycling is dangerous, because they fear it will scare non-cyclists away from ever ditching their cars and trying a more healthy form of transport. This is a good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that cycling is dangerous. This is not some urban legend that needs to be debunked. It is reality, and we need to embrace it (page 69).

Hurst works as a bike messenger, so he has to "embrace it," but why should Robertson, who just rides her bike to work? 

Those "close calls" she mentions are reality sending her a message: don't do it!

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