Friday, March 14, 2008

Dear Neighbor

Dear Neighbor:

Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the woman who honked and yelled this morning when you pulled up your driveway, too intent on the conversation you were having on your cell phone to stop and look for traffic before pulling out into our street.

If you didn't like me yelling from behind a closed window, you're really not going to like what I have to say next.

You see, if I'd been on my bicycle instead of in my car when you charged up your driveway and into the street, I'd be dead.

Maybe you think that's being sensationalistic of me. That's probably because you don't know the things I do. About the twelve-year-old niece of an acquaintance who was killed while riding her bike last summer. Or about our neighbor who was hit by a car while biking, also last summer. He required neurosurgery, you know. He almost lost his own career as a surgeon. Oh, he's fine now -- or as fine as you can be once you've gone through an experience like that.

The irony in this situation is that, foiled by a phone call, the neighborhood school bus and a moving van or two, I missed the class at my gym I had been intending to take. Instead, I was coming home to grab my helmet and jump on my bike for a spin around the neighborhood and, perhaps, the industrial park that borders our homes.

Study after study has shown that those of us who ride our bikes, who jog, who walk our dogs or simply go outside and take a stroll have an impact on road safety. A positive impact. The more of us there are out there, the safer we all become.

Yet I took the wimpy way out and rode my other bike, the one that has spent a portion of the winter mounted to a device that allows me to ride in my basement as though it's a stationary bicycle. After all, I was a bit shaken up after almost being broadsided by you. And, too, I had a feeling you were still out there on the road somewhere, probably talking on your cell phone as you drove without watching traffic.

I doubt you took anything away from our encounter other than outrage at being stopped and seeing a stranger yell at you. But I'd like you to think about something else:

Maybe next time, it won't be me in my car. Maybe it won't even be me on my bike. Maybe next time, it'll be my seven-year-old son, leading me up the street on our way to his friend's house, the next neighborhood over. Maybe you won't stop in time.

Can you live with that? Because, I have to tell you, I'm not going to stop riding my bikes. Rita's Italian Ice tastes awfully grand once you've ridden the just-over-a-mile to get there. Kids are glad when their friends show up with bicycles; it gives them a reason to turn off the video games and get outside. Biking's a great way to combat rising gas prices. It's a fantastic way to get in shape, raise your fitness level, decrease your likelihood for many common diseases. It's a nice way to familiarize yourself with the critters who live in our shrubs and the trees behind our houses, who seem to think that our flowers are their gourmet meals.

You should try it; I'd be glad to ride with you. You see, riding is important to me. Not only do I dream of being able to ride one hundred miles around Lake Tahoe one day as I raise money for various charities, I ride because having my two children destroyed me, physically. Riding a bike, for whatever reason no one really understands, eases the perpetual pain in my back and hips. It allows me to escape and feel whole again.

As an SUV driver, you've got a certain level of power. You can ensure that I arrive alive, and you can do that by doing such simple things as being aware of the traffic around you. You can move over and share the road as you pass me. You can hang up your cell phone, as study after study shows that drivers on their phones are distracted drivers.

But mostly, you can remember to stop at the top of your driveway. I am glad you managed to stop before my car stopped you the hard way. Yet I remain wary. I may not have the visibility a car affords me, you may not stop, and we both may face a more haunting price than a simple raise in your car insurance rates.

A quick note from Susan: while I retain all copyrights to this piece, if you'd like to share it with someone who needs to see it, just make sure I get the credit for it. Let's not lose any more bikers this year! Particularly me.


ndpthepoetress Jean Michelle Culp said...

Another great important informative post by you Susan, I hope many drivers will take the time to put on their brakes and listen to the facts that some people unfortunately learn to late at the expense of innocent ones.

mauniejames3 said...

Hello Susan.
What a great an informative post
everyone should read. I am incensed by people talking on their cells while least have the commom sense to pull
over and perhaps save a live...and
I think a lot of people who drive those SUV's are impervious to the rest of us...great job Susan...