Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Flattened, not knowing right from left

By From page A2 | March 24, 2013

Forget about March Madness, I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on a lot of excitement because I don’t ride a bicycle in the City of Bicycles.

And I’m not talking about exercise. I get plenty of that by walking just about anywhere I go in town, which is certain to burn more calories than hopping on a bike and riding to the same places. It does take considerably longer to walk, but that just provides more time to stop and smell the roses along the way. Or thank the kindly people who stop and offer me a ride.

Is one mode of moving one’s body superior to the other? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that those who walk and those who pedal aren’t sometimes competing for the same piece of ground. Sometimes as if their very lives depend on it.

I’ve written previously about the time my young daughter was nearly sent into never never land by a criminal bicyclist who, at a high rate of speed, blew through a stop sign downtown, then made a sharp right turn into the very crosswalk my daughter and I were moving through. Collisions between pedestrians and bicyclists are often not pretty, as many of you have related.

My friend Sally writes to report her frustration with this ongoing conflict.

“In The Enterprise,” Sally notes, “the Sierra Club announces the weekly ‘brrrrisk’ walks through the Arboretum and North Davis greenbelts. All of the announcements seem to stress that the group will be walking quickly (amblers, strollers, slackers need not apply), but the most recent announcement added the safety instructions to cross streets as a group and to watch out for ‘speeding bicyclists.’ ”

Turns out those are fighting words as far as Sally is concerned.

“As one of those bicyclists who has to pass this large, rambling group of walkers on my Thursday morning commute,” she adds, “I take umbrage at the ‘speeding’ label.”

Nothing like a cup of good, hot umbrage to get the day going, my grandmother used to say.

“After all, I am only slightly younger than the average age of the walkers,” Sally goes on, risking some payback umbrage coming her way from the walkers by inserting age into the conversation.

“I’m not ‘speeding’ anywhere on my bike. I am wearing a helmet, obeying all rules of the road — and the bike path — and very courteously announcing my approach with a cheery ‘bike passing on your left’ greeting.”

I think you may have touched on the root of the problem here, Sally. You see, when I’m ambling and rambling along on a path seemingly made for both bicycles and pedestrians as so many paths in our town are, confusion and sometimes panic set in when I hear those fateful words “bicyclist on your left.”

The problem is not with the bicyclist or with the words, but rather with my unclear perception of what’s “right” and what’s “left.” I honestly don’t know right from left until I salute the flag. So when I hear “bicyclist on your left,” I quickly start to say the Pledge of Allegiance under my breath as my right hand heads instinctively toward my heart. I now know which way is right, and, by process of elimination, which way is left.

But this quick calculation takes at least three seconds, during which time any misstep could be fatal. And I still haven’t determined what I should do about “bicyclist on the left” or sometimes the much curser “On your left,” barked just before potential impact with my backside.

In a split second I must decide, based on the urgency of the bicyclist’s warning, if I should move to the left, move to the right or continue as is.

Life is precious. Misinterpreting the meaning of “On your left” would be a heck of a way to leave the planet.

Here lies Bob, who knew not his right from his left. May he rest in peace.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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