Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ghost Bikes: Agents of Change?

Just two days ago, I was riding to a doctor's appointment when a woman in a Prius nearly ran me off the road. (This was near the intersection of Westwood and Wilshire.) I yelled at her as I almost slammed into her. I suspect she didn't hear a word: her eyes were clearly focused on entering the parking structure at the Oppenheimer tower. Minutes later my drive chain got stuck between two gears in the middle of the intersection and I felt like I was dead in the water. Talk about scary!

But this brings me to another point: ever since I started commuting by bike, I have noticed that a high frequency of my scariest incidents on the road involved Priuses. (Rarely do my fellow riders believe me on this one.) My doctor confirmed the point. She owns both a Prius and a Civic hybrid and said that Priuses have such terrible visibility that it forces safety-conscious drivers to be especially vigilant on the road. My favorite comment of hers was when she said, "I myself avoid being near Priuses on the road." I am wondering if Toyota is aware that their cars are so dangerous for their fellow vehicles in low emission. It makes me sad that their incidence of near accidents is so close to the other big offenders -- SUVs -- the polar opposite of the Prius in terms of political and environmental ideology. (Full disclosure: my partner and I will likely purchase a Prius in the near future.)

Speaking of dangerous road conditions, the Ghost Bike project is finally getting some widespread attention, not for the project itself but for how it has inspired Portland, Oregon to become even safer for bicyclists. The recent surge in bike-related deaths in the city, which in the past may have caused me to doubt the city's level of safety for bicycles, have contributed to an increased level of activism and awareness within the city's cycling community. And what a result! After the high profile death of an LA cyclist at the corner of Santa Monic Blvd. and Wilshire last year, there was a lot of anger and awareness. It pales to the activism and awareness that produced results like Portland's.

It makes me genuinely jealous. Can you imagine a clearly-designated space for cyclists to wait at intersections like Portland's "bike boxes" in major cities around the country? Surely such a move would help with visibility problems and an awareness that there are bikes out there. What I especially like about the article is its frankness in discussing the type of driving maneuver that causes the most accidents: right-turns at red lights. It was certainly a right-hand turn that produced my scary moment just the other day... So, when is moving day?

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