When I first began this blog, it wasn’t truly my intent to have its content be some form of autobiography or journal for one Nathan W. Bergstedt. By and large, it hasn’t, though of course the topics chosen are often the direct result of something that’s happened in my life that piques my interest for at least a short period of time. This happened several months ago, for instance, when I wrote a trilogy of posts on the concept of death and how a humanist may approach the topic in a world replete with religious ceremonies and certainties. The topic was brought up because someone close to me had a very close call.
Well I find myself thinking about death again, and not for a dissimilar reason. Yesterday when riding my bicycle, I was just about to come to an intersection with a stop light. While about a block away yet, the light turned green, and there’s only one car going through while others have stopped perpendicularly, so I’m assuming that I have limited time to make this light. I peddle my little ass off toward the intersection, see the light is still brightly green, and I’m happy to not have to stop for traffic. Only the last lane of traffic that I was about to cross was empty of stopped cars, and I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye a white car moving at rate only a dozen or so yards from the intersection. Without a single thought I slam on my brakes to the point where my rear tire actually lifts despite the pannier bags on the back, and I come to a stop right in time to see this car fly past my front tire as if the stop light had never existed. I can only imagine what the other people who were sitting in their cars, the ones actually waiting for the light to turn, were thinking at that moment, having nearly witnessed a senseless and almost inevitably bloody vehicular manslaughter. As for myself at that moment, I let out a breath and thought, “that was lucky.” It wasn’t until I was about halfway down the next block before the weight of what I just avoided actually occurred to me.
It all happened too quick and too pedestrian (so to speak) for my life to have flashed before my eyes, so I still don’t know what that’s like. But as I continued my way home, my imagination couldn’t help but wonder what things would’ve been like had, say, I not replaced my brakes earlier in the week. They were so worn out that there’s no way I would’ve stopped in time, even presuming I had the same reflexes. My body felt a warm sensation as if all my blood were leaving me as my imagination worked to create the personal conditions of this alternate history where I actually got hit. A touch of euphoria closely followed, I presume as a coping mechanism for body about to die, as endorphins did their final job of alleviating the torture of a mangled body. But that was the end of this little insight; I suppose instead of life flashing before my eyes, I had instead the chance to imagine my death, which I would argue is possibly more educational.
There’s a few takeaways from close calls like this. First would be that we need to appreciate all the things we have, and that we shouldn’t put off the things that are truly important to us, for we may not have the chance to do them. Accidents happen that you can’t plan for. The second would be the rather obvious point that bicyclists should not trust car drivers AT ALL! I posted about this on Facebook yesterday and one friend commented that I was “brave for trusting others and riding my bike,” to which I responded that I obviously do not trust drivers. I had every reason in the world to just sail through that intersection, what with the long-standing green light and the fact that there were clearly cars stopped and waiting for their turn. But I decided long ago that it was really important to pay attention and to know exactly what the cars around me are doing. So no, I don’t trust them in the least.
The third takeaway is that PEOPLE DRIVING CARS NEED TO WATCH WHAT THE FUCK THEY’RE DOING!! I mean Jesus Christ! I know this was a pretty egregious red light run, but that doesn’t mean its rare. In the most recent data available, in 2013, 4,735 pedestrians and 743 bicyclists were killed in automobile related accidents in this country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And that’s an annual amount, not including the deaths of drivers who ran into each other.
I still contend, and am not alone in saying so, that bicycling is not just a healthy activity but a positively safe one. So don’t let stories like this one dishearten you from getting on your bike. Because the best way to increase the safety of cyclists is to increase the number of cyclists on the road, thereby decreasing the number of cars while making the bike presence all the more obvious.
So I hope to see you riding out there! And whether you’re biking or driving your car, I hope you see me too.