Why I never want to hear “Sorry, I didn’t see you” again

Here’s what people usually say when they almost kill you in traffic:

“Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

Here’s why I never want to hear it  again:

1) I assume you didn’t see me, because I assume it wasn’t your goal to run into, hurt, or kill me. Most people don’t set out into traffic with the goal of running into someone else and hurting or killing them. But it happens all the time anyway. 35,000 people a year die on American roads, or about 100 a day. So your intention is both assumed to be good and also not really adequate as far as not killing me goes.

2) It’s your responsibility to see me. If you didn’t see me, you either didn’t look where you needed to look, weren’t paying attention to the right things when you did look there (attention blindness, which everyone has to some extent and most drivers are especially afflicted with where bikes are concerned), couldn’t see because of conditions and therefore shouldn’t have been driving at all, or should have been going more slowly, or you made a maneuver when you couldn’t look where you needed to look.

3) Frequently, what you did was illegal even if you had looked and the way was clear. In some cases where you just almost ran over me, failure to yield or a similar failure is the only violation. But far more often, you changed lanes or turned illegally or failed to stop at all or did some other completely illegal thing. In that case, I don’t really think NOT SEEING ME is your problem. Your problem is that you were driving illegally and unsafely and I just happened to be in your way at the time.

Here’s what I want to hear instead:

“I’m sorry, I was being careless and I came close to causing a crash that could have hurt or killed you. I will be more careful in the future.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking / I wasn’t paying attention. I know I should pay careful attention when driving, and I apologize for scaring you like that.”

“I’m sorry, I was focused on getting where I needed to be and did something foolish and risky. I’ll try to avoid that in the future.”

Granted, I’d rather hear “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” than any number of other things, like “You were in my way”, “What do you think you’re doing?” or “Get off the road”. You might say this is a first-world problem, or a Platinum Bike City problem, or even a Portland Problem. But it’s not just that. Understanding that good intentions are not enough is a critical step in the progress toward Vision Zero and designing for safe traffic flow. The fact that you could kill someone without meaning to, just because you forgot to look, or couldn’t see well, or suffered from over-focused attention, means that the street lets you create unsafe conditions just because you’re a fallible human being. As the Onion says, it’s pretty incredible that Americans are entrusted with driving cars.

I’d really like everyone using the streets to travel in a vehicle get past the notion that “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” is an adequate answer to scaring and almost hurting or killing someone. That goes for people biking and walking too. Because if you had actually hurt or killed them, that wouldn’t really be a good reason, would it? Let’s design our streets to be safe even when they’re being used by tired, stressed, inattentive, fallible humans. And let’s try to be the best falliable humans we can be, and admit our fault when we aren’t.

Mees 3: Have your cake and eat it too?

The quote that first caught my eye from this chapter was:

However, the same citizens who are most concerned about sustainable transport are often the fiercest defenders of leafy, low-rise neighborhoods.

This is a particularly pertinent note for Portland, especially right now in light of the discussion around the code allowing developers to build apartment buildings without on-site auto parking (one of which I’ll soon be living in!). These buildings, which allow greater density and improved urban form, including a better pedestrian environment without ugly parking lot gaps and ‘blank faces’ on buildings, are fiercely opposed by inner SE homeowners who believe it destroys the character of their neighborhood and clogs their streets. (Let’s leave aside for now that the former is completely subjective and the latter is false based on research by the city.)

These same neighbors, to stereotype just a little, also recycle, compost, shop at New Seasons, have chickens in their backyards, collect water in rainbarrels, buy Priuses, and have a school in their midst called the Sunnyside Environmental School…in short, they care about the earth on a personal level. But heaven forfend someone should try to change the development pattern so that it’s better for long-term sustainability. That, to them, is “like a rape.” (Yes, someone really said that, and yes, it makes me want to throw up.)

So, are these neighbors super lucky? Yes they are. Because Mr. Mees is here to tell us that you can have your leafy low-rise neighborhoods and your public transit too, if you design your transit cleverly!

The bulk of the chapter is devoted to dissing other possible solutions, like road pricing and electric cars. He’s unsurprisingly down on electric cars, saying:

The global effect of a large shift to electric cars would be to increase greenhouse emissions, since coal is still the main source of power.

He’s also surprisingly down on road pricing, saying that while it’s been a modest success in reducing car travel into city centers, it motivates people who can afford it to continue to drive, because they can just buy their way out of congestion. If you can’t buy your way out of congestion, you just have to live with it, and you’re more likely to actually seek out alternatives.

Vancouver reduced journey times by promoting congestion, while the other Canadian cities increased them by planning for higher speeds.

This is also pertinent for Portland, since our land-use rules and urban growth boundary tend to create greater congestion within the boundary, but they also shorten journeys, leading to an overall reduction in travel times. Vancouver saw the same effect, simply by failing to build more roads further out — when congestion is a factor in the central city, people choose to live closer in and select transportation alternatives. So even though my life would be easier if we could clear out some of the cars from downtown at 5pm, maybe I shouldn’t really be wishing for that — unless it’s because they’re riding bikes instead.

Finally, Mees tars public transit with some of the same brush as cars, particularly low-occupancy buses:

A bus with half a dozen passengers will be no more efficient, in greenhouse terms, than if the passengers travelled in cars at average occupanies…Walking and cycling produce no greenhouse emissions and are the only truly sustainable travel modes.

I’m with him there, but only up to a point. Jarrett has made a case that the purpose of public transit is to extend the reach of the walk, and if walking and cycling are the primary local modes, public transit is the necessary long distance complement unless you want to have tiny towns and cities, and also keep everyone’s car in a giant lot on the edge of the city, which sounds pretty expensive and dumb to me.

So, we can have our leafy low-rise neighborhood and our public transit too, but we can’t have our auto incentives and our transit incentives too:

The only way to produce mode shift is to combine transit incentives with auto disincentives.

Why I’m an Options Ambassador

PBOT’s Transportation Options division is recruiting for new outreach volunteers — Options Ambassadors — for 2012. A few weeks ago Andrew at PBOT asked me if I would be willing to share why I volunteer with Options as part of their recruitment. I think my response is slated for a brochure or email because I couldn’t find it online, but I thought it would be nice to have it available for the future, and for my own purposes in promoting Options’ recruitment!

Here are Andrew’s questions and my responses.

Q. Why did you decide to become an ambassador?

A. I was lucky enough to live in the SmartTrips area when I first moved to Portland in summer 2009. I thought the rides would be a great way to get to know the city and meet some people. I was also looking for ways to use my bicycle advocacy skills in Portland. I enjoyed the rides tremendously, and I really liked how prepared, thoughtful, friendly, and fun the Options team was. I decided if there was any way I could get involved, I wanted to do it. I’ve always really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and encouraging others to ride, so it seemed like a perfect fit. At the last summer ride, I was excited when Timo announced that they would be recruiting for new Ambassadors in April and encouraged me to apply. And the rest is history!

Q. What is your favorite part about being an Ambassador?

A. I really like to help with the bike rides. I am best at encouraging people when I’m riding because my enthusiasm for the ride is contagious — I enjoy exploring new routes and appreciating the wonderful things about Portland (including the summer weather). I also really like helping people learn and get more comfortable with riding in a context where I can talk with them one-on-one for extended periods of time. Finally, I love hearing people’s stories about why they are interested in riding more, and what got them out to the event, and I like to see how they appreciate each other’s company and support. Seeing people enjoy riding and grow in their skills and abilities is what inspires me as an advocate.


I didn’t want to go on too long in my response about how wonderful the Options group is, but it really is a huge part of the reason that I volunteer. Timo and Janis are fantastically cool, funny, enthusiastic, fun, and prepared. On the Autumn Adventure ride in 2009, I was badly under-gloved for the severity of the rain (and probably underdressed in general — it was my first fall in Portland), and Janis lent me some extra gloves with no questions asked. That’s the kind of leader I always appreciate and aspire to be. Every time I assist them I enjoy their company and I learn a lot about how to make riding fun and accessible for everyone. Every year as people rotate out, we need awesome ambassadors to replace them, so if you love to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for riding or walking, please volunteer!

Besides a few hours for training, it’s as much of a time commitment as you want or don’t want it to be. In 2010 I volunteered most weeks, but in 2011 I could only make a few rides in the summer because of my work schedule at SMART Transit. Luckily Timo extended the season with some weekend rides in the fall, and I’m hoping to volunteer more again this summer. I can’t wait for the season to start.

toes and heels

I’ve been wearing my FiveFingers around town (mostly to work and back) this week and last week, on and off. Flat concrete remains a tough surface for me to walk on. Every time I start again, I feel like I’ve gone back to square one, with the hurting heels. But there have definitely been moments when I’ve gotten everything in sync and walking feels totally different but very comfortable. It’s the same general principles as I listed before — shorter strides, more hip movement, better foot usage. But sometimes it only seems to ‘help’ (I still feel uncomfortable, but less so) and sometimes it all lines up and everything feels just right.

It reminds me a bit of what used to happen when I took Feldenkrais lessons — everything would get lined up for a while and moving would feel really cool and comfortable, then it would go back to normal. Line up, go back, line up, go back. I’m not sure I ever got any of the neural rewiring from Feldenkrais to really ‘take’, probably mostly because I didn’t keep practicing it — it was easy enough to keep moving the way I was moving (and the serious problem that I was trying to address through Feldenkrais and other movement therapies, my RSI, was eventually addressed through another method entirely). There’s a great temptation to go back to the habitual patterns of movement because the transition is slow, difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable. But knowing that from Feldenkrais I’m more willing to keep trying with the FiveFingers until it finally clicks in (for good, or at least for most of the time). Or it doesn’t. But it’s a fun experiment.

For now though, my heels are sore: back to my Keens.

Ten is cool, seven is cool

Xtracycle on Twitter today pointed me to a great blog post from Doug about his seven years as a car-free commuter (in Minnesota, no less).

I mentioned to someone recently that it’s been nearly ten years since I owned a car. (Actually, I’m not sure I ever technically owned a car, since the car I drove in high school most likely still belonged to my parents at the time that I was driving it. But I was its primary driver.) I hadn’t realized it had been that long until I thought back over it and remembered that the accident that totaled our 1987 Acura Legend happened in August of 1999, and it’s now August of 2009.

I don’t think my story is as impressive as Doug’s. For most of the time, I haven’t lived anywhere with an icy/snowy winter, and I haven’t bike-commuted to work every day. First I lived on campus at Rice for two years, then rode a mile or two on my bike each day from the Violin House* to campus, then went back to living on campus for a year. One summer I borrowed a friend’s car.**

For the summer after college, I drove the family car when I went to work or out. Then I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, within 15 minutes walk of the Linguistics building at the university, for two years. Edinburgh has an excellent bus system which I frequently took advantage of, or I walked a lot; I didn’t ride during those years. (Cycle on the left side? No way! :)

When I came back, I drove the family car again for a few months before I moved to the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, I starting cycling again, often to work (and even in winter rains), but I usually took the train part of the way. I frequently rode along with other people in cars to get places that had proven to be annoying or impossible to get to via transit or cycling.

Now, in Portland, I walk and ride the bus a lot as well as cycling, and I (finally) have access to Zipcar. I’m not a frequent user, but it’s nice to know I can haul stuff or drive to remote destinations myself, without depending on the kindness of others. Of course, if I had an Xtracycle I could do more hauling, but I don’t see hauling four kitchen chairs even with an Xtracycle. I love Zipcar for being 90% of what Doug describes a car as:

Even though I didn’t drive much, having a vehicle sitting there, just in case I needed it, provided my mind with a feeling of security. It provided a mode of transportation that was convenient, easy, and available all the time. Peace of mind.

Zipcar claims that each of their cars takes 20 cars off the road (they ask when you sign up if you will be getting rid of your car). Pretty amazing, and a great way forward for letting go of your car without letting go of all that peace of mind.

Even though I’m much more impressed by Doug than I am by myself, I don’t think this is a contest of who’s the most impressive. I certainly don’t do it to prove anything or make milestones, and he clearly doesn’t either. We’re both happier when we’re not behind the steering wheel of a car, and for me that is and will always be the main reason I don’t drive much. I hope in ten years I’ll still be car-free and that even more people will find it a viable option for themselves, and discover their joy in a different kind of freedom from the kind a personal motor vehicle offers.

* The house in West U I lived in during my junior year of college. With a lot of violinists, hence the name.
** Partly as a favor to him so he didn’t have to drive it back to Oregon. And I locked myself out of it once — in the middle of Tropical Storm Allison.


Whenever I do Portola loop on my bike, I always pass the entrance to Windy Hill OSP, and I have thought many times about riding up there and hiking, but today I finally did it. I wasn’t sure if it would work well. I thought I might be too tired, but that turned out not to be the case. Again, my W2W-acquired endurance triumphs. I’m tired now though, and planning a nap soon.

Going up on the bike takes about 50 minutes, about 8.5 miles. Mostly it’s up Alpine, and then a little ways on Portola. There are no bike racks (that I could find), but there are plenty of nice-sized trees to lock up to. Bike parking was a lot easier than car parking; the preserve was quite busy.

I wasn’t sure if I would want to do this, but ultimately we did climb up to the summit, elevation approx. 1900 feet (the entrance is around 550 ft). The hiking took about three hours, so we were going pretty slowly to cover the 5 or so miles up and down Spring Ridge Trail and the Anniversary Trail. We saw several coyotes and a small brown lizard. The views were terrific, but the thick haze did make them a bit less exciting, so it would be better on a really clear day. But you can see all the way to the ocean and all the way to Mt. Diablo. Really amazing.

Coming down on the bike is faster — 35 minutes — and of course, a lot easier.

Overall, a challenging and enjoyable thing to do. I think I’m going to try biking+hiking for more of the nearby preserves, like Arastradero and the Dish area!


Further followup on my post-accident doings:

I never did find Patrick, not that I know what I would do if I did. Tell him to get a light? Ask him to pay me back for my copays?

Because I did end up going to the doctor again. I’ve had a chronic headache since about a week after the accident, and I’ve been sleeping about 150% of normal. The headache is nothing severe, but enough that I’ve sometimes had a hard time doing stuff. I can’t exert myself that much because it makes it worse. I can hike and bike about 5 miles before it really starts bugging me, so it’s not that severe, but I generally don’t even feel like biking at all and walking I prefer to keep to under a mile unless it’s something nice like hiking in the hills.

According to the doctor, I have mild Post-Concussive Syndrome, so I guess I had an unrecognized minor concussion. She said I should take ibuprofen and keep things on the calm side for now, and it should be better in a week or two. Yuck. Advil is good stuff, though.

Dear People Walking in The Road

This is The Road. The Road is where cars and other vehicles travel. You are pedestrians, you’re walking in beautiful, safe Menlo Park. We have sidewalks here. On both sides of the road. Nice and smooth. Please use them. Please do not act like I’m in your way when I’m traveling legally on the road. I’m not going to hit you, but you don’t belong in the road, and you don’t have an invisible force field around you, so I’m going to indicate that you are traveling hazardously, possibly using my bell or horn. Just in case maybe it actually occurs to you, after said indication, that 1) this is The Road, and 2) someone else might hit you, even if I didn’t.

Yes, I’m a frequent pedestrian. Yes, I walk in the road, occasionally. Going the right way, as near to the side as possible, after checking that there’s no traffic coming. Or crossing, preferably at an intersection, after checking to see that cars and bicycles are either absent or aware of my presence and stopped or clearly planning to stop. There are times and places to use the road. The middle of the road, randomly, walking like a drunk person? No. The bike lane, because you’re just too cool and fast to run on the sidewalk a foot away? No. These are not times and places to use the road.

And for counterbalance, my letter to Mr. Roadshow, which hasn’t been published (yet — come on, Mr. Richards, it was a well-written letter on a relevant topic, and you didn’t publish any other letter of the same type — you ought to drop it in!)

Dear Mr. Roadshow,

While I very much agree with your strong message to pedestrians to cross legally and with care, drivers need a strong message as well: drive carefully and be courteous. I can’t count the number of times I have been crossing a street legally at a crosswalk and had my right-of-way violated by a turning motorist, or had a motorist simply ignore me as I tried to cross a driveway.

Drivers: Allow pedestrians their legal right-of-way at intersections, especially when turning right. Stop before you turn. Remember, just because the intersection doesn’t have painted crosswalk lines doesn’t mean it is not a crosswalk. Pedestrians may cross at any intersection unless otherwise indicated by a sign. Come to a complete stop (not the famous California rolling stop) at stop signs and allow pedestrians who arrived first to cross before you go. Pay attention to your surroundings. And don’t wait for the next Drive the Speed Limit Day to SLOW DOWN. Speed is lethal.

But it didn’t knock out my sense of humor

[Written Thursday.]

With a little more distance from what happened on Tuesday night, I feel like I can do a better job of writing about it. I’m feeling my usual self today, except for being sore and tired.

It was scary. My previous crash was solo; the only impact was me and the ground. Actually having someone else hit me was frightening. The fact that I didn’t lose consciousness this time (in retrospect, having experienced this, I think I must have last time) in a way made it even more scary, because in the tenths of a second that encompass the impacts I got not only “Oh shit, I’m going to fall” but “Oh shit I just hit my head on the pavement this can’t be good”, followed quickly by “I have to get up and get out of the road.” It seems strange describing my thoughts that way because at the time I wasn’t thinking in words. I think I don’t usually anyway, but the words usually come right after the thought so that I don’t notice the distinction as much.

I know I saw him before he hit me, but I didn’t realize that he was heading for me. But something must have made me turn around because otherwise I would have fallen on my side. Did I just realize he was too close? I don’t know. Getting up, I felt at several removes from the world. I remember being asked if I was okay and saying “I think so”. My head felt terrible, really banged on. M helped me up. There was a homeless guy who kept trying to lead me over to the side of the road, which wasn’t really all that helpful or charming to start with, but it got worse when he then was insistently asking for money. I just hit my head on the pavement, for goodness’ sake. Go away.

The biker introduced himself as Patrick. (By the way, if you are Patrick, please contact me.) Strangely, we shook hands and he offered to buy me a drink. Tip to people who hit other people in traffic and injure them: this is not a good tactic. If I’d been 100% mentally agile at the time I would have told him to bug off, what a stupid thing to offer to do, I don’t need a drink, I need medical attention. Instead, offer your contact information (because they’re hurt and might forget to ask for it) and ask if you can get them some water or call the police or ambulance. I didn’t need an ambulance, but the police would have been handy, although on my own account I decided I’d rather get to sleep sooner than call them.

I didn’t realize I was actually bleeding until we were walking back to the car, although it wasn’t exactly surprising, and it wasn’t much. It’s just never fun to put your hand to your head and have it come away with blood on it. When we got back I washed my head and slept very carefully. There are few times in my life I’ve been so glad to sleep.

I thought this post might have some jokes in it, but it doesn’t. It sucks to get hit in the street by someone violating traffic laws. It hurts, it makes you feel scared later (I yelled at a cyclist in Menlo Park to get off the sidewalk so loudly and far in advance that he actually did, which was a good thing because I was highly upset). For me, it’s made it impossible to ride this week because my head hurts too much. As of today (Sunday) the scab seems to be gone, but my head is still very tender. Officially, the x-ray was normal, so I guess it’s just bruising. I’ve been really exhausted too. I slept 12 hours Friday and 10 hours last night and at least 8 on all the other intervening nights, and I’m still tired and I didn’t even do anything today.

In other news, Comcast sucks. You can sign up for new services on the website, but not cancel your old ones. Do they think it’s not completely obvious that this is a scam to get more money from you?

And I would love bikes…

…well, I do, most of the time. But not when this happens.

I’m doing fine, but I am thinking that seeing a doctor would be a good idea, and I feel a little stupid that I didn’t at least demand his contact info. And unfortunately I would have to go into the city to file a police report, which probably isn’t going to happen. The thought of having to deal with going to work today kind of makes me want to cry, even though I mostly feel fine.

I may write more about this later, but I’m just too tired to try to be funny right now.