Eye contact

I was on my bike at the intersection of Northern Lights & Lake Otis, waiting to cross Lake Otis. This is a busy intersection, so it’s not one I mess with: I wait for the light. Along came a pickup truck, right up beside me, signaling a right turn. The driver, a middle-aged woman, was primed to go. She was one of those drivers who is itchy to go — she kept releasing the brake so her truck would jump forward a few inches. I remembered something I’d read a couple of weeks ago, probably on the Municipality of Anchorage’s “Ride [a bike] to Work Day”: make eye contact. Be sure the driver is aware of you before crossing the intersection.

Good advice, I thought, when I saw her truck jump forward another couple inches. So I looked at her. She looked back at me. Eye contact. Good.

The light changed, showing the walking figure that indicated that I or any pedestrian had the right of way. But also, the pickup jumped forward again.

So I looked at the driver again. She looked back at me. Eye contact, & a hand gesture: go. So I went.

I biked down Lake Otis, made my shortcut across the UAA campus, got onto the sidewalk up Providence Drive, & — a few minutes after my encounter with the pick-up — was there on my bike at the intersection of Providence Drive & UAA Drive, waiting to cross UAA Drive. This, too, is a busy intersection, not to be messed with. So I sat there waiting for my signal. Along came a small white car, crosswise to me, its young female driver intent on making a right turn. She pulled right smack in front of where the sidewalk ramps down to the street for wheelchairs & bikes & other sidewalk-sized wheeled conveyances — right smack dab in my way. She craned her head to the left, watching the oncoming traffic for a break so she could make her right turn.

She didn’t see me at all. Not when she arrived, though there I’d been sitting, on a blue bike with a blue windbreaker & a blue bike helmet — pretty damn obvious, really. But she never looked to her right. She was only concerned with the oncoming traffic to her left. Eye contact? No such thing here.

The light changed in my favor. But the driver didn’t notice that anymore than she noticed me. I started shouting, trying to get her attention: she was in my way, & she wasn’t aware of me to begin with. Her windows were rolled all the way up (it was a cool morning), & perhaps her radio or stereo was on too loud; at any rate, she didn’t here me. Then I made my mistake: I edge my bike off the curb in front of her car, still shouting to get her attention.

She saw the break in traffic she was looking for, & let her foot off the brake. Her car moved forward a foot, maybe two. Maybe she even had her foot on the accelerator. Then she turned to look where she was going & finally — finally! — she saw me, her mouth a round O of shock & surprise as she slammed on the brakes to barely avoid hitting me.

I was relieved to find myself still upright & astride my bike, but I was plenty angry too. She rolled down her window, apologizing, but I’m afraid that I wasn’t very receptive — I was shouting, “You need to look both ways!” & “It was my right of way & you were right in my *#@&*$# way!!!” etc. I told André at work later, “That driver needs a remedial driver’s ed course… but I guess maybe I gave her one.”

But it was me too. She would have been in the wrong had she hit me. But though I had the right of way, it wouldn’t have done me much good if I was a pancake splat on the road. She needed to look both ways; I needed to have eye contact. Before I put myself in the path of her car.

Start WalkingUpdate: The much briefer Start Walking version of this story, along with a rundown of just how rundown I felt today, can be found at Terveys.

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