When gas first hit $4 a gallon back in 2008, I ditched my car and started commuting by bicycle. I realized the benefits immediately; increased energy, weight loss, a better attitude and more money in my pocket. I joined bicycle organizations, bought more bikes and rode everywhere.
Five years and thousands of miles by bicycle later, I found myself struggling to keep it going. Not because of limitations: I could ride 82 miles at a time. I got racks and panniers that could carry a case of wine. I made trips to Costco and loaded up. My transportation life revolved around the bicycle. I equipped myself with rain gear, got a bike with disc brakes and did all my chores by bicycle. When my parked car was totaled by a drunken driver three months ago, I wasn't even fazed.
I had nearly removed myself from the transportation-by-oil equation, and I prided myself on it.
Along the way I had encounters that gave me pause and caused me to question the safety and sanity of my newfound passion. As with many cyclists, I had multiple encounters that could only be described as negative and harrowing. I crashed into a car that made a turn in front of me. I hit an oil slick and went down hard. And I experienced a multitude of close encounters, perhaps 100, that were so close they left me scared, shaken, angry and frustrated.
Over time, with riders being mowed down almost monthly, I became more vigilant. I always wore bright colors, used hand signals and anticipated the actions of unsafe drivers. But what began as a healthy activity started turning into something else. Almost daily, my rides featured incidents that could only be described as terrifying. Although my carbon footprint was low, along with my resting heart rate, I would arrive to work angry, ranting and raving about bad drivers, then come home to dinner and describe how I almost got taken out.
My commitment to cycling was strong, but in the back of my mind I wondered, was I pushing my luck?
I remembered the stories of Kathryn Black, Danny Trujillo and the Kaiser nurse, among others.
Then, two weeks ago, just a few blocks from my house, I signaled to make a left-hand turn and a car traveling 30 mph hit my hand and went around me into the oncoming lane. Had I made the turn one second earlier, I would have been creamed.
I was in shock. I went home and trembled for 30 minutes. Then I stuffed thousands of dollars into my backpack and walked over to the Sears parking lot and bought an SUV from a Craigslist ad.
My cycling career is over. I'm sick of entitled red-light runners (I once counted six blatant violations at consecutive intersections). I'm sick of unlicensed and illegal drivers who can't read the signs and don't know the rules of the road. I'm sick of dope-smoking, 40-ounce-swilling slackers drifting into the bike lanes, and I'm sick of texters and cellphone talkers, who think your conversations take precedence over safety.
I can't tell you how comfortable and safe I feel now with 3,000 pounds of metal protecting me. No one will ever be able to convince me that cars and bicycles can coexist. And thank goodness no one will ever have to tell my kids, "He was run over by a texter."