Friday, September 4, 2009

Heavy metal ballet

Has this ever happened to you?

At 7:30am, on Thursday, September 3, I was biking across the Knight Street Bridge, southbound, going to work. The previous night's thundershower had left in its wake a perfect morning for riding. The road was still slightly damp, the air, cool & clean. Wednesday evening, I had oiled my chain and replaced my slowly leaking front innertube, leaving a mild sense of accomplishment to further enhance the ride.

I was in the bike lane on the northwestern segment of the bridge, approaching Mitchell Island. Technically, the bike lane is off limits (riders are supposed to use the concrete-barrier-protected sidewalk), but signage is minimal and a fresh line of paint clearly sets off the bike lane. The northwestern sidewalk segment forces you partway around the Mitchell Island off-ramp, after which you must either take a risky left across the ramp, or dismount and make the same crossing at even greater risk on foot. Via the bike lane, you can cross straight over, pass the Mitchell Island bus stop, and enter the sidewalk.

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I wore a backpack and an orange safety vest, and had my helmet on [Common Commuter]. It was slightly overcast with excellent visibility. Traffic was heavy: Three lanes of commuters, like me, bound for work. Leading the pack, just to my left, was a larger than usual, nice looking brand-new grey pickup truck, with a chunk of heavy equipment in the back - a cement mixer, maybe.

Behind the pickup there were probably about sixteen cars, two lanes of eight. Two guys were in the cab, likely heading to a construction job, with heavy equipment in the black-lined truck bed. The driver must have tapped the brake, reacting to something on the bridge.

Suddenly the truck starts to fishtail and skid into a doughnut. Everything goes into slow-mo, there is no time for fear, just an abstract appreciation that about 3,500 pounds of metal moving at 60+ kph, is now totally out of control and might slide towards me at any second.

The pickup did a 360+, ending broadside to the oncoming cars, inches from the central concrete barrier. Miraculously, it was unscratched. I now realized that there were sixteen cars on a slippery road just five feet to my left, blocked by a truck. If any of them reacted just a hair too slowly, I might soon suffer the consequences. I began to appreciate the logic behind our bicycling restrictions.

Miraculously, all the cars came to a complete stop without a single mishap. It was too perfect, as if the whole thing had been rehearsed and executed that morning by a team of highly skilled stuntmen and women. I didn't look too closely, but I did thank my stars that nobody was too preoccupied with their cellphone, drive-through breakfast, coffee, make-up, etc. What are the odds?

Through the whole, surreal experience, I continued riding, scarcely able to believe that this vehicular ballet was all taking place within 12 and 30 feet of me. I don't think I even slowed down. I recall thinking of YouTube and wishing I had a helmet-cam.

After the truck resumed its course, everyone drove on as before, not a fender bent, not a scratch to be seen. If someone was drinking coffee, they probably didn't spill a drop.

On September 3, 2009 I finished my morning commute in a state of gratitude.

It’s also about having one foot over the edge—just enough of yourself to recognize the inherent wisdom and beauty of close calls.

-- Veda Hille


If you have had a similar experience, please let me know.

Reference: BikeBC - Cycling Restrictions

Excerpt from the Highway Act B.C. REG. 174/70:

Structure Section/Subsection/Summary
Knight Street Bridge...
[Vancouver - Richmond]
2.03 (b) Bicycles not permitted on roadways but may use a sidewalk.

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