How do you make sense of, by all accounts, a lovely person like local cyclist Trish Quane being killed by a train in Riverside? How do you explain a cyclist going under the barriers at a railroad crossing?
There are a few hints from the facts.
Reports say that a previously derailed box car was sitting on one of three tracks just beyond the crossing. On the middle track, a commuter train was stopped taking on passengers.
And then there was the third track. This represented the only risk to crossing while the other two trains?#34;which obstructed her view?#34;were stationary.
But I would try to explain it this way: Cyclists are always making snap-second decisions on the road and sometimes we make mistakes.
Here is another problem. Even though we live in the city, cyclists enjoy getting up some speed and maintaining a pace. Cyclists can be impatient. Sometimes we "coast" through a stop sign when we do not see traffic or try to "make" a light that is changing.
Because cyclists make so many snap decisions, we are always on the lookout for trouble. The thought process goes something like this: "I have the right of way, but that car ahead looks as if it's slowing down coming into the intersection. I think it will stop because I made eye contact with the driver."
If I guess wrong and the car pulls out into my lane, I have to act quickly. If I hit the breaks too hard, I can go over the handlebars. If I can see my way clear, I might turn sharply onto the side street. If I speed up, I may have a better chance of avoiding the car. If I guess wrong, there is little between me and the car.
Cyclists make about 20 such snap decisions every time we ride. That is why many of us go out at ungodly early hours of the morning to avoid as much traffic as possible.
Cyclists can also suffer from a split second of inattention. A few years ago, I was riding in a paceline with my Lake and Harlem cycling mates going about 20 miles per hour. Notwithstanding the fact that I was riding two feet behind the bike in front of me, I quickly turned to look behind me just as the group began to slow for a stoplight.
My front wheel "kissed" the rear wheel of the bike in front and I went over the handlebars, splitting my helmet and breaking my collarbone. My mistake.
Aside from the obvious lesson of Quane's death about obeying crossing signals, there is a broader safety lesson for anyone who cycles on streets full of Hummers and pickups. For those of us who wear spandex and ride regularly that means cooling it a bit at intersections and stop signs.
For many of our local recreational riders, that means wearing a helmet. I am bemused when I hear people who regularly wear a seatbelt in a car explain why they do not wear a helmet on a bike. They say, "Oh I go so slow, there is no way I can get in an accident."
But slow speed will not avail them when a speeding SUV nails them as they putter through an intersection.
As Quane no doubt knew, cycling is exhilarating. In an increasingly sedentary and mechanized world, it is liberating to move at speed powered by your own body. It keeps you fit and clears your mind.
Unfortunately, cycling has its risks too and can sometimes leads to tragedy.