Tuesday, October 03, 2006

High Visibility Update

As I was digging out the fossilized comments I discovered stuck in the moderation queue, I noticed this one from Jim Seisfeld, on an October 2005 post about Please-Don't-Kill-Me-Yellow clothing:

The other day while I was being a motorist I observed a roadie in traffic on an expensive DF wearing equally expensive “name brand” lycra from head to toe, and it was all black (including shoes and helmet). What struck me most was, I didn’t see the cyclist until I past him going in the opposite direction. I remember at the time I saw the cyclist I made a mental note that if all black is a new trend, it is a dangerous trend that will result in more vehicle-bicycle accidents, and had he been wearing Hi-Viz gear I would have seen him much sooner. The thought didn’t come back to me until I read your “High Visibility” blog.

As a cyclist, I am aware, and keep the attitude, that motorists don’t see bicycles. As a cyclist, when I drive I am very aware of people on bicycles. As an Environment, Health, and Safety professional in the Transportation and Utility industries, I have seen Hi-Viz strategies help save lives. I advocate Hi-Viz gear should be part of all bicyclists’ safety strategy while on roads that might be shared with motorists and that PDKMY-type gear is a vital.

While I think we are on the same page, I wonder a little about your comment “PRETTY SOON NO ONE PAYS ATTENTION ANYMORE”. Do you think anyone pays any attention in the first place? For the most part, I don’t think motorists pay any attention to bicyclists. I feel bicyclists must make motorists pay attention to them, and Hi-Viz gear is an important part of the attention-getting strategies.

Color choice depends somewhat on cycling environment. I ride in a small town with two-lane streets and overall moderate traffic density. The narrower streets put me into the motorists' field of view automatically. I create my image by how I act there. But I did buy a nice yellow jersey last fall and wore it all summer. I also bought a Sugoi windbreaker in the same nice yellow, and have used it frequently this fall.

Riding in a small town I have the opportunity to hear more extensive reviews than the Dopplered profanity hurled at me in more urban environments. People talk to me in shops and around town. For the most part they are supportive, though sometimes they'll have a suggestion. Seldom are these suggestions unprintable, though some of them display the ignorant fear many people experience when they try to imagine cycling in traffic. I mean some people recommend that I quit entirely, because a gruesome death is inevitable if I keep trespassing in the Kingdom of the Cars.

No one has said they thought I should wear brighter colors. They saw me. Even the ones who get ugly in traffic see me. If they hadn't seen me, how could I have pissed them off?

I don't say that these observer comments weaken the argument for high visibility clothing. You have to make your own decision. But Seisfeld himself says he doesn't think most motorists pay attention anyway. So while high visibility clothing probably can't hurt, it is not a magic shield.

This summer I was as reluctant to ride without my yellow jersey as I was to ride without my helmet, once I got used to wearing that, years ago. But I am equally as reluctant to grab the garish PDKMY wind vest unless the weather is foggy or I will be riding in deep dusk.

If all drivers were gentle, kind, sensible, sober and undistracted, cyclists could wear anything they liked. Such a world will never be, but it makes a nice dream. Meanwhile, I'm a shade closer to PDKMY, while still trying to maintain some aesthetics.

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