Friday, July 20, 2012

Microburst

Wednesday's forecast predicted thunderstorms, and after a sunny humid day a rapid downpour descended on our neighbourhood in the afternoon. Later we learned that the next town over had experienced a microburst - an intense storm similar to a tornado, only with wind patterns in the opposite direction. Over 100 full grown trees were uprooted in the storm in the course of very little time. No one was hurt, but property was damaged.

The next morning I went on a ride and found the Minuteman Bikeway impassable, with huge toppled trees in close succession blocking the entire path. As municipal workers in neon vests surveyed the area, confused bicycle commuters wandered around looking for alternative routes without having to ride on the high-traffic main road which the Bikeway parallels.

The side streets were blocked. Municipal vehicles were gathering from all directions - those huge machines where you feed them pieces of tree and they mulch it up. Finally, I went on the main road and competed with a procession of buses in mid-day heat until my nerves had worn raw. Drivers were especially out of sorts that morning, behaving aggressively and honking at cyclists for simply being "in the way" - probably not realising that we had all been displaced from the adjacent bikeway and had nowhere else to be.

Riding under these conditions, I realised how spoiled I've gotten lately - forgetting how stressful cycling can be when drivers behave like this and there is no alternative route. I was getting honked at continuously for trying to take the lane. But as busses kept cutting me off and car doors swung open with abandon, taking the lane was the only safe option. Eventually a few of us formed a cluster: me, a woman in a yellow sundress on a cruiser, a teenager on a mountain bike, and an older man on a time trial bike. The cars went wild, but at least there was safety in numbers.

The pièce de résistance happened on my way home. I was already back in Cambridge and riding on a quiet MUP when around the bend a municipal car comes charging at me head-on, taking up the entire width of the path. The guy slammed his brakes when he saw me and I slammed mine, feeling a huge surge of adrenaline. We stopped within inches of each other and I had one of those not-quite-but-almost crashes that I am so talented at. I kept the bike from hitting the ground, in the process contorting my body unnaturally and twisting my elbow. Ouch. But who cares about a little ouch; I am just glad he did not run me over. We had words, if you can call it that. Me: "You could have killed me!" He: "Sorry sweetheart, I didn't see you coming!"

I suppose the take-away lesson here is to stay off the roads after natural disasters? Easy enough for someone doing a training ride, but what about those who commute that way? I don't think the city even announced anywhere that the Minuteway Bikeway was impassable, whereas they certainly would have announced it had a major road become unavailable to drivers. Maybe when there are more of us, things will be different. I hope so.

35 comments:

  1. The MUP maintenance guy. Same as riding/driving on a remote logging road, only to have an 18 wheeler come railing around the corner like an F1 driver because, you know, the logging company owns the land and you're but a mere speed bump.

    Infra? What infra!

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  2. Had the same incident on a bike path. Post Office truck. Only I stopped and he didn't. The driver looked me right in the eye and kept coming, like a moth to a flame. It wasn't much a bad accident, 40 stitches and I rode the next day. But yeah, they drive like that.

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    1. Sorry to hear about your stitches. The driver was looking at me as well for a good few seconds (which seemed like eternity of course) before he slammed the brakes.

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  3. Drivers! I'm glad you didn't get hit, sorry to see you damaged your elbow. I hope it sorts itself quickly.

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  4. Oh man, I'm glad you're (mostly) ok! Hope your elbow heals quickly!

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  5. Very glad you are OK albeit suffering a close call. Hope you do realize your skills have really advanced to kick in an emergency stop like this. Hope you are over your injuries soon. Jim Duncan

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    1. I will consider my skills to have advanced when I *don't* injure myself coming to a stop : )

      Funny enough I've always had a strong instinct to not let my bike go down; I hold on to it with a death grip and try to keep my balance at all costs - even if it means looking like I am playing Twister!

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    2. You've got the right attitude. Sheer refusal to go down can be enough to keep you up. If there's enough time to think that thought and get that grip you'll probably make it. It's the quick falls that can't be helped.

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  6. Did you file a complaint with the Municipal Police ?

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    1. They obviously had their hands full dealing with the storm damage and I decided to leave it.

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  7. Town of Arlington issued a closure notice --- but it was a recreation notice, released in the afternoon, so it didn't help anyone's morning commute -- and the Minuteman portion was in the 2nd paragraph (the Dog Park got higher billing).

    I'd say that it's better to bike after a natural disaster than drive: I had a much easier time navigating the branches and displaced pedestrians in the roadway than cars did.

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  8. Last October we had similar problems on Minuteman path and other bike routes when heavy, wet snow made many trees collapse: http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/10/commuters-cyclocross.html

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    1. I remember this, along with the October snow!

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  9. This is the second time in six years that a microburst hit the next town over from you, in the east part of town, taking the bikeway off line for a while. Interestingly, nature again spared the Heights.

    The town posted the closure of the bikeway sometime on the 19th as part of recreation area closures. They did ask for patience from us while everything gets cleaned up. There is a town email list that documented both the damage as it happened and the town responses.

    That section of the street paralleling the bikeway is always dicey. There have been efforts at planning a nicer future, with bike lanes, traffic calming devices, parking, and left turn lanes but the tea partiers in town are slowing progress. One day you might even prefer the street, if the town does a good job with it.

    I'm sorry to hear that you had a rough time dealing with the post-storm drivers and the municipal truck and the twisted elbow that followed.

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    1. Didn't know there was a microburst in the same area before!

      I would love to ride on Mass Ave through Arlington if it didn't scare the crap out of me. I suspect we are long way away from it being traffic calmed or bike-laned, but it would be good if they could at least deal with that stretch in Arlington center where the Minuteman Trail interrupts...

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    2. The plan under consideration extends from the Cambridge line towards the center but not including that kludgy intersection. I would like to think that it will happen sooner than later.

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  10. Strength in numbers - I'm seeing more and more cyclists on the road in MA, so hopefully drivers are getting properly conditioned to share the road. BTW: excellent NYTimes article the other day about the bicycle 'super-highways' being built to run into Copenhagen from suburbs. We can only dream...

    Hope your elbow is on the mend...

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  11. I've been caught in thunderstorms, fortunately never a micro-burst. Not fun - very frightening. I headed to the nearest alley and pushed the bike into a gangway between someone's garage and home. Technically trespassing, I guess. No one came out to chase me away.

    Some of the suburbs and rural areas around Chicago still have inclement weather sirens. AFAIK, Chicago does not. I've never heard them anyway.

    Hope the car driver was over 70. Otherwise calling an adult woman you are not involved with sweetheart is out of line.

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  12. Just glad you are ok. Be careful.

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  13. It is the same here in Oz with cycleways being given a very low priority, if they are being repaired it takes months, with the cycleway being closed the entire time, that would never happen on a major road. I have found that after a natural disaster it is often better to ride as roads can be blocked by fallen trees and with a bike it is possible to get around them, but not by car.

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  14. That kind of thing happens fairly often along the seafront romenades on which I rude on the Sussex coast. It is even scarier on thelittle country lanes where drivers seem to like to live out their formula one fantasies. Th only think yo can do is keep a sharp ear cocked for the sounds of approaching motors and then be ready to react.

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  15. Any trouble unclipping during emergency stops?

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    1. Not to jinx you, but I am pleasantly surprised. Almost everyone I know falls over at least a couple of times, and that's what kept me from trying clipless pedals. Oh and please review the Cranksbrothers! I am considering getting them and would love to hear your thoughts.

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    2. I will probably review them soon, but I caution against interpreting my experience as "If I get these specific pedals, I won't fall." Everyone is different.

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  16. I live in Somerville too and ride the Minuteman all the time. I have recently tried taking Mass. Ave. or Broadway to Arlington center and it is, indeed, awful. The traffic is terrible in and of itself, but I also find the the streets are just a mess. Riding a road bike over all of those bumps and pot holes terrifies me, as I never know which one will make me fall or give me a flat tire.

    I am new to the world of cycling and your blog has given me much comfort as I struggle through many of the same things you've encountered in your journey. I also have to thank you for introducing me Ride Studio Cafe - I love it!

    On a similar note, my enthusiasm for my new hobby is apparently contagious and my wife has recently started riding too. She's even blogging about it at http://fatlesbian.blogspot.com. Her latest entry is about her run-in with toe overlap - which you've written about many times!

    Thanks for the great info, I look forward to reading more!

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  17. Sometimes a bicycle is ideal for getting around in the aftermath of a natural disaster. After last fall's storms it was way easier to navigate flooded roads and dodge downed trees with a bike. Unfortunately, flooding also meant that there were no bike-accessible ways OUT of town for three days after the flooding hit, the only open roadway being an interstate highway which is closed to bikes. AS I was car-less at the time, all I could do was call out of work and enjoy "island life."

    The frequency of downed trees due to storms, old age and (on one or two occasions) beavers along the towpath I use for some of my commutes is why "the ability to clear obstacles up to the thickness of a telephone pole" is one of my requirements for a commuting bike.

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  18. Oh no! I am so glad you are not seriously injured. I hope you heal quickly!

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  19. Getting hit by a car or truck is my biggest fear, notwithstanding that all my injuries to date have arisen from a combination of daring, a love of speed and mountain biking, not a good combination.
    However I have recently installed a dynamo powered B&M LED front light on my go everywhere bike. This light emits 40 Lux and has a daytime setting that provides front and rear lighting, bright enough to attract attention.
    I am conscious of greater realisation of my presence from all other road users. It is possible that the bright light not only gets me noticed but equates with greater speed hence causing people to think twice before pulling out.

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  20. Last month I rode through high winds, horizontal rain and lightning successfully. When I got to work my hair was full of beach sand and my glasses covered in sea salt, the coast being 6 kms away. All without incident. Cycling home, in the relative calm and dry, post storm night, I promptly cycled straight into a pedestrian barrier that I've cycled round for a decade :-) It's not only the motorists that aren't at their best post storm.

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  21. Good thing we went the other way on Thursday morning round to the "Battle Road" I had no idea until now how bad it was. Thanks for the Great story!

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  22. You're supposed to take a pruning saw with you after storms like that. (Yes, I do.) Why wait for the town?

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  23. We did our usual monthly 25 miles in Pasadena (the Velo Retro ride) after an immense windstorm knocked down hundreds of trees--power was out for over a week in some areas. (During certain seasons here, wind gusts in the 70 and 80mph range are normal, and this was much worse.) We certainly had it easier than motorists, as we could just go around most blockages, and lift our bikes over the ones that blocked the whole way.

    Typically, after earthquakes everywhere, bikes and helicopters are the only vehicles getting anyplace.

    Since we have very few offstreet bike paths, and most of our streets are awful to ride on to some degree, the degradation of driver behavior after a storm is proportionately less. Fortunately, that is changing--that is, we are getting more bike infrastructure, and drivers are starting to behave slightly better in normal times.

    Slightly: up to HALF of all street crashes in LA are now hit & run.

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  24. Very sorry this happened to you!

    I think this guy needs to be reported though. So what if they have a lot on their hands with the storm, this driver needs to be more careful.

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  25. A minor natural disaster is still a natural disaster. All systems are disrupted, including the judgement of the inhabitants.

    Felled trees seem to be a theme out there in Auld Somerville!

    It's probably safe to assume that the MUPS will be the least of the worries the public works folks have.
    The carrying of a pruning saw is a *great* idea, and kind of ties in with the self-sufficient attitude discussed in the 600k Brevet thread.


    I'm really glad you weren't injured more severely. Here's hoping for a quick, easy recovery.

    C "glad no trees are coming down here" K

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