Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dirty Dozen 2012 (written Nov 16, 2012)

It felt good to marshal this year's Dirty Dozen. The DD is a bicycle race, but it's not speed that matters, but hill climbing. Points are scored by the first three male and female riders to get to the top of 13 hills (12 this year) of gargantuan proportion. Each is scored separately. At the end, he and she with the most points wins. Top three of each gender get a prize.

Marshaling is traffic control. Each group ride is a little different, but they all have in common the need to keep people safe and keep traffic moving. In DD's case, riders flow as tight packs most of the time, so marshaling means corking auto traffic so a large, tightly packed group can clear an intersection. It is safer for all involved if the pack can travel as a pack -- something cars do not do -- so we bend the law to accommodate this.

Let me make that more clear: Safety first, and that includes the traffic rules. Let me make that even clearer: It is more important to keep groups of riders safe than it is to obey the law. When a pack of 50 riders -- or 150 riders -- comes through, marshals hold car traffic stopped for a half minute, poor babies.

Don't care for that? Too flippin' bad. A half minute a year, if you have the luck to be right there right then. A truck stuck in an intersection will slow you down more.

But I digress.

But I don't. Because that's what I did. At four corners, widely spaced in distance and time, I held up traffic for one minute so that these bunches of riders could safely traverse one traffic light.

As late as Friday, I had not committed to assisting, but when the rest of the family said they had other plans, I emailed my offer of help. My plan was to leap out of bed by 6 and get on the road by 7:45 to get to the marshals' meeting at the Highland Park Oval by 9. But with one delay after another, it was 8:30 before I got out the door, then had no fewer than five mechanical or safety problems in the first 1/2 mile of the trip. It had snowed overnight, so roads and trails were slick. I turned back. I saw no point in pushing 100% for 14 miles for a meeting I would miss most of, only to turn right around and chase halfway back from whence I came.

Two hours later, I was ready for another go. The snow had stopped, streets were clear, and earlier mechanical issues were mainly behind me. After verifying that Hill 6 (usually 7) was next, I aimed for there. I arrived just as the first riders were clearing the top. I found the head marshal and rode with him (ahead of the pack) to the first corner where they needed help, the lower Perrysville-Federal intersection. Once clear of that, I helped at the Sixth Street Bridge and Fort Duquesne Blvd corner.

From there, I just rode with the pack, as it wasn't possible to get much ahead of 200 cyclists riding through downtown, and other marshals took care of other corners. At the base of Sycamore Street, I split off, and headed well upstream of the riders, but in doing this, essentially got lost in the Banksville-Dormont part of town. More by chance than design, I happened upon another marshal I know well (Dan B), who suggested I man one corner on the South Side, 18th and Sarah, but I was far enough ahead of the pack that I actually had time to get some lunch.

On the way, I also took in a pleasant little *level* ride through the Wabash Tunnel. Someday, hopefully soon, all cyclists will be able to do so legally. I did not see a single car in the tunnel in the five minutes it took me to travel it.

I took a few horns from disgruntled motorists at 18th and Sarah while I held the light. Part of my job. Safety first.

Lastly, I rode out to Hazelwood to handle Second and Elizabeth. This one was tougher. By this point in the ride, nearly at the end, riders were sparse in number and widely spaced. There was not a "critical mass" (lower case) of riders, as there was at 18th and Sarah, so I had to intervene several times. While traffic on Second was busy, it was predictable. Less predictable was traffic coming northbound on Elizabeth. Nearly everyone was making a right, but not all. Situated as I was in the intersection, I could easily see that the front car was making a right, but I could not see if the second or following cars were also turning. One time -- JUST one time -- I let someone make a right on the green, only to discover the second car in line was going *straight*, but at that same moment, a rider came through, and seeing me having the intersection corked, rolled through the red, and I couldn't get the second driver to stop. No collision, but I was shaking. Thinking about this later, one of the following should have happened: A) Prevent everyone on Elizabeth from moving, even right turns; B) Police assistance; C) Someone to assist me; D) Not handled the corner in the first place, since there was a light.

As if that was not bad enough, a church on the opposite corner was holding a church service just then about to get underway, so there were a lot of cars pulling up in front and parking. One person opening a car door very nearly doored a rider coming by. This had nothing to do with me, but it was less than 100 feet away. It coincidentally occurred less than two minutes after the prior incident, so I was not having a good state of mind about then.

Eventually the clean-up van came through, signalling the end of the riders, so I packed up and headed back home.

Would I do it again? Definitely. But next time, I will try to get to the marshals' meeting beforehand to ensure that the best corners get coverage, and let others slide that perhaps might do better unmanned.

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