A bike lane covered in ice. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Well, some of the puddles I wrote about a few weeks ago have solidified under recent freezing temperatures. Now they’re ice, and even more treacherous! I had a mild encounter with some of this ice last week, and wanted to share a bit of a cautionary tale.

As someone who was born and raised in Colorado, I have to admit that I have a bit of arrogance in me when it comes to traveling in winter weather. When I moved to Oregon and heard about the concept of “ice storms” for the first time, I rolled my eyes.

“You’re ‘iced in’?” I thought. “When I was a kid, I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow. You didn’t hear me complaining about it.”

This is obviously exaggerated: of course I complained. But I did, in fact, grow up getting around in inclement weather. Colorado public schools are notoriously stingy with snow days, and while I never had to strap on the cross-country skis, I certainly navigated through a foot of snow to get to school at least a couple times.

And I’ll always remember the first time I drove a car by myself, hands shaking on the steering wheel during an unexpectedly heavy April snowstorm. When I stepped on the brake at a red light and the car didn’t immediately stop, having caught itself on some ice, I panicked, not remembering if I was supposed to pump the brakes or not. (I managed to stop in time, but wow, 16-year-olds should not be allowed to drive multi-ton vehicles.)

All of this is just to say that I’m not particularly worried about traveling in cold and icy weather. But that didn’t stop me from completely wiping out on black ice while biking the other day.

As is often the way in these kinds of situations, what happened was a pretty mild incident that had the potential to be terrible had only a couple other things gone wrong. I was almost home on Thursday night, biking quickly down Northeast Ainsworth Street in the cold, when I was suddenly on the ground. Evidently there was a big patch of black ice that was either invisible in the dark or that I simply hadn’t been paying attention to, and it knocked me down to the street, popping the front wheel off my bike in the process (still not sure how that happened).

The first thing I did was stand up and turn around to make sure there weren’t any cars coming toward me. A woman driving a truck was coming up maybe a block away, and I waved my arms a couple times so she’d see me and I could collect myself. She happened to be very kind, and stopped to asked if I needed help, looking at me skeptically when I waved her along.

I knew I hadn’t been seriously injured — I was mostly just embarrassed. But I also realized that this situation could have been very bad. If I hit my head or fallen in a way that made it more difficult to get up and a driver happened to be speeding by, they might not have seen me in time to stop (people drive too fast on Ainsworth and similar neighborhood streets all the time). The fact that there wasn’t a driver tailing me on this stretch of the street is actually a rarity in my experience. It makes me shiver to think about all the worst-case scenarios.

Ultimately, I am fine — still a little sore, but completely intact. But I think situations like this can teach us a few things. First, I’m going to lose the invincibility complex and keep a closer eye on the street, especially when it’s really cold and icy. Second, it would be great if the city could figure out how to keep ice off our streets as much as possible to keep vulnerable road users safe. As it turns out, icy streets in Colorado and Oregon are completely different ballgames. In high-altitude and sunny Denver, ice turns into mostly harmless slush quickly. Here, however, the freezing overnight temperatures combined with even a small amount of precipitation and days of cloudy skies make it a lot more treacherous.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that the most component here with the most potential for danger isn’t the ice — it’s the cars. Sure, I could’ve been knocked out if I hit my head on the street or broken a bone by falling wrong. But the risks posed by inclement weather is amplified exponentially by the 24/7/365 dangers we face on streets. So drivers, please keep your distance from people biking and walking — all the time, but especially during the winter. Pay close attention to your surroundings and try to stay patient when driving behind someone who isn’t going as fast as you’d like.

You never know when they might hit a patch of ice.

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