Wednesday, July 7

Bike Guy Ahead

I’ve often thought that a useful part of a cyclist’s education should be to drive a motor vehicle on local streets; deliberately examining the motorist/cyclist interaction from behind the steering wheel, so as to better understand that interaction when cycling. I think better understanding of what an overtaking motorist sees and experiences helps the cyclist’s confidence and safety in traffic when riding. It’s something we practice in our family Driver’s Ed program, described here. I’ll often say – “there’s a cyclist up ahead where that sign is; what do you do?” Mostly, the correct answer is “make a full lane change to pass.” Maximum clearance is safest for both the motorist and the cyclist. It's also simple and easy to remember.

Serendipity Leads Me to Follow a Bike Guy
Today, I drove to work. After yesterday’s thunderstorms followed the forecast 30% chance of rain, a 60% chance this morning left me thinking it was a good day to drive. It turned out to be a blessing, because I encountered a guy on a bike on Cheek Sparger Road. Cheek Sparger is part of my commute route. It’s a quintessential North Texas, suburban, narrow, two-lane road, with a double yellow stripe down the middle and no shoulder. I have never encountered anyone before on a bike when driving on Cheek Sparger. One of our managers told me he partly had his job because his predecessor was killed on a bike on Cheek Sparger. No details. Just bike and killed.

Cars Ahead Pass
This morning, I saw a line of three cars up ahead. Then I saw the bike guy, in his spandex uniform, riding between the RH tire track and the white line at the edge of the road. One by one, the cars in front of me passed him, as I watched in fascination; taking mental notes on the interactions. Two of the cars passed him by making a full lane change across the double yellow line (not legal in Texas). I wished my daughters were along so I could say “see, those motorists did it right.” The third one made a straddle pass, giving him about four feet of clearance. The bike guy, on the other hand, was more or less stuck on course, probably just kind of hoping he wouldn't get smacked and hoping his intended courtesy would be appreciated. By this time, we were nearing a rise that obscured whether or not traffic was approaching from the other side. I’ll confess that the thought ran through my mind that I would probably only need to go a bit over the line to give him three or four feet of clearance. Doing so would have saved me nearly a second of time. However, I fell back on training. DON’T PASS UNLESS YOU CAN SAFELY MAKE A FULL LANE CHANGE TO PASS, AND ALWAYS MAKE THAT FULL LANE CHANGE, NO MATTER WHERE THAT GUY IS IN THE LANE – OR SHOULDER. As a motorist, it is unwise to depend on a bike rider to clearly send that message, because mostly bike riders don’t. So I hung back, accepting the one second of delay, until I could see what was coming from the other side of the rise.

My Turn Comes
When I verified it was clear, actually passing bike guy was simple and low stress, and I felt no guilt about breaking the law by crossing across the double yellow line. Recalling my momentary notion of NOT making a full lane change, I wonder what bike guy was thinking – was he really ignorant that he was instilling conflicting thoughts in following motorists, or did he somehow think it was safe for someone to pass him without a lane change? Maybe he swallowed the "three feet please Kool Aid." Perhaps he needed to practice a little motoring to clarify things. Either way, it reaffirmed the sense of helping motorists clearly understand how to best pass on such roads. Motorists do not practice such things, and do not encounter cyclists on such roads often enough to become proficient. Uncertainty is NOT a good thing to reside in an overtaking motorist's mind.

Better Advice for Motorists
But that’s not all. In Bike League LCI educational material, the confusion is compounded by BAD ADVICE for motorists. It advises them to slow down when passing a cyclist. As I wrote to my LCI instructor, it would make me a little NERVOUS if a motorist slowed down as he/she passed, and would be physically impossible if that motorist had slowed to my speed BEFORE the pass. She agreed that particular advice might not be well considered. Sure enough, when I passed the guy on the bike, I accelerated smoothly while passing, so as to complete the pass quickly and safely; leaving the cyclist lots of clearance as I moved back into the line of travel. The principle was exactly the same as when passing any other slow moving vehicle, and is consistent with Driver’s Ed. Perhaps whoever wrote this Bike League advice for motorists ought to do a little motoring practice of his/her own. Or maybe retake Driver’s Ed. Better advice to motorists would be: "accelerate smoothly while passing, and make a full lane change to keep yourself and the cyclist safe."


Oldfool said...

I'm driving more now because I can't deal with the stress of being a target however because I ride a bicycle I find that my driving has changed a great deal.
One of the most annoying and noticeable things is checking the right shoulder before turning right. Annoying because I just checked it and I'm doing it again. Probably that is a good thing.
Another thing is I find I am paying a great deal more attention to the shoulder and what is going on there.
I did that when I drove a big truck because it was my bail out area but since getting away from that not so much.
I think I drive better because I bike.

Steve A said...

Oldfool wrote: "I think I drive better because I bike."

Steve responds: I KNOW I drive better because I bike. Autocrossing didn't hurt, either.

Keri said...

How bout, accelerate smoothly if you've already slowed. Slow down if you're going 70. Context is everything. I've been on rural roads where motorists passed me at very high speeds. Even with them making a lane change, I found that startling.

Chandra said...

I find noisy motor vehicles scary. I don't know if it is because I used to live in quasi-country in Missouri and the rash drivers always seemed to drive noisy pick-ups.

Even if I am driving my car, I find noisy vehicles scary actually, even though I know it is quite possible that it is irrational fear.

Peace :)

Steve A said...

Keri is precisely correct in that context is everything. I would not think that someone passing me on the Alliance Gateway Freeway ought to accelerate in order to do it. OTOH, I don't expect them to slow, either. As I recall, in my LCI inquiry, I used a term like "prompt fashion." Really; the motorist should pass the cyclist without delay or doing stuff likely to alarm or startle the cyclist. That does mean it isn't necessary to gun the engine repeatedly and lay on the horn. Too bad we don't have polite "passing on your left" warning recordings. It might cut down on horn usage, though that's been rare here lately.

Chuck Davis said...

Riding a bicycle in traffic *should* make that rider a "better" driver all other things being equal

Context or relative, the "slowing" down of some modest degree by a motorists prior to passing a bicyclist may/should (hopefully) serve to create an awareness on the part of the bicyclist that he/she is probably gonna get passed, which in my mind (in the role of the bicyclists)trumps (on occasion)getting the crap "sacred" out of me!

The driver then can get back up n. and prior speed and make the safe pass with both safely continuing their respective journeys

Chuck Davis, Tulsa

ChipSeal said...

Straddling the lane is illegal in Texas also:

Sec. 545.060. DRIVING ON ROADWAY LANED FOR TRAFFIC. (a) An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic:

(1) shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane;

(2) may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.

ChipSeal said...

... But then lots of thing that are illegal in Texas are never enforced, and some things that are legal are prosecuted as though they are.

whareagle said...

Good point, Chip, er, Reed! :)

Eliot Landrum said...

Great thoughts, Steve!

I'm always very careful not to "gun it" after passing a cyclist because I know that often comes off as intimidating behavior to the rider.

Anonymous said...

Steve, one of my most memorable experiences was driving SAG for the Houston to Austin MS 150.

I really learned how tough it is to "read" the cyclists especially when in a pack mentality.passing was a true nightmare and I found myself stressed when trying to get around hordes of cyclists. I was there to aid them but they put my life on the line by not yapping to let me in when cars came the other way on those small country lanes. It gave me a very different perspective on the whole "safety in packs" mindset of cyclists.

It made me a more courteous bicyclist in the long run. Thanks for you wit and energy! Gail

Anonymous said...

I meant to say gapping. Darn spell check changed it to yapping...which I am very good at....

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