Friday, July 22

Another Bike Lie

“In conflict between a bike and a car, the car always wins.”

I’m sure my loyal reader has seen similar comments. Sometimes they’re in newspaper articles, put there either by the writer or someone being interviewed. Sometimes they show up in the troll comments. It seems pretty obvious that if this were really some sort of “fight,” that’d be self evident.

Looking East at the Oncoming Traffic on Highway 10 From the Left-Turn Lane
However, traffic is NOT a fight. In the real world, everyone in traffic, or even simply walking alongside the road, is trying to get where they want to go without a lot of fuss and definitely without any muss. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I encountered multiple conflicts, all on the same day with motorists. Now before anyone gets concerned, none of these conflicts really rose to the level of actual drama, much less death defying situations. No motorists or cyclists were harmed or even scared in the making of this post. It’s merely that it is rare to encounter a real motorist/cyclist conflict on my route, much less more than one on a single day. If I'd have thought about it, I could have shouted out "honk honk" each time the point went to the cyclist but then Andy of Carbon Trace would be able to make snarky comments. At least in theory. But, as we know, in practice, theory and practice are different.

Is That Gap Big Enough? How Long Before the Next Gap? Life is FULL of Choices!
It all started on the way in to work. Riding down a local connector road, I saw a guy coming up to a four-way stop sign at the same time as me. I stopped. As for the guy on the bike, maybe he didn’t notice there was a stop sign that applied to him. Maybe he was simply clueless. Somewhat amazed, I momentarily forgot that such situations are NOT teachable moments and I yelled out “hey, there’s a stop sign there.” Well, it got me pondering things all the rest of the way to work, but since this was a “bike on bike” conflict, it didn’t relate to conflicts between bikes and cars and doesn't relate to whether bikes or cars win in a conflict, well, except for the asterisk, but we'll get to that later.

Returning home, this all changed. I’ll keep score as we go along. As my commutes go, this was 

The first conflict was when I made my left turn from Highway 10 onto a local collector road. Highway 10 is seven lanes wide, counting the left turn lane. Sometimes, in the afternoon, westbound traffic is heavy enough that I will make my turn with a smaller traffic gap than usual, or take advantage of the oncoming traffic positions in the various oncoming lanes. It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but yesterday was one of those days. A lady, chatting on a cell phone in the right lane lagged the other lane traffic and I began my turn, expecting to pass behind her, and well in front of other, following traffic. I was shocked to see her STOP! What’s more, she stopped right about where my turning path would have passed. Well, with a 50mph speed limit, you can imagine that the gap behind her started closing fairly quickly. Rather than do a waving thing, I adjusted course and passed behind her and then back to where the street entrance was. I didn’t want to be stuck in this. Score – cars 1, bikes 0 (I HATE IT, but the lady on the cell phone surprised me)

The second conflict occurred a couple of miles along. I was on Pipeline Road, waiting in the left turn lane, with my left arm hung out to signal my intent to turn onto another pleasant collector road once oncoming traffic cleared. Along came one of those “boy racer” cars who swept by and zoomed around me to make his left turn right behind me from the main traffic lane (I was eastbound, the driver was westbound). One point lost by tacky scofflaw behavior that could have been simply elegant. I would have simply gone to a different entry. Score – cars 1, bikes 1 (style DOES count!)

Not the REAL Scofflaw, but a Standin. I Was Waiting to Turn Left
Looking Back, You Can See Why the Motorist Who Zoomed Around Lost a Point - He Had Two Entrances to Choose From
The third conflict occurred when I was most of the way home. This involved another stop, with a motorist that forgot what the term “right of way” meant on her through street. I had to put my foot down and be prepared to simply wait. At this point, the motorist remembered there was other traffic coming up behind her and did what she should have done to start with. Score – cars 1, bikes 2*

Today, things were back to normal. Nothing much happened except the temperature was over 100F for the 21st day in a row to take over sole possession of the #5 all-time spot. The triple filtered ice water was very nice, as was the hot coffee. The sole jarring note was a guy on a recumbent bike that ran a red light immediately ahead of a motorist waiting for the light change. I saw it all as I came up from behind and I felt ashamed. Had the light not changed, I would have apologized to the motorist for the idiot on the recumbent, but it changed before I had the opportunity to chat with the motorist. Ignoring my own lesson once again, when I caught up, I could NOT resist the temptation to note “you know, there was a red light back there you ran!” Proving I’m not a COMPLETE idiot, I did not bother to wait for any kind of response because it was NOT a teachable moment. I did feel that the five seconds of delay this gesture cost me on the way home was five wasted seconds. Though maybe not - if ALL cyclists that ran stop signs or lights got yelled at by every cyclist that saw them, such idiocy might be less common through sheer repetition. I don't think motorists yelling has much of an effect other than to increase the sense of entitlement. Who knows? All I know is if I ever see that recumbent rider claiming to be in danger from motorists, someone will have to keep me from a violent act that would probably get me on the police bad list. In my book, someone that runs a stop light right in front of a waiting motorist is a much worse sinner than someone who blows a stop sign in front of an overcritical cyclist and no motorists are anywhere around. But that's just me.

* Of course, given the stop sign runner and the red light runner, the motorist would certainly have claimed to be simply acting in accord with what she expects out of people on bikes. It would have been UNREASONABLE to expect someone on a bike to actually follow traffic rules. SHE would have claimed that the final score should be a tie, with the third conflict resulting in no score. Fortunately for y'all I am the one writing THIS post. Expect a post on Idaho cycling traffic laws before long!


Justine Valinotti said...

The first conflict--with the lady with the cell phone--made me remember that we're not dealing so much with conflicts between bikes and cars as much as the fact that drivers' bad behavior can have a greater effect on cyclists than vice-versa. Now that I think of it, your second conflict illustrates that point, too.

I think you make another really good point: That our safety depends not only on educating motorists, but on cyclists educating each other. If nothing else, one cyclist is more likely to listen to another than a motorist is to listen to a cyclist (assuming, of course, the motorist is not also a cyclist.)

Steve A said...

Justine, I don't know that any of the three actually rise to the level of bad behavior. All three were simply cases where the "loser" could have easily made a wiser choice to avoid a traffic conflict. In the first choice, the cell phone probably influenced the driver to simply freeze, but I failed to control a situation I control every day. In my experience, cell phones do that to drivers, but you can't really count on it. Sure, I can't usually see for sure if an oncoming driver's got a cellphone stuck in her ear, but traffic is what it is and one either deals with it, or wishes things were perfect while living in fear. Survivors deal with it. I salute a fellow survivor.

GreenComotion said...

I see lots of roadies (yes, roadies) that run red lights, stop signs, over here in Valley Ranch. I heard one of them got fined a hefty sum for running a Stop sing or doing a group stop.

Cyclists not following the rules are a menace to other law abiding road users. Period! No ifs and buts!!

Peace :)

MAC is wack said...

Chandra, I completely agree. I am often passed by "roadies" blowing through 4-way stops on my morning commute. Even worse, they always pass on my right. But, as Steve noted, these situations are never teachable moments and so I mumble "On your left," to myself and ride grumpily for a few blocks.

Al Dimond said...

Riding a bike isn't about scoring points, it's about getting places. If recumbent rider said he was in danger from motorists on the road he'd be stating a flat fact. Visiting violence on someone for stating a fact would be a mark of true idiocy.

Steve A said...

Interesting perspective, Al.

Besides meaning the violence thing only figuratively, the only danger I observed recumbent boy in was the danger he placed himself in of being t boned as he ran the light and the danger he put us ALL in by furthering the impression in the motoring public that cyclists should not be allowed on the road with real traffic. I guess I'm a little less tolerant of that than some that wish to excuse unacceptable behavior. As for myself, I have been endangered more on the road in the last 2 years by cyclists than by motorists. Now THAT is a flat fact.

RANTWICK said...

Hey man, good post. As you may recall, I treat many Stop signs as yield signs. If there is no other vehicle, I will slow, look around hard, and continue. I never "blow through" any intersection, but sometimes I don't stop as required by law. I would be interested to know how you and other good cyclists feel about that...

Khal said...

Randwick, what's that old expression? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, is there a sound?

Doing things blatantly and stupidly are indeed in a class by themself.

Steve A said...

Khal's last sentence should be bronzed. Stay tuned for a different take on the question. It'll probably be new to Khal, too, which is hard for such a veteran cyclist.

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