Tuesday, June 26

Watch for Tricky People on Bikes

Approaching Bellaire Elementary from the North. Today's Subject Passed Through the Intersection About Where the Middle Car Is
Nowadays, There's a Traffic Signal Instead of the Stop Signs. At Least He had a Green for THIS Intersection
In any given situation, the safety of someone on a bike depends on his or her actions and the actions of other road users. This morning, on my commute to work, there was a guy on a bike going southbound down Bellaire a bit north of Bellaire Elementary School. He was hugging the right edge where the gutter pan meets the traffic lanes. Before long, he sort of wandered across the street, more or less in the middle of the left turn lane as he went into the intersection at Bellaire. He proceeded to ride down the street; now headed south in the northbound lane. After a couple of blocks, he zipped up onto the sidewalk, still headed against traffic. He rode along the sidewalk at about 18MPH; almost as fast as I was going on the road. It was fascinating to watch his driveway/intersection crossing technique –keep the head straight and keep going. Any motorist, however diligent, coming from one of the side streets, would have had no chance to avoid him. Any pedestrian approaching from the side would have gotten smacked. After a couple of more blocks I was far enough ahead that the show came to an end. Not long after, I arrived at the red light at Highway 10.
The Red Light at Highway 10. Back When it was Dark When I Got There
Today's Scofflaw Was ANOTHER Guy on a Bike. He Crossed on the Left Sidewalk
and Swerved Through the Highway Traffic
For an encore, while I was waiting for the light to change, along comes “clueless wrong-way sidewalk rocket guy,” who shot through the red light off of his wrong-way sidewalk, across three lanes of traffic and a left turn lane, threading through oncoming westbound motorists on Highway 10 that were naively expecting that their green light meant “GO” instead of “watch for a person running the red on a bike.” Though I knew it was NOT a teachable moment, I couldn’t help myself and yelled “it’s a red light!” in his direction. I admit it, sometimes I forget you’re supposed to watch for people on bikes, not yell at them. This guy then proceeded to ride eastbound along for the better part of a half mile on the left side of the left lane of a highway with a 50MPH speed limit before swerving across three traffic lanes in order to hop onto a sidewalk off to the side of the road. Lots of eastbound motorists got to watch this tricky guy. They all avoided him – THIS time. Cycling really IS safe!

One popular explanation for “safety in numbers” promoted by Jacobsen and many advocates is that motorists watch for bikes better when there are more bikes. I’d like to propose an alternate reason since I don’t see how ANY amount of added motorist diligence would help this tricky bike guy. Isn’t it more likely that with added bikes on the road, people on bikes have more opportunities to observe and simply ride less dangerously? Wouldn’t that result in lower crash rates? Motorists are trained NOT to run into things they see. That’s true whether that object is a bike, a parked car, a pedestrian, or even stuff floating in the wind. West of Amarillo, I was amazed to see motorists swerving all over the road to avoid running into tumbleweeds blowing across the highway. I suppose it is POSSIBLE that they were watching for tumbleweeds because there WERE a lot of them blowing across the road, but I doubt it. Avoidance training runs deep and it kicked in for the Motorists on Highway 10 this morning. Simply put, if the fraction of bikes shooting through intersections going the wrong way drops dramatically, the fraction of people killed doing such things will also drop. Maybe if people doing dim bulb stuff get yelled at by many more cyclists, they'll catch on.
Heading North, This Morning, the Guy on the Bike Would Have Been Headed Straight Towards Me
Certainly my loyal reader can think of other reasons for improved safety with added numbers – “with more bikes, traffic engineers stop ignoring bikes” is a personal favorite, but reduced DANGEROUS behavior seems more reasonable than others getting better at anticipating and avoiding that DANGEROUS behavior.
My Track This Morning, With Bellaire off to my Right. Rocket Guy was Headed the Same Way Two Lanes Over to the Left


RANTWICK said...

Steve, you lost me on this one. How does more bikes help with the problem of bad cycling behaviour?

Because of more numerous examples of the right way, peer pressure if you will? Is that what you meant?

Steve A said...

I think peer pressure would apply.

Ham said...

On the subject of increased numbers of cyclists http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2012/07/hell-on-wheels/9008/

When numbers increase, then all types of riders increase and, possibly, the proportion of numpty riders decreases, although in sheer numbers they are increasing too.

Steve A said...

In the limit, if everyone rode a bike everywhere, after a year everyone would have at least a year of cycling experience. That alone would improve things. What is more, there would be no cars which would also improve things, at least as far as car/bike collisions. Police would be far more educated about truly dangerous bike behavior versus what looks dangerous to a motorist that doesn't really know cycling well. As today happens with motorists, cyclists beyond the pale would be quickly accosted and either set right or otherwise removed as a source of danger to others. Best of all, local governments could surplus many unneeded stop signs since pedestrians and cross traffic would be in far less danger from even mediocre bike riders than from mediocre SUV drivers.

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