Monday, October 7, 2013

Some balance

A lot of the time (it seems to me) I find myself telling cyclists to strike a balance, calling for respect for other road users and to remember that rights to the road come with responsibilities. The rule of thumb I often cite is "If you wouldn't do it in a car, don't do it on a bike." This is an easy reminder for not salmoning, hopping sidewalks, running lights, or otherwise "taking advantage" of the conveniences that seem so easily reached while on a bike. That's not what bikes are for: yes, they have the appearance of convenience and increased maneuverability, but responsible cycling does not allow for such nonsense.

Today, I'm turning that phrase on its head, and focusing on motorists. As I've said, there are multiple road users, and while I maintain that it is incumbent on cyclists to ride responsibly and predictably, the same is true for motorists and pedestrians. Today I say forget pedestrians and let's talk motorists (though it works for pedestrians, to an extent). The paraphrase: "If you wouldn't do it to a car, don't do it to a bike."

What does that mean?

To me, that means not making a right-hand turn in front of a bike stopping at a light in a traffic lane (as happened to me this morning). It means not squeezing by on the right in a single traffic lane to make a right turn (especially when there is no shoulder, like in a city, as happened to me this morning). For pedestrians, it would mean not crossing the street against the signal -- it would probably hurt less to get hit by a bike, but bikes are still part of traffic, still need a few feet of stopping distance, and ultimately it's illegal to cross against traffic. A lot of these things indicate selfishness, selfishness of time and perceived convenience.

There are a few other things I would like motorists to keep in mind when sharing the road with cyclists.

  • People can be startled, some pretty easily
    • a startled motorist may, at worst, swerve; cars don't fall over
    • a startled cyclist may swerve into passing traffic or fall over; this can be dangerous
  • When you honk, you honk at everyone
    • assuming horns carry over from maritime tradition, they are signals for docking and dark passage
    • horns in cars are for signaling your presence (in a one-lane tunnel, for example)
    • car horns may be the single most stressful stimulus for me as a city commuter, whether I'm on foot, in a car, or on a bike. Just stop freaking honking already, we get it. You have Important Places to be. 
  • Cyclists have pretty good situational awareness
    • drive predictably and follow the rules of the road
    • however well intentioned, don't honk as you overtake us, it's startling (we know you're there)
On point one, what startles me as a cyclist? Well, I was startled today by the driver who snuck up on my right between me and the curb to make a right turn onto a street. I didn't expect him there: this goes to predictability. Yelling or honking is startling. Anything unexpected is startling. We expect there to be cars and vehicular traffic, we expect there to be pedestrians. We expect to be treated as respected road users, so when things deviate from that expectation, we are startled. The sometimes open hostility towards cyclists in Atlanta makes me a little jumpy to begin with, so when additional, unpredictable (unexpected) behaviors occur, I am startled, making me less safe and more vulnerable. 

I think that about covers it. I guess the last thing is: don't park in or otherwise block the bike lanes, because screw you, that's why.


  1. "It means not squeezing by on the right in a single traffic lane to make a right turn (especially when there is no shoulder, like in a city, as happened to me this morning)." -- Cyclists do this *all the time*. I've literally never seen car do this, mostly due to physics (there's unlikely to be room on the right for a car to squeeze through). Yet I see cyclists all the time squeeze on the right to the front of the line. If there's not a bike lane, passing on the right is illegal and dangerous. It's odd to me that you single out motorists for what is primarily a transgression of cyclists.

  2. In my defense, I call out cyclists for filtering up in this manner. I don't do it, and most people that I ride with don't (and actively discourage it) as well. That is one of the behaviors captured by "if you wouldn't do it in a car..."