A Social Distanced Real World 5k and 5 miler

Let’s do this. Like most runners who enjoy race day, this year has been tough. Few races, and even the ones that have gone on have been uncomfortable. And virtual races have been fun, but just a different vibe and feel. Then some friends put this together, and well, it’s the best of both worlds for me. Everyone is racing on the same course. We are being timed by the same system. But we get to do it within a time frame, and have real results.

Game On.

Even better is that it is a course many area athletes have trained on, but never actually raced on.

So. Columns Drive, here we come. Register and get your race on with me.

https://www.5atcolumnsdrive.run/

I’ll be doing both the 5k and the 5 miler on different days. I’m slow, so show me how slow I really am.

How to Pass Bikes

Despite being a cyclist, and outspoken cycling advocate, I really do understand the challenges, both real and emotional that drivers are faced with when approaching a cyclist or a group of them and feeling the need to pass. Today, in a conversation about a close encounter, I was asked to provide a bit of information about how to do this.

I apologize in advance, because this is not a short answer :(. I am going to tackle this from two directions, first, we will look at the “letter of the law” answer, and then we will circle back to a, perhaps, more pragmatic answer that I think suits everyone involved a little better, even if it is not an answer that makes anyone ‘happy’.
I guess a little background is required here. Georgia bicyclists generally have the same rights, and same duties, as drivers of motor vehicles, with certain specified exceptions. In addition, Bicycles are to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when (1) turning left, (2) avoiding hazards to safe cycling, (3) the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle, (4) traveling the same speed as traffic (5) passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, or (6) there is a right turn only lane and the person riding the bicycle is not turning right. People on bicycles must ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic. People over the age of 12 are not legally permitted to ride on the sidewalk. Bike lanes are for the exclusive use of Georgia bicyclists, but a person on a bicycle is not required to use the bike lane unless required to do so by a local governing authority. Where a bicycle lane is provided on the roadway, the operator of a motor vehicle shall yield to a person operating a bicycle in a bicycle lane. The operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a “safe distance” between the motor vehicle and the bicycle. “Safe Distance” is defined by law as meaning not less than three (3) feet. It is worth noting that the text of that law makes no distinction between a bike in the lane and a bike in a bike lane. 3 feet of space is required in either case. Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast on the road.

As a side note, there is no requirement for single file in Georgia law, and though many people think single file should be required, it really is not a good idea.

Letter of the Law

Georgia law is actually pretty clear on how bicycles should use the road, as demonstrated above. It boils down to keep right, ride no more than two abreast and follow basic road rules.

Passing a cyclist or a group, is a little less clear. What the law states is that 3′ feet is the minimum space to give when passing, more is advised. In addition, though it takes looking at 2 additional GA motor vehicle statutes to determine this, it is in fact legal to pass bikes on a double yellow, with certain restrictions. First, in so doing the driver absorbs ALL of the liability of a crash caused by their actions. What this means is that if there is not visibility to allow time for the pass to be completed before being within 200 feet of an oncoming car, it is not legal. In addition, the same as any other pass, you must not exceed the speed limit, or engage in reckless practices to accomplish the pass. Second, at no time during the pass may you be within 3 foot of any rider you are passing.

What does this mean in application? well, it means that in order to execute a legal pass, a driver must:

* make sure the passing space is clear.
* signal intent to change lanes.
* accelerate to passing speed without exceeding the speed limit.
* change lanes, providing AT LEAST 3 feet to all of the bicycles to be passed.
* return to the travel lane before being within 200 feet of oncoming traffic.

That is the process following the letter of the law, and in the case of some of these roads, an impossible task.

Pragmatic Approach to Passing

Alright, so we’ve pointed out the letter of the law, and I think we all understand that it is inconvenient, because slowing down, and traveling at the 15-30mph the bikes are traveling is bloody inconvenient.

So, let’s be pragmatic, and discuss a few things surrounding how to pass, and why cyclists do what they do. Let us start with something that I find to be one of the biggest bones of contention, and by far the most misunderstood behavior on both sides. Riding double file, and taking the lane. As a driver, seeing those bikes side by side is frustrating, because they are taking up so much of the road. When there is a group of them, depth perception tricks make it look like they are 3-4 wide, and they are making it harder to pass. At least that is the perception.

Perception is not reality here though. There are two dynamics in play here, and both are perceptual problems because what a driver ‘thinks’, and what is ‘true’ are disconnected. Why? because a driver perceives the bikes as standing still, rather than moving, and thus misjudges the distances travelled, and compounding matters, in a single file situation, they will see a space that doesn’t actually exist to pass in.

I am sorry but we are going to take a step to the left here and do a bit of math.

The average width of a cyclist is ~30 inches (2.5 feet).
The average width of a vehicle in America is 8 feet. The narrowest car on the roads, the US market SMART ForTwo is almost 6 feet mirror to mirror.
The width of a lane on many of the surface streets of north Fulton? 10.5 feet.

So, the average car at 8 feet, the average rider at 2.5 feet, a minimum 3 foot buffer between them, and another 1.5 feet of safe space from the right edge of the road. Well, 15 feet well exceeds the lane width of 10.5 feet. What this means is that even single file, it is impossible for a bike and a car to legally share a lane in a passing situation. A car MUST depart the lane to legally pass a bike.

Once we wrap our heads around that, all of this gets easier, because now we understand that the goal is to be across the center line for the shortest amount of time, so we also want the line of bicycles to be the shortest possible. And that means, double file, which cuts the length of the line in half ( each bike is 6 feet long, with a bit of padding ), and subsequently reduce the time and distance required to pass by about 30% ( it fluctuates on number of bikes, but that’s a safe rough number), and having to go fully into the other lane, versus partly into the other lane is irrelevant, because either way, you are pushing oncoming traffic into a panic situation if you are not prudent about it.

So, the pragmatic approach?

* slow down and wait for a safe opening.
* signal intent to change lanes / pass
* accelerate to no more than 10mph over the posted limits.
* change lanes, providing AT LEAST 3 feet to all of the bicycles to be passed.
* return to the travel lane before being within 200 feet of oncoming traffic.

Note how similar the two are? the difference is your expectations of the cyclists, and understanding that they are not ‘being jerks’ riding two abreast but are in fact trying to make it easier and safer for you to pass.

Notes of Caution

In both cases, there are some things to think about that are MAJOR contributors to bike/car crashes. If you are within .5 miles of your next turn. Do not pass, and then brake and turn into the path of cyclists ( this is known as a “right hook” and accounts for 25% of all bike/car crashes, and an even higher rate for pedestrians ). When approaching an intersection, do not pass going into the intersection as you will be ‘brake checking’ the cyclists you just passed. Round-a-bouts. Do NOT pass late into a round-a-bout. Even if you are driving a Ferrari, you cannot transit a round-a-bout faster than a bike at speed. This is a new enough phenomena with wide installation of round-a-bouts in the US that the data is not there yet, but anecdotally these numbers are rising fast.

Cyclists Helping Out

Many groups WILL single file, and use any shoulder space available to make passing easier when opportunities present. Many will use bike lanes for the same reasons. Many will try to give slowed traffic opportunities to get around at stop signs and other points along a ride.

Examples

Hardscrabble Rd from King to Etris.

This is a bit of road that is seeing more and more usage by bikes in the area. Many used King Rd to Cox Rd in the past, however the addition of the bike lanes on Hardscrabble has redirected much of the traffic. Many of the groups traversing this stretch of road are traveling far faster than the typical driver realizes ( as an example, the “slow” group on Monday nights traverses this at upwards of 22mph, with the “fast” groups at 28-30mph ). They are however traveling single file with the exception of the round-a-bout at Chaffin, and taking the lane to turn left onto Etris Rd.

Mayfield Rd from Charlotte Dr to Canton St

This section of road is in extremely bad condition from Charlotte to Bethany Rd. Bikes cannot safely use the far right of the road. There is poor visibility from the uphill before Freemanville Rd until the new round a bout at Bethany Rd. There is no safe place to pass, though we see it happen often. In nearly every case, the bikes will arrive at the Bethany Rd intersection at the same time as the vehicle that passed them. After Bethany Rd, there is a bike lane, and the lane width goes from 10.5 to 11 feet, with good visibility, thus passing is rarely an issue.

Conclusions

The biggest challenge in this discussion is the mistaken belief that a car ‘has’ to pass the bikes and that the pass will somehow save travel time. The sad truth is that the savings is measured in seconds, at best.

To give one last example: my commute to/from work is 11 miles, against the flow of traffic. It takes an average of 36 minutes door to door via car. It takes an average of 40 minutes via bike. I regularly see cars that ‘pass’ me at the stop lights immediately following the pass. The gains are so negligible that they are statistically irrelevant. The only places the passes make sense are exactly where they are legal and advisable, open stretches of road, with good visibility.

Closing

I apologize a bit for the wall of text, but I wanted to give as much detail as possible, knowing full well, that for the most part it is not what drivers really want to hear. There is no great answer here in a car centric world. I can only ask that people actually look at the time the real average speeds they travel, not the speeds they think, and realize just how little slowing down behind a bike or group for bikes really matters.

Non-Car in a COVID-19 World

There has been a lot of discussion as to what is ‘safe’ in terms of outdoor exercise and transportation over the last few weeks with the implied threat of COVID-19 infections.

Unfortunately, early on in the onslaught of information, there was a lot of poorly done ‘research’ into the subject of how the disease was being spread, and people with little grounding in infectious diseases and epidemiology jumped into the fray adding noise to the signal. The result is that there remains a lot of misunderstanding about the risks of riding, running and walking outdoors during this time.

Now we are finally beginning to get some fairly balanced information from multiple sources that indicate a very different reality. One that is telling us that we need to stay active both for our health, and for our ability to combat the virus if/when we are infected. What we are also discovering is that running, walking and cycling, while practicing social distancing are good options, for both transportation and fitness.

Why you’re unlikely to get the coronavirus from runners or cyclists (Vox.com)

One of the aspects of all of this that is going to be a challenge as we reopen the world is a new dynamic. Public transportation, like busses and heavy rail are going to problematic. Ride sharing solutions like Uber and Lyft are also facing harsh new realities. Individual personal light transportation platforms are poised for a huge surge. That means bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboard, and many other options are suddenly rising to the forefront of both fitness and transportation worlds.

To such a degree, that the World Health Organization has made statements directly addressing this with an announcement that cycling is encouraged, both as transport and as a way of staying healthy during the global crisis.

In a statement the organisation said: “While cities around the world are introducing a broad range of measures to limit physical contacts to prevent and slow down the COVID-19 pandemic, many people might still have a need to move around cities to reach their workplaces when possible, meet essential daily needs or provide assistance to vulnerable people”

“Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking: this provides physical distancing while helping to meet the minimum requirement for daily physical activity, which may be more difficult due to increased teleworking, and limited access to sport and other recreational activities.”

Most of the United States infrastructure is ill equipped to handle this new reality, with few non-car transportation, non-public transit corridors. It will be important for cities and communities to quickly embrace this new reality, with short and long term plans to deal with the slow return of cars to the roadways mixed in with the broad reemergence of other non-car transpotation models.

Gravel Tires vs Road Tires?

With the cooler temps, and more rides in the dark, many of area riders have switched to gravel bikes and gravel tires deal with conditions. What is the impact on the speeds and effort levels of those tires. Well, back in June, GCN did a really good video comparing the two tires on the same bike…

https://youtu.be/TCrL7yHPMqo

Some really good information in there.

Wednesday W’Intervals are go

Tonight’s Interval session is a go. Weather looks to be holding off until tomorrow, and the temps should be a bit warmer than the last couple of weeks. This week will be the 8 interval session, but we will add the Morris Rd Sprint as a 9th optional interval. No route change is needed, we just have not been sprinting that one.

Next week we will extend to a 3rd lap, making it 12 intervals for those that want a little ‘more’, but that will be optional for those that don’t want the extra oomph.

Moanday Rides are Go

5:15PM 1st lap is not recovery. This will be a fast paced group, and while we try not to drop people, it may happen unintentionally at times with the high pace, and the usual folks that like to sweep hitting it hard on the front.

6:45PM lap IS recovery. There are usually 2 groups. Front group will be quick, but the back group is truly recovery pace and will make every effort to not drop anyone.

Thoughts From The Saddle: Driving is Hard

When you ride a bike a lot, you get a very different view of the road, and drivers. Early in learning to ride on the roads, it is easy to conclude that drivers are actively trying to hurt you. It is only after many miles, many hours, and time to contemplate their actions that you begin to understand that the issue is not that they are out to get you, but instead that complacency, convenience and comfort have led drivers to forget one simple thing.

Driving is Hard.

The act of driving a car is a complex task that engages many skills into a single act. Just consider the skills required to control a car. Steering, controlling the speed via 2 pedals (maybe a third). Many people cannot rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time, but we are asking them to steer and control a throttle and brake at the same time. But no, it is more than that, because now that they are moving, the task also means monitoring multiple outside factors, like lane markings, road signage, road conditions, other road users, things that are not in the roadway that MAY constitute a problem. Still we aren’t done, because all of this has to be done while still maintaining the operation within a set of rules that we have applied to road usage, and avoiding other drivers that have momentary lapses.

All of that is a lot to manage. That is an enormous amount of bandwidth and compute power. These are the reasons that computers and automated cars are not yet viable, the sensors, machine learning, bandwidth and compute power just have not reached that level yet, and it may be years before we see true automation that can replace a human outside of controlled environments.

Yet, somewhere along the way we forgot that driving is a complex task, one that requires our full attention. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we can drive while doing other things. Somehow, we have forgotten that the faster we travel the less time we have to process and make decisions.

Maybe, it is time to change the message. It is not drunk driving, it is not texting while driving, it is not distracted driving that increase the risks. It is just the act of driving itself, and everything else just makes a hard job that much harder.

How do you make a hard job easier? slow down, pay attention to details, and don’t let the distractions place you at greater risk.