These three encounters could have been executed in far safer and well thought out manners…
Category Archives: Commute
Giving Thanks: Mr Mercedes
Todays commute featured a moment worthy of praise. Many drivers do not remember their hand signals from the drivers exams, so while I use them, I am always leery of someone thinking that a left arm extended is an invitation to pass ( it is not, it is a left turn signal ). Needing to get into the left turn lane, I signaled, and this fine driver respected the signal, gave me space and then passed safely after I merged into the left turn lane.
Why Not Ride On The Right Line?
When you ride on the roads a lot, you learn that lane positioning and movement directly impact driver behaviors around you. Unfortunately, no amount of prevention can overcome the oblivious driver, as evidenced by the frequency of rear end crashes that occur daily, not just involving bikes. Sometimes it is interesting to see just what it is like to ride the white line as so many drivers think they want.
In the video, this is one ride, 11 miles in the middle of October. There are no bike lanes to be in, and the rider is aggressively trying to ‘share the road’…
Do Our Streets Make Us Unhappy?
Quite an interesting OpEd in the Washington Post. Some of the numbers quoted in the piece are very specific to Washington DC, however, the averages around the country for metro cities in terms land use are pretty close to those. The number of non-car homes is much higher in DC than many cities (like Atlanta that lacks robust transit options).
One particular quote really stands out, and it is something that we are hearing more and more from city planners, both large and small:
“We’ve built an unsustainable transportation network that makes all of us feel isolated, vulnerable and embattled, no matter how we’re getting around.”
While even if we have rich and robust non-car support in our transportation budgets and spaces, many people will still opt to drive, but the path we are on makes driving the only viable option, and that just makes the problems worse.
Commuting By Bike
Riding the bike to work is always such an entertaining exercise. I enjoy the ride, and more often than not, I will ride the ‘main’ road. Today I did just that, and it was a good ride, a little muggy, but heh, it is Atlanta, in the spring on a day with thunderstorms in the forecast. Some days though, are just different. This morning was one of them, in that I have absolutely no idea where the north bound traffic went. Seriously, there was nothing. Not a single backed up light, the entire way in. It was simply blissful.
Of course, in Atlanta no ride is complete without someone yelling to get off the road. The funny thing? todays yeller was a young male in an early 2000’s Toyota, he was in the last car in a 5-6 vehicle line following an 18 wheel Pepsi delivery truck that I paused at a red light to give him a chance to get in front of me on the green light. Unfortunately, all of us were held up by a good 10-15 seconds by the gentleman in the green Chevy Sonic that just HAD to finish that text message before he could go. Anyways, the guy in the blue Toyota decided to tell me, the bike that he was passing, without issue as there was both space and no oncoming traffic, to “Get the hell off the road, roads are for cars!!!!”. Apparently, I am also gay because of the spandex. I should note, that I really don’t understand why this is supposed to be insulting, but hey, if it makes him feel better, whatever it takes man.
These are the moments that give me great entertainment.
Seriously, I’m getting yelled at, by a guy in a car, whose commute I impacted in absolutely no way. The guy in the Sonic created a far more immediate slow down and delay than I did, and yet I am the one that needs to get off the road?
As is my habit, I waved and gave him the Hang Loose sign. I do hope his day gets better. He certainly improved mine by starting the morning with a good chuckle..
Rough Commute This Morning
I admit it. Rarely do I actually get annoyed enough to throw ‘the one fingered salute’. This morning, it happened three times, on one road, all within the space of about one mile. It was a morning commute, but instead of being in commuter gear, I was in training gear, and moving at a training pace. What does that mean? It means, I wasn’t poking along.
The route this morning was selected because of the timing, my normal route up Highway 9 would have put me in the middle of the Midway Elementary School traffic at Post Rd. as a rule, those are situations that I will avoid because they create stress points for car drivers. Oddly, that stretch of road is plenty wide, and even though it is a 45 mph speed limit, I’ve had almost no negative interactions until the actual light, and the 500 feet from the light to the far end of the school. In that school space, there have been quite a few right hook attempts but that is more or less to be expected. In the interests of not going through there this morning, I elected a back road route that is far less traveled. A route that I was traveling against the flow of rush hour traffic.
So I chose to loop out to Union Hill Rd and come across Shiloh Rd back to Highway 9 well north of the school. You know, doing exactly what drivers say they want cyclists to do. Be courteous, share the road and use roads that aren’t so busy, and fast. So I find myself on Shiloh Rd headed west towards Majors Rd and Highway 9. The speed limit is 30 mph. As you can see from the above recording, I crossed that road at a speed of 21 mph average, with the first speed dip coming at a location where I slipped out of the way to allow two following cars to go around, and the second longer dip where I sat up and soft pedaled the accel/decel lane by the church to allow the two cars to pass there.
Unfortunately, the sections where I didn’t have space to give up, is where the proverbial feces hits the air moving devices that uses spinning blades. Shortly after entering this tight section of road, I was buzzed, and I do mean that in the closest sense of the word, by three vehicles in fairly quick succession. First was a white Chevy truck, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to slow down to near the speed limit, since I was moving at about 25 mph at that point, and wait until the oncoming traffic cleared. At least he had the courtesy not to smoke me out with his diesel until he had completed the pass. I only had to ride it as it was dispersing. Following him was the young female driver in her wine colored Kia mini-SUV. She gets the epic fail, since she was close enough that I felt the passenger side mirror blow past my shoulder. Finally, we had the dark green Oldsmobile. I don’t have a clue what this driver was thinking, since they started to give room, but then decided not to since there was oncoming traffic. Instead of hitting the brake and slowing, this driver seems to think crowding me and oncoming traffic would be a good idea.
Sadly, that last actually terrifies me. The other two, I can deal with, though the frustrate me, and my salute might have been an overreaction, this crowding both approach creates so many risks, and I saw one of them today. The oncoming driver, feeling crowded, dropped the wheels off the edge of the road, at speed, and twitched back into the lane. The two cars passed each other so close they could have swapped paint. It is a situation that leaves me feeling more vulnerable than any other. I can avoid most issues, but this one, I can’t once the driver has made this choice.
The only thing I could have done, was before the incident, I could have removed that option from the drivers menu of choices. In hindsight, on this section of road, I have no choice but to adopt a vehicular cycling lane position, and force the driver to leave the lane to get around me, or to run me over. My innate southern courtesy screams at me that this is rude, and I should be giving up the lane, but my safety dictates that safety wins over courtesy.
Even further though, this is just another example of where doing what drivers think they want cyclists to do actually creates more risks than cyclists behaving like they are cars.
Shopping – Road Holland
We here at the OGRE HQ ( otherwise known as the Swamp ), have a strong bias towards shopping local, shopping small, and shopping made in USA. It is hard to do all of the above these days, but with care, you can usually hit 1 or 2 out of the 3. In addition, we like to add a 4th category, and that is shop with quality people.
Today we are profiling a small apparel vendor from the Palm Beach area of Florida. They are sorta local, though they do not currently have any retail dealers in the Atlanta area (though they do have a small collection of dealers around the world). In addition, they hit the Made in USA category pretty well, with their fabrication being done in the US. Keep in mind, sourcing the fabrics is mostly likely from overseas, the assembly is on shore, so they earn the Made in America badge.
What makes them different is a philosophy. Road Holland is trying to create cycling gear that is not overly loud and garish, while hitting the high points that serious cyclists want and need. The mission is to create cycling kits that didn’t look absurd. Looking at the product on the website, they certainly hit the sweet spot on creating something that looks nice.
We decided to give them a try, despite knowing no one who had done so yet. Ordered a Carolina Blue Hilversum, a lightweight full zip jersey with a club fit with the idea that it would be a great commuter and club ride jersey for the summer and early fall rides. The online ordering process was pretty generic, but worked well. The email confirmation is a little on the simple but effective side, which I for one love. Spend the money and time on the products. Shipping was prompt and the product arrived in just a couple of days.
Keep in mind, this is not a cheap jersey at $100+, so we had certain expectations.
Upon arrival, the jersey came out of the packaging and looked exactly as represented, which is a great start. The fabric itself has an interesting feel. It is not like so many of the current jerseys with a super tight weave of elastane and lycra moisture wicking fabrics. In terms of texture, it actually feels more like a high end polo shirt than a cycling jersey. This is not a bad thing, and when you put it on, it looks sharp, and fits very true to size, with a slightly athletic cut. If you carry a little weight around the middle, you might want to size up. The real test though, is getting out on the bike with it.
We wanted to hold off on writing about the product until we had several rides in the hot and damp summer heat. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t terribly cooperative the first couple of weeks so it took longer than expected to get some weather appropriate for testing out new gear. While I am happy to get out and ride in the rain, I generally prefer not to test out new gear in the rain until I’ve seen how it holds up in good conditions.
Riding in the Hilversum proved to be an interesting experience, for unexpected reasons. First, for as heavy as the fabric feels, it is far from warm. During a 65 degree morning commute, it can get a little chilly at speeds over 25 mph. The fabric does a great job of leaving just enough moisture on the skin to cool in a hurry. The afternoon rides in 95+ degrees offered another interesting experience. The runners in the crowd will understand this one. The fabric itself has a slightly abrasive and gritty texture to it. This is fine most of the time, but when you get into the 95+ temperatures and you start sweating faster than the air is evaporating it, the wet fabric turns to sandpaper. This doesn’t bother some people, but for others, like myself, nipple chafing can become an issue. For running, I often use compression tops as a base layer for this very reason.
This is not a deal breaker, and honestly with the excellent design, best pockets in the business and hitting so many of my other criteria, the one negative really doesn’t create a huge challenge on the bike. The reason? Bib shorts. The first couple of rides just happen to be days when I wore traditional shorts. Subsequent rides with bibs and the chafing issues simply go away, as the bibs protect the sensitive areas. In addition, I suspect that a slight tighter fit would ease the problem as well.
Are there things I would like to see improved? sure, but understanding the size of the company and the costs associated with them, well, I think that Road Holland has a product that is a good value for the price, and a service level that exceeds expectations.
So at the end of the day, I can see adding a fall and winter jersey to the collection from Road Holland, and I have enough confidence in the brand that I will look to pick up a pair of their excellent looking bib shorts in the coming months.
Thinking Outside the Box
In an interesting experiment, I tried something today. Rode the exact same route, the same bike, even the same kit to work. The experiment? I added something simple, a backpack. All of the sudden, instead of some feckless bike snob, I am a commuter, and the way I am treated on the road changes. People give a little more space. I suspect this speaks to some deeply rooted psyche issues in the American commuter, but it does raise an interesting question.
Does the appearance of a lycra clad cyclist imply a different usage that justifies a different behavior?
There is an interesting thought, and I wonder if it plays into the success of bike lanes and the success of the city bikes programs around the country. Bikes, and cyclists that don’t look like pure fitness usage do not create the conflict that the lycra wearing road cyclist do. Is this related to the idea that cyclists are law breakers, and hooligans? I don’t know, I am thinking out loud here, but if this is the case, is it something we need to talk more about?
Riding on the Road / Interacting with Traffic
Sharing the Road
I am a big fan of any method of educating drivers about how to interact with bikes on the road. Unfortunately, education is not only a two way street, it will never overcome the root of the problems that exist when cars and cyclists are sharing infrastructure that has become increasingly focused on moving cars through at the expense of every other legal road usage. Unlike many cyclists, I don’t really like this, but I understand it, and while I continue to lobby and advocate bike infrastructure, I am also in the camp that says to the cyclists, deal with it, respect the cars and get on with it. That is what this article is about, not about making the cars share the roads with us, but instead, it is how we as cyclists can responsibly share the road with the cars that surround us.
Keep in mind, what follows is purely opinion based upon years of cycling, not quite as many years driving and even fewer years motorcycling in and around the southeastern US. Take this with whatever amount of salt you need. That said, I have started and stopped this post probably a dozen times in the last two years, because I know just how contentious this subject can get. So, let’s get into this, and have some fun.
Playing with a Deck Stacked Against You
If you have been in the cycling community for any period of time, you have already seen the arguments amongst cyclists. There are the cyclists that believe that all cyclists should do everything in their power to make the cars comfortable and make it easy for the cars to deal with bikes on the roads. The polar opposite group lives by the rules that they have the right to the road and by god, they are going to take that right, possibly to their grave. There are various sub groups that sit in between these two extremes, but for the most part they gravitate towards an end of the spectrum, with not much in the middle.
At either end of the spectrum, and at the various points in between, there is a premise that how drivers react towards cyclists is in some way dictated by our actions towards them. That premise assumes that there is a rational and conscious thought about the behavior of a cyclist on the roads, and that may well be an invalid assumption. Consider a different assumption. Consider that the average driver will slow to a near stop and proceed with caution around a dog, deer, duck or turtle in the road, but when it comes to a cyclist, there is annoyance, and a different set of choices. Some drivers will slow to the bikes pace and wait for a safe pass, some will be terrified and refuse to pass, others will make a reckless pass, and still others will never even slow down, perhaps not even consciously registering the presence of the bike. This might lead you to think that many drivers view cyclists lives as having less value than a turtle. I do not think this is the case at all.
What might this behavior indicate? perhaps, it plays into the subconscious nature. Cyclists are seen as ‘intelligent creatures’ capable of making rational decisions. The choice to ride a bike on a road seems so stupid to many drivers that they rationalize away the value of that life because that cyclist is an idiot. Only at that point do our behaviors impact the thought process, with only the negative actions being retained in order to support the classification, and dehumanization of cyclists as ‘idiots’.
Looking at it objectively, for most drivers, a road is about a car or truck. Our culture reinforces this thought process. Suburban sprawl has simply dictated that for many people you cannot ‘go anywhere without a car’. It has reached such a deeply rooted idea that a car is now deemed a necessity for many people. They cannot fathom life without getting in the car to go anywhere. Our laws had been evolving towards that idea as well, but recent changes are supporting more alternative means of transportation.
That said, the deck remains stacked against alternative transportation options, and since cycling is still viewed as a primarily recreational activity, any cyclist on the roads wearing any type of cycling gear is automatically deemed to be doing for recreation. How stacked is that deck? Cyclists already know the answer, but it boils down to enforcement. Legally we have all sorts of rights on the roads, but without enforcement, those legal rights amount to nothing but lip service.
Being Right Does Not Trump Injured or Dead
I see a lot of cyclists out on the road, riding with a chip on the shoulder about what rights they have under the law. In most of the US, cyclists have a lot of rights on the roads. We have the right to the lane, we have the right to ride two abreast, we have the right to 3 feet of space from any vehicle passing us. As far as the law is concerned, we are vehicles and that confers every right of the road to us that a car has, in addition the ones above that are specifically granted to us as cyclists. There are some other rights that we specifically lose, like riding on the sidewalks (a bad idea anyways), but so be it. We have these rights, which is great, but in the spirit of sharing the road, sometimes we need to shelve our rights in favor of sharing. Just because you can ride two abreast doesn’t mean you should do it anytime it strikes your fancy. Just because you have the right to the lane doesn’t mean that you can’t share the road and let cars pass when there is space, and a safe. When cyclists fail to share the road, it is often argued that we escalate the issue. We expect the cars to share with us, we need to return the favor.
At least that is one version. You will hear it from both cyclists and drivers, and it resonates with both at a rational level. The question is, does it translate out on the road. The flip-side argument is that if you are NOT sharing the road, you make it far more difficult to be passed in a dangerous manner, far more difficult for most of the common bicycle/vehicle interactions to take place.
This is a very complex issue. One that warrants a deeper discussion, and presentation. It is easy to speak in generalities, but a graphic illustration of the issues may offer more insight.
In this image, you see an intersection that is a fairly common layout. We have travel lanes, two in each direction. We have turn lanes for both right and left turns in both directions. We have no bike specific infrastructure in place. Why are we looking at this intersection? because it provides us with an excellent opportunity to examine the realities of our rights, versus our safety and perhaps form a better understanding for what constitutes a best practice.
In the picture, you see a yellow circle that represents the most commonly advocated position for a bicycle. It fits the “As Far Right As Possible” positioning. It is out of the flow of traffic, and is the epitome of sharing the road from the car perspective. In this position, you are out of the way, and pose the least immediate risk to the car. In the picture, you will also see a red circle that represents the opposition positioning. This positioning places you not only in the lane, but directly in the line of sight for a driver. Some refer to this as Vehicular Cycling, and believe it represents the safest place to be. Due some vague wording in bicycle law in most states, there is a case for this being within the letter of the law, however, not many law enforcement agencies will support this opinion. The orange circle in the picture represents the compromise location, as it sits to the right, but remains in the lane of travel. So, let us look at each individual position and understand the pro and con of each.
Vehicular Cycling Position ( Red Circle )
The obvious pro is visibility. The other big benefit of this location is that it discourages another vehicle from passing the cyclist in the same lane. The biggest drawback is that it places the rider truly in traffic and of all the places to be on the road, it is the one that irritates drivers the most, and is best practiced on roads where there is an additional lane for passing as is shown here.
FRAP Cycling Position ( Yellow Circle )
Well out of the way, this is most often presented as the safest place to be. Clearly out of the flow of traffic, and out of the lane itself, this positioning creates a sense of safety. The unfortunate con here is that the sense of safety for both driver and cyclist is probably a false sense of safety. There are a couple of reasons. The cyclist is now in a section of pavement that is usually littered with hazards. Gravel, glass, nails, sand, and any other bit of detritus that finds its way onto the road surface and then blown to the edge by the passage of the cars. Then there is the out of sight, out of mind phenonmena.
Compromise Position ( Orange Circle )
While still in the lane, the cyclist is far enough right that a driver can pass with prudence, while still having room to escape left or right. Visisbility is not as good as the Vehicular Cycling placement, the overall location provides many benefits.
Look again at the picture, and consider what happens in the coming 100 feet of road. Presume that the cyclist is travelling straight through the intersection. A car is approaching the intersection in conjunction with the cyclist, and consider how the two vehicles will interact.
The Right Hook
One of the most common interactions between bike and car is the dreaded right hook. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is when a car passes a cyclist on the left, only to immediately turn right in front of the cyclist. It is a lethal combination, because the driver typically underestimates the velocity of the bicycle, overestimates the speed they will take the turn, and because they are now blind to the impact, all to often the cyclist ends up under the rear wheels. In the yellow FRAP position, this is an impossible to avoid likelyhood. Drivers simply aren’t conditioned to check the right side of the vehicle when turning right, and by not being in the travel lane, the driver did not have to move out to go around, further reducing the awareness of that cyclist being there in the blind spot. In the red Vehicular Cycling position the driver has had to go around the cyclist on the left, and because of the need to fully change lanes, most drivers will avoid that. The danger here is the undertake on the right, which is probably safer than the alternative. The orange Compromise position still allows for the right hook, but forces the driver to move around the cyclist increasing awareness, and reducing the likelihood. It still happens, but less often.
The Left Cross
The other common interaction here is the Left Cross. When an oncoming vehicle makes a left turn in front of a cyclist at a cross road. In this instance, at the signal. If a cyclists maintains the aforementioned road positions, the yellow FRAP position is quite simply not in the area of the road that driver expects to see a traffic threat, and is easily overlooked. At least with the other two positions, the cyclists is in an expected lane of travel and has a reasonable expectation of being seen. People may still misjudge speed, or fail to actually see what they look at, but that is the same threat these drivers present to other cars too.
This one happens when cars pass from behind, and I think the lane positions speak for themselves as to the pros and cons of each in this interaction.
What about the other cases though? When a cyclist need to turn left at the light, how do lane positions impact that? What is the safest manner to procceed? These are a deeper discussion still. One that can be discussed in another post.
What is the best lane position?
So this is the big crux and question, where should you ride on the road. The answer is, where you feel the most comfortable and safest, because in the end, where you are positioned is a distant second in terms of safety on the roads. The most important aspect of riding safely on the roads has every thing to do with How you ride on the roads. The key is to ride predictably, and your choice of positioning may be dictated by that. It is hard to be predictable when riding in the edges of the road where shoulders and debris make a consistant line impossible, so that may dictate road placement. Moving in and out of the lane can have some of the same impact.
Let me go on a tangent. Predictability is about communication. Since we cannot talk or shout our intentions, we have to telegraph our intent through body and hand signals. While hand signals are common, they are also not understood very well by those who don’t use them. Perhaps when we are making a move we want a car to see, we exaggerate it. I will commonly sit up, and flip the bike dramatically out of the lane to signal to a driver that I want them to pass me, so that I can the safely reenter the lane when it is safe to do so.
Is there a consensus best practice? no. Cyclists have been, and will continue to argue this forever. Legally, there is not a clear answer, so it is on us to choose a position. My argument, is that the safest place to be is in the compromise position, and to ride predictably there. Popping in and out of the lane often may give the drivers the illusion that you are giving them safe spaces to pass, but all you are doing is making them hope they can predict your movements. Vehicular cycling puts you too far away from your escape vectors when someone just can’t figure it out. That means, in order to meet the goals of being visible, predictable and escapable, we have to find a predictable line in the right hand third of the lane without hugging the shoulder and fighting with the hazards that exist there, so in the above picture, where would I ride? Orange circle every single time.
Being aware of the traffic around you is to your benefit, and mirrors may help you. I don’t use them, I prefer to turn my head as it is more obvious to a driver that I am looking and aware of them. That also means headphones and on the road cycling are a serious non starter. Our ears are our second best tools for road awareness. Plugging them with music dramatically reduces our ability to hear what is coming from behind us. That presumes we are listening though. Cameras, however are great items, less for times during the ride, but all about the close calls. You can use that video evidence to report them, or you can simply publicly shame them on Youtube. Your choice. I generally choose to do neither unless it is a case of exceptional stupidity.