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Bicycle Safety, Really What Would It Take?

Bikes and the safe operation of them on our roads is something that is incredibly important to me personally, but also to our world. The brutal truth is that while a car is not a requirement to live in most areas of the world, some form of distance transportation is. When it comes down to it, the bicycle is the most equitable and highest return on investment form of transportation available to us, regardless of where in the world we live. Most of the world grasps this, but in the highly ‘developed’ countries, where the car has supplanted the bicycle, the bicycle has been pushed off the roads, and into a cultural niche that becomes all about ‘sport’ or ‘fitness’ and no longer transportation, despite the statistical reality that the leading use of bicycles even in those countries is in fact transportation.

Yes, even in the United States, where a bicycle is seen as the domain of the lycra clad ‘Lance Armstrong Wannabe’ ‘taking up the road for sport’, the majority of bicycles and bike trips are still transportation. Our infrastructure, and cultural biases do not reflect that reality. So skewed is our perception that in the eyes of American Culture, the Full Size Truck with an average cost of more than $40,000 new is the symbol of the Working Class Man, but at $2,000 bicycle is the symbol of Bourgeois Excess, and the $500 bicycle is a Walmart Toy.

Because of this, our infrastructure has been shaped to our perception. Cars are given a greater right of access, if not legally, it is true in use and enforcement. It is so subtle and pervasive in perception that even in advocacy there is a tendency to push for ideas that defer to the car primacy at the sake of real road safety. Things like bike paths and bike lanes are wonderful, and just because they defer to cars does not mean we should not implement them. However, the implementation of them should not come at the cost of the bicycles right of use and more importantly right of way on the roads themselves, regardless of the additional infrastructure.

Why?

Well, there is a lot of meat in this, but rather then delve into that right away, let us take a step back and consider context. This morning a friend posted to a local cycling group a discussion of how cyclists can increase safety around cars on the road? Just the context of the question demonstrates the subtelty in how pervasive the cars primacy is. The presumption is that cars operate on the roads in such a dangerous manner, and with so little respect for cyclists on the roads that the onus shifts to the cyclists to protect themselves. Then you get into the discussion responses, and it becomes even clearer.

No Earbuds. Use lights, day and night. Use a mirror for rearview. Garmin Varia radar ( rearview, but technology ). Act like you are invisible. Ride in groups. Avoid busy roads. Ride at low traffic hours. Flashing Lights. High Vis Colors and Clothing. The common theme? Roads are for cars, cars are presumed to have the right of way, cars do not respect the right of way of bicycles.

That is the second class of comments in these discussions of course, those comments that directly address this. Ride defensively, be aware at all times. Take the lane. Do not ride on the white line. Ride in groups to force cars to respect the space. All are strategies to force a class of vehicle to honor the law, not the cultural perception of the law.

With a bit of context from within the cycling world, it is easy to see the appeal of bike lanes and paths, because they are effective at making people feel safer and creating seperation. Of course, out of sight, out of mind also applies. When you live in advocacy, you learn about the idea of conflict points, and the sheer volume of crashes that occur when cars do not have to think about bikes, and then turn across their paths, through these lanes and paths because they never even consider that a bike might be in them. There are other factors, like on street bike lanes creating a perception of a wider travel lane which translates to higher ambient travel speeds ( regardless of posted limits ), high costs of implementation, poor maintenance, etc.

What Has to Change?

For the most part, the laws are on the books in many states. Georgia’s bicycle laws really do not need massive revisions, as they already grant the majority of what is needed. Perhaps higher penalties for failure to honor them and perhaps remove the entire Far Right As Practicable, since it creates more confusion than it provides in clarity. What does not exist today is, consistant enforcement, driver awareness, and a culture that accepts and respects bikes on the roads. These things are intricately tied together.

The common answer to this is ‘education’, which, while accurate, is also borderline useless. Generally, education is an easy answer. Slap it in drivers training manuals, add it to drivers education curriculum, ask a few questions about it in the drivers exams and call it a day. This only impacts new drivers, and without reenforcement and enforcement, the cultural perceptions will override that education within years, often, just months. Just consider the number of people that struggle with the use of a round about. So, that answer is simply not enough.

What has to change is engagement. Cyclists have to come out of the closet and assert themselves. We need to be reactive when things go wrong. We need to be proactive before they do. We have to engage that family member that we normally avoid the discussion with because they are convinced that roads are for cars. We have to pester our civic leaders, city, county, state, federal to change the habits of enforcement. We have to push those leaders to get the law enforcement agencies on the same page as the law, and to enforce the law consistently. We have unify behind a single message that we belong on the roads, we have a right to the roads, and we expect that right to be enforced.

And when we get pushback, we have to back our fellow riders in the public forum.

In Summary

If there is to be change, it has to start with the cyclists. It has to be all of the cyclists, and even though the typical sport cyclist may not grasp the nuances of the transportation cyclist, the sport cyclists have the money, time, contacts and influences to spark and push real change to the betterment of ALL cyclists.

As someone who has spent 20 years advocating for bikes, the messaging has been too fragmented, and spread too thin across not enough engaged people. I ride in an area where we have over 2000 active, recreational cyclists that ride in groups rides within a 40 mile radius. Out of those, less than 20 are consistently engaged with thier communities, civic leaders and even in public non-cycling forums regarding cyclists rights. Less than 1%.

If you read to here, then did you notice the game played? Consistantly is inconsistently spelled throughout, just because I can, oh, and that I cannot spell 🙂

Dear Drivers,

I am a cyclist. 

I hear that you do not like me.

I have been told that I make the roads more dangerous. 

I have been told that I break the law all the time.  

I have been told that I am arrogant and rude.

I have been told that I should be licensed.

I have been told that I should be insured.

I have been told that I should be tagged.

I have been told that I should be run over.

I have been told that I am not a heterosexual man because I bike.

I have been told that I should not wear functional lycra on the bike.

I have been told that I don’t deserve to breathe the same air as others.

I have been told that I should kill myself, because I ride a bike.

I have been threatened by people with cars.

I have been hit by people with cars.

I have been hit by things thrown from people in cars.

I have been threatened with a gun, by a person in cars.

Despite all of this. I still ride my bike. On the roads. Abiding by the applicable laws. Laws that I have put time and effort into learning and understanding, because few law enforcement officers have, and even fewer drivers have.  I also drive a car.  And a motorcycle. Sometimes even a truck with a trailer. I have been ‘trapped behind slow cyclists’ on the roads too. 

I am going to say something blunt:

Too many drivers drive like assholes without concern or care for any other road user. High speeds, aggressively passing, high levels of distraction, tailgating, rolling stop signs, illegally passing at intersections, blocking the visibility to others.

All of the vitriol and anger toward cyclists?  It is a lie.

Take bikes out of the equation, and automotive deaths still exceed 35k per year.

Cyclists, and bikes on the roads are not the problem. Cars and drivers are.

So really, why should I as a cyclist, give a rats ass about what you think? 

I shouldn’t.  But I do. Because you are operating a 4000lb cruise missile on a road that my taxes helped pay for, and all you can think of when you see me is how much you hate me, simply because I am riding a bike.

So the next time you come up behind me, and you feel the need to express your displeasure, keep in mind this: I probably know more about the laws pertaining to bikes than you do, I am more vulnerable than you are, and thus more aware of what I need to do for my safety, and that in your rush to judge me and my behavior, whatever you are about to do or say likely demonstrates that you are the asshole in the equation.

So, when I wave back with my happy wave, understand that what I am really thinking is that I don’t care about what you think, and a middle finger salute is far more appropriate, but that would not be courteous or polite, so a thumbs up and a smile is your response, because I don’t hate you, I just think that you are behaving like an asshole. Again.

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.

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.

Test Ride: Possible Route for New Weekly…

With Halcyon getting close to opening, it is time to start testing possible routes for events from there. Looking at a possible test loop this Thursday or Friday afternoon if interested.

Beware, with test rides like this, we may loop through sections multiple times, or try multiple variations of sections during the ride, so this will not be either a smooth pace type group, and there may well be some longish stops mid ride to dissect options.