Thursday, 20 September 2012

Going Postal

Yesterday, a US Postal Service driver tried to run me and my daughter off the road as we were cycling home from school. At the time, I was taking the lane, trying to prevent him from making an unsafe pass, but either I was not far enough left or the road was wider than I thought or those post office trucks are very narrow. Anyway, the USPS truck missed me by about a foot. My daughter was cycling farther right, so she wasn't in as much danger.

The driver stopped farther up the road and I advised him that he made a dangerous pass. He became very belligerent and just kept yelling "You was in the street!". We sure were, but why this would be an excuse for trying to kill us, I do not know. I told him that cyclists are supposed to be on the road and I offered him my copy of the Maryland Driver's handbook so that I could show him the relevant information. He refused to even look at it and kept insisting that we weren't supposed to be in the road.

Not sure what to do with people like this. This guy had no idea that cyclists are supposed to be on the road, and apparently the sentence for being there in this guy's mind is attempted vehicular homicide.

Of course, I've reported him to USPS for unsafe driving, though I'm not sure what good that will do.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Welcome to Pleasantville

"Whether it's to boost your fitness, health or bank balance, or as an environmental choice, taking up cycling could be one of the best decisions you ever make."

It never fails to piss me off when articles show up trying to convince us all that cycling can make each of us a happier, healthier kind of planet-saving super-human who falls in love with flowers and smiles all day. It's unrealistic utopian crap, and it has a conformist edge to it: it reminds me of the movie Pleasantville, or the Colonel Sanders scene in 'So I Married an Axe Murderer': "Oh, you're gonna buy my chicken!" and I want nothing to do with it!

I really wish bicycle advocates would stop trying to convince motorists to take up cycling. Let's face reality just for a couple of minutes here and admit to ourselves that motorists are perfectly happy being lazy unhealthy slobs with a polluting fetish. Let's admit that the idea that they will take up cycling for any of the reasons shown in the aforementioned article is nonsense. For one thing, many of the folks who drive everywhere are too goddamn unfit to even get onto a bike, let alone push the pedals. If they did somehow get their lard-asses on a bike, the bike would probably buckle under the weight. Most bikes (even touring bikes) are only rated to carry 300lbs.

The motorists who CAN somehow find the energy to drag what must be at least a semi-arteriosclerotic leg over a bike's top tube, and whose cardio-vascular systems are still in good enough shape so they don't collapse after a few pedal rotations, have their day of cycling in May (the optimistically - or perhaps cynically - titled 'Bike Month'). Those who turn out for this one-day bike love fest clearly have no intention of cycling even 2 days a year, never mind 365. If they did, there would have been a cycling revolution sometime in the last 56 annual 'Bike to Work Days', and the world would be full of fairly fit people who lived to pedal.

The general public's 'huge' commitment to green modes of transport can be seen in this year's World Car-Free Day, which takes place on Saturday! This year, since it falls on a weekend, there's no annoying need to commute without the car and people can be 'car-free' from the comfort of their couch. They don't have to lift a finger to feel they're saving the planet - and that's the way they like it. Even so, I predict the numbers of active participants will be anemic (many will probably only find out that they accidentally participated when they see a news article about it). Yet cycling advocates have this dream that the occasional holiday from the gas tank might encourage motorists to take up cycling all year? These advocates are living in a fantasy world.

I wish bike advocates would just leave off the proselytizing and leave motorists in peace. There is not going to be a sudden boom in cycling - not for another few years at least. Until gas prices hit $20/gallon a cycling revolution is just not going to happen - and it may not even happen then, because the specter of Peak Oil is already encouraging motorists to desperately seek alternate ways to power the mobile couches they call 'cars'.

The current cycling mode share in the US is at about 1% - it's been stuck there for 30 years. All the advocacy in the world isn't going to shift a single lard-belly's fat ass away from his local McDonalds drive-up window and onto a bicycle. Nor is it going to result in environmental, budgeting or health-related epiphanies for the rest of the non-cycling world. Expecting such a thing to happen is a particularly foolish pipe dream.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Are Bicycle Zealots Running Over Common Sense?

Or is it that a 'journalist' just wants an excuse to hate on cyclists?

I spotted an op-ed piece by conservative blogger and so-called 'journalist' Katy Grimes of Cal Watchdog that raised my ire, and the annoying thing about it is that, as an integrated cyclist, I might be inclined to agree with most of what she is saying.

I think she may be right that AB 819 is a wasteful law. The road, in my opinion, is safest for cyclists. Adding specialized bicycle facilities only complicates matters. This bill encourages bike facility production, and I think that's a mistake. Cyclists belong on the road, not shunted off into some side path, where they are at heightened risk for intersection collisions.

I disagree with her on SB 1464 - I think it will probably do some good, if only in terms of helping cyclists be less likely to be found at fault when an overzealous police officer cites them for impeding traffic. Its problem is that in terms of the 3ft passing requirement, it is unenforceable.

I agree that AB 2245 seems a little odd. I would hope that all road improvements would go through a process to ensure they are necessary, harmless and actually useful. Sadly, bike facilities are all too often unnecessary, harmful and useless. This bill, at least at first glance, seems set to make the problem even worse.

But I do have a problem with the article. It's not really the author's points that I have a problem with - it's the thinly veiled anti-cycling attitude that they're drenched in. Here are some excerpts:

"SB 1464 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would require drivers on a two-lane road to veer at least three feet around a cyclist to pass."

To 'veer'. I wonder if the author refers to 'veering' when she's overtaking a slower motor vehicle. I suspect not. 'Veering' sounds uncontrolled, like a swerve, and doesn't suggest competence by whoever it is that's doing the driving. If cars are likely to 'veer' around cyclists, maybe California does need that 3ft passing law, and a way to enforce it.

"The bicycling lobby has become almost as pushy as the environmental lobby. They resent that streets were designed for cars"

Apparently, requiring motorists to behave safely around cyclists is 'being pushy'? Yeah, those uppity cyclists! If only we could lynch a few of them to show who's boss.

Also, the author has no idea that streets were developed long before the automobile appeared on them, and that the first improved roads were lobbied for by cyclists for cyclists.

Finally, the author fails to recognize that roads are not designed for any particular type of vehicle - they are designed for ALL vehicles. More importantly, they are designed for PEOPLE, and some people choose bicycles as their vehicle of choice. Why do they choose the bicycle? To save money, to reduce their medical bills and avoid becoming a burden on others in old age, to conserve American energy infrastructure and reduce our reliance on foreign oil, to keep America strong, and other pinko Commie stuff like that. Damned Hippies!

"I am hoping that legislators introduces [sic] a bill mandating bicyclists to follow traffic laws."

Erm... that law already exists in the California Traffic Code. I wonder if the author has read the California Driver Handbook, which states:

  • Have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicle and motorcycle drivers.
  • Must obey all traffic signals and stop signs."

Having said that, I expect all cyclists to follow the law at about the same time all motorists start following it - that should happen about when Hell freezes over. If there's a benefit to some cyclists failing to follow traffic law, it's that their vehicles weigh a lot less than motor vehicles, so when they do stupid things and crash into people, they tend not to kill. When motorists do stupid things, they are driving 2 ton vehicles, with the result that a million people worldwide are killed every year in automobile accidents.

Clearly, the author is a motorist with a big blind spot when it comes to motorists posing a danger to cyclists. If it were not for this blind spot, maybe she would understand that cyclists ought to be treated with some respect on the road. I find her assertion that cyclists are being 'pushy' by demanding that motorists drive safely very telling.

As for the many knee-jerk anti-cycling comments that the article has generated so far: well, ignorance bears the motto 'Ubique' for good reason, and I need to keep my blood pressure down, so I'm going to try (emphasis on the word 'try' - I'm already failing, LOL) to limit my responses to the article itself. Haters, as they say, gonna hate.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Circus is In Town

On today's commute:

One particularly egregious example of 'Must Overtake Syndrome', when a clown approached behind us and, when we were just ten yards from a Stop sign, honked and zoomed past us, only to stop immediately in front of us while he took his sweet time to take a right turn.

Two attempts to right hook me and the kid - and this while we were very assertively taking the lane (because I could sense each of these clowns was up to no good).

Numerous failures to yield properly at 4-way Stops - apparently, the clowns didn't want to stop at all, let alone stop for us two cyclists who got to the intersection way before they did, had stopped, and were taking our turn.

One attempted right cross and cutting of the corner, which we anticipated because I could see the clown (driving a taxi) approaching the turn too quickly.

One clown, who approached behind us and revved his engine like a fricken nutcase as we were preparing for a left turn.

And finally, two clowns backing out of driveways without properly checking to see if the roadway was clear.

I usually see one of these maybe every week. Today I see 8 weeks' worth in 20 minutes and it's not even a full moon.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Why do Cyclists Behave in Ways that Anger Motorists?

Recently, I had a conversation with a motorist who was perplexed by the way some cyclists behave on the road. She couldn't see why we would impede traffic by cycling in the middle of the lane. As far as she could see, all we are doing is preventing motorists from passing.

The problem is, motorists generally do not understand cycling - at all. They do not understand that most of us are not joyriding but commuting; they don't understand the dynamics of cycling or how we cyclists must act to preserve our safety. Many do not understand the law as it relates to cyclists; they do not understand cyclists' rights, nor do they understand that cycling laws, cyclists' rights and cyclists' actions on the road all arise out of the need for us to be safe. Often they think that safety involves doing what veteran cyclists know to be unsafe - i.e. keeping out of the way of traffic. So I think here, I'll try to explain a little of the unintuitive nature of cycling safety. Hopefully some motorists will see it and perhaps learn from it, but if not, maybe some cycling advocates can use it as a resource to help educate their motorist friends.

Here are some of the more common motorist criticisms I see, and my answers to them:

Cyclists Take Up the Whole Lane!

The most common criticism of cyclists is that we take up the whole lane, riding in the middle of the road. Motorists can't see why we do that, because when you're in a car, the narrowness of a vehicle would seem to be an obvious aid to traffic flow. So why wouldn't a cyclist move right so that other road users could overtake within the lane? Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Well, here's the deal. Cycling safety is all about visibility. The most dangerous threat to a cyclist on the road is another vehicle. Knowing this, many road cyclists do their best to avoid interacting with other vehicles, so they ride in the gutter. In fact, so many of us ride in the gutter that many motorists believe that we are required to ride there, and that we're safer riding there. But riding in the gutter is a mistake. Why? Because when we ride in the gutter, we make ourselves less visible to other road users - this often results in collisions, especially at driveways and intersections, where a motorist has failed to see a cyclist and turns into him. It also results in glancing blows from cars whose drivers have tried to squeeze past the cyclist in the same lane.

It's far safer for cyclists to ride well into the road, so that we are as visible as we can be to other road users and so motorists know to change lanes when passing. Cars have brakes and steering wheels, and their drivers do not want to hit us. But in order to be able to avoid hitting us, they must see us first, and they must not be tempted to pass too closely.

Cyclists Impede Traffic!

Another major criticism is that cyclists go too slow and get in the way. I think this comes out of the general attitude that says that cycling is a leisure activity - so people just assume we're not doing anything useful. People generally fail to understand that most cyclists on the road are commuting to work or going somewhere they need to be. People see bikes as toys and not as tools.

However, the law is very clear - a bike is a vehicle and the vehicle in front has the right of way and basically owns the road - that applies to ALL vehicles, even bicycles. If you can't pass safely, you must wait until you can - hours if need be (in states where slow moving vehicles are not required to pull over), because the law recognizes that a cyclist traveling at a normal cycling speed (average 10mph) cannot be accused of impeding traffic. The assumption that a motorist has a right to a certain speed on the road is not the case.

Note that (having said what I said above) I should clarify that the average wait time behind a cyclist is measured in seconds, not hours. Most cyclists will, if they are not turning off the road soon, pull over to let faster moving traffic overtake. Of course, that wouldn't apply if the cyclist were traveling at, or close to, the speed limit for the road - yet I've had drivers honk at me when they were trying to speed on a low speed limit road. Again, there is no right to a certain speed on any road (speed limits are not minimums, nor are they recommended speeds - they are upper limits), and if a cyclist is traveling at a reasonable cycling speed on a narrow lane, drivers must wait until it's safe to overtake.

Cyclists Should Stay In the Bike Lane!

Many motorists seem to believe that, where a bike lane is provided, cyclists are required to use it. And this is indeed the case in a few states (my own state of Maryland being one of them). However, most states do not require bike lane use, and those that do so recognize that using the bike lane is often unsafe (i.e. when it's filled with debris or waterlogged, or when approaching an intersection) and even illegal (i.e. when turning left), and use is not required in those cases.

The fact is, bike lanes are often dangerous - many of them are striped in the door zone of parked cars - what they call a 'suicide lane' (for good reason). Also, as with riding in the gutter, bike lanes place cyclists out of the focal point of passing motorists. In numerous studies, bike lanes have been found to be more dangerous than the road because, as with any facility that removes cyclists from the traffic lane, visibility is reduced.

Cyclists Should Stay Off the Road!

The road appears dangerous to many people, and many believe that riding on the sidewalk or on the shoulder of the road would be safer because these facilities appear safe. But actually, cycling on such facilities causes many accidents, because sidewalk and shoulder riders are less visible and often come to grief at an intersection due to motorists simply failing to see them. Sidewalks are also often filled with obstructions that make traveling at cycling speeds risky. A study done in 1998 found that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk was 25 times more likely to result in a crash than was riding on a major street with no bike facilities.

Cyclists are required to use the road because that's the safest place to cycle - even when there's a shoulder or sidewalk, because shoulders and sidewalks are less safe than the road for cyclists. That's because riding on the shoulder or sidewalk places the cyclist outside of the focal point of drivers. Many cyclists are killed each year while riding on these facilities - they are clipped by passing cars, they are 'right hooked' by turning cars - both a result of a driver's tendency towards tunnel vision. Shoulder and sidewalk riding is quite unsafe. This is why cyclists have been lobbying to strike down laws that require shoulder use.

But The Law Says That Cyclists Should Ride Far To the Right!

Let us remember that 'as far right as is safe and/or practicable' (which is what most states' traffic law requires) is actually the center of the rightmost traffic lane that serves our destination. Every inch we ride farther right is less safe and less practicable. Unfortunately, some state laws also require that we cyclists ride on the 'right side' of the lane. This part of the law is, in practice, trying to get us killed. Especially so, given that most Law Enforcement Officers believe that cyclists are required to ride far right.

Why Must Cyclists Ride Two Abreast?

Cyclists riding two abreast are actually being safer and this actually makes overtaking easier. They are safer because they are effectively taking the lane (making drivers change lanes to pass, which has the effect of making passes safer), and it's far quicker to pass them than it is to pass two cyclists in single file formation. Often two cyclists in single file will tend to be passed too closely, because drivers tend to underestimate how long it takes to pass cyclists.

Unfortunately, many drivers don't recognize that cyclists riding abreast make it faster and safer for motorists to pass, and I see many comments from motorists saying that cyclists are behaving poorly by doing it. The tendency is for motorists to assume that cyclists belong far to the right, but the safest lane position to take when two-abreast cyclists move to single file would be a central position in the lane - so a motorist would gain nothing. This idea that two-abreast cycling holds up motorists is one of the biggest motorist misconceptions that I see online, and it causes a lot of misunderstanding between drivers and cyclists.

Cyclists Always Ignore Stop Signs!

Not always. For example, I am teaching my daughter always to obey Stop signs. She has never once ignored one.

But the fact is, ALL of us (not just cyclists) tend to break rules we can get away with, especially if those rules involve inconvenience. To a motorist, stopping at a Stop sign requires only that he push gently on the brake, yet this minor inconvenience results in so many motorists failing to stop at these signs that the practice has a name: the 'Hollywood' or 'California Stop'. To a cyclist, stopping at that same Stop sign means he loses his balance and loses his momentum - and starting from a stop is much more unbalanced than coasting through. And many times Stop signs are placed indiscriminately in quiet neighborhoods, purely as a way to calm traffic and reduce engine noise. Many times, when we are faced with a Stop sign on an empty street, there is no real reason (other than what seems an arbitrary law) to stop.

Cyclists run Stop signs because Stop signs are placed indiscriminately, because the law is not enforced, and because for the cyclist, there are major advantages in convenience and safety in running the sign.

But Surely Running Red Lights Is Dangerous!

Absolutely! And I do not understand why so many cyclists do it. Many say that it gets them ahead of traffic so that they are not passed by so many cars so closely. But I think this comes from taking a position in the road that is too close to the curb. If these cyclists rode farther out into the road, they would not have to fear traffic, because they would be controlling it. Also, they would not run the risk of being struck in the intersection where they ran the red light. Only with more education about the real safety issues can we prevent poor practices like red light jumping.

Well, the Reality Is That Roads Are Not Built For Cyclists. Roads Are Built For Cars!

Actually, no. Roads were made for cyclists. Cyclists built the US road system in the 1890s - it was improved specifically for cyclists to have a smooth surface on which to ride. These days, roads are built to accommodate all vehicles, from 18-wheelers to the humble bicycle. But roads are not really built for the vehicles - roads are built for people, and people have a choice of what vehicle they use on those roads. This is how it was in the past, how it is now, and how it always should be, as long as we value the freedom to travel.


A lot of cycling safety is unintuitive; the above are just a few examples of the most common misunderstandings. All drivers really have to do when dealing with cyclists is give them plenty of room. Most of cycling safety lane positioning (as promoted by the League of American Bicyclists - the officially recognized cycling safety organization in the US - and by Cycling Savvy and other cycling advocacy groups) is designed to encourage drivers to pass cyclists safely. That's why some of us (though far too few) ride our bicycles 'in the middle of the road'. It's just to give ourselves enough room to be safe.

Thankfully, cycling is actually a very safe activity. We hear a lot about cycling accidents, but the fact is, cycling has a lifetime risk of death nearly half that of driving. Motorists see cyclists in the road, with no airbags or crumple zones that motorists see as essential, and they assume that the cyclist is vulnerable. However, in practice, drivers are more vulnerable, even with their cars equipped with roll bars, airbags and crumple zones. This is most likely because motor vehicles travel at greatly higher speeds than cyclists do. The funny thing is, as a father who cycles with his daughter to school every day, I often get drivers telling me they would never cycle, as it's too dangerous with all the traffic. I've given up trying to explain to them that they're actually taking a greater risk than I am.

The Motorist's Reaction.

After I explained these things to the motorist, she wrote, " have changed my view on cyclists. I was one of those drivers that were exasperated by them but that is all changed now. I have a clearer view of the rights of cyclists and will adhere by them... What I thought was that cyclists felt like they owned the road and we just had to deal with it. Obviously, that is NOT the case and I thank you and applaud you for your very intelligent and informative answers."

A good result, I think. This shows how, when everyone involved is open to communication, everyone stands to benefit when we take some time to see both sides and to explain our perspective clearly.