Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bicycle Safety

Someday Bicyclists will have to pass a driver’s test, get a license and have a plate on their bicycle just like motorists. Until then some observations on bicycle safety: 
To begin with, ride straight.  The bicycle version of the two footed goof who drives with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake is the cyclist who ducks in and out of traffic to keep away from the cars.  It is more difficult to keep track of you when you are playing games.  If you are hiding from me it is no longer my fault. Just like the two footed moron who thinks they should stop more quickly, the phantom cyclist is un-teachable, certain that they are courteously providing more room.
Next, understand one fundamental fact: you are a nuisance, and the longer I have to be in your company, the more of a nuisance you are.  You are not a traffic warden.  Police officers and crossing guards take a class in how to direct traffic.  You haven’t taken that class. The moment you start waving your hands you have messed up.  If you feel obliged to direct traffic no one else is at fault, you are.  You have messed up and I sincerely hope that no one is taking direction from an idiot like you.  If you don’t want to take your turn at the intersection, then get out of the intersection. Cyclists use hand signals. I suppose it seems a small transition from signaling intent to directing traffic.
I doubt that most drivers care that much about taking turns with bicycles. You are a rolling liability and the sooner you are out of the intersection and on your way the better for the rest of us.  Drivers know full well that cyclists run in herds and the idiot in front waving their hands give us no information about the fools behind them.  The reason everyone is watching you is because you are a hazard, not an authority.
There are three steps to getting through an intersection safely:
1.      Claim the intersection. Don’t shoot through it. Arrive at the intersection and make your claim. This means bringing your bicycle into the circle of people waiting their turn to enter the intersection. Many bicyclists and pedestrians claim the intersection when it is not rightly theirs.  That is they enter the circle of consideration when opposing traffic has the right of way.  What this accomplishes is that it slows down aforesaid opposing traffic, thus making it more difficult to cross. Obviously you should not claim the intersection if you do not have a legitimate claim. This means staying back. Don’t scare people by edging out when it is not your turn.
2.      Once you have claimed the intersection, take the intersection. Everyone is terrified of you. You are riding a bicycle and therefore you must be an idiot. If no one is moving it is your turn to proceed. If you claim the intersection and you do not take the intersection then you are an asshole.  Waving your hands is no help.
3.      Get out of the intersection.  This is not the time for discussion, deliberation or observation.
Let’s take the most common scenario. Cars are lining up for a light or stop sign. In principle, the bicyclist should take its place behind the last car. Then the following car pulls up next to the cyclist giving them no reward for their courtesy, so experienced cyclists thread the line to move to the front.  When they are at the head of the line, the car turns on its right turn signal trapping them both in an endless dialogue of courtesy and terror.  I suppose the cyclist should pull up behind the first car in the line, but then they will be cut off by the next car in the line that is also turning and now the second car is following the first car which is sort of an unofficial custom. If the motorist had signaled earlier, alerting the cyclist, then they could have approached the car on the left side.  This maneuver seems correct, if a little nervy, but following motorists might feel cut off.  On either side of the car the cyclist may stall out because of the oncoming traffic from their left, in the opposite intersecting lane.
I feel some sympathy for the cyclist until they attempt to direct traffic. We have been making it through this intersection without them.
Experienced motorists might defer signaling in the hope that the cyclists would depart and then they could signal and make their turn.  At which point they would be smacked by the following laggard cyclist hauling ass to catch up.
I’m pretty sure any decent lawyer would advise the automobile driver to stay put until the idiot has cleared away regardless of how they dance around on their bike. If the driver did succumb to the bicyclists blandishments they may have the emotional satisfaction of seeing the bicyclist collide with the following car while taking what they judge to be their turn.  Even with the emotional satisfaction this seems a less than optimal result.
Part of the difficulty is that bicyclists inhabit that nether region between motorist and pedestrian.  Because motorists have licenses and are thus operating with state sanction they have greater liability than cyclists who are unlicensed and are therefore lumped with pedestrians.  Because they are licensed, motorists are expected know what they are doing.
Bicyclists are supposed to behave as cars, just with a shared lane.  On the left hand turn this leaves them in the admittedly uncomfortable position of sitting with the cars in the left hand lane waiting to take their turn.  To avoid this discomfort cyclists often return to their pedestrian status and use the cross walks.  Unfortunately they do so while on their bikes.  This means they start from the motorists right hand blind spot and proceed much more quickly than a pedestrian through the two crosswalks to the intersecting lane. It is interesting that the bicyclists have more confidence that motorists will notice them in this maneuver than parked in the left hand turning lane. Some motorists have the unfortunate habit of creeping into the intersection.
Some cyclists always take the right hand turn if in any doubt.  This allows them to avoid stopping.  Then they cross the street on a break in traffic and either work their way back or proceed the wrong way on the opposite street until they find a suitable side street.  This means that once they’ve made the turn they keep pausing and looking over their shoulder further confusing motorists, then they cross in the middle of the street.
Of course this list can be elaborated with countless variations and details, which should all be part of that future bicyclists driving test but let us be clear and brief:  I don’t like you and you don’t like me.  I am an exhaust-spewing automobile that can do you significant harm.  You are an increase in my liability insurance. You may think that because you socialize with other cyclists that automobiles should also be in your domain of discussion.  It would be better for us both to have as little company as possible.
The League of Illinois Bicyclists has come up with their bicycle safety test. We are not in total agreement, but they do explain the law:

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