A savvy cyclist shot this video.
Little did he know that a yet-to-be savvy cyclist would play a starring role in it.
Here’s what the savvy cyclist did in the video.
- He sees the bus stopped ahead. Well in advance of reaching it, he looks over his shoulder to check whether there is a vehicle behind him.
- There is, so he makes a left-turn signal with his left arm, indicating the desire to merge left to pass the bus.
- He verifies that the driver behind him is yielding to let him move left before he does so.
- He passes the bus with safe clearance, ready to brake and fall back in case the bus starts to merge out from the curb.
- Once in the bus driver’s forward field of view, he signals to the bus driver the desire to merge back to the right.
- He positions himself so that he can see a pedestrian crossing the street right in front of the bus. He allows ample time to slow down or maneuver if a pedestrian pops into view.
- After passing the bus, he adopts an appropriate lane position, preventing being overtaken by two lines of traffic at once and jammed against the curb.
The yet-to-be savvy cyclist:
- Keeps far right as long as possible before reaching the bus, and does not check for overtaking traffic.
- Does not signal to indicate the desire to change lane position.
- Swerves out shortly before reaching the bus, again without checking to see if there is any traffic behind.
- Rides close to the side of the bus! This puts the yet-to-be savvy cyclist in danger of being swept underneath if the bus merges out.
- Would not see a pedestrian crossing the street from in front of the bus until the last split second — and therefore would be likely to collide with that pedestrian.
- Merges to the right without signaling to the bus driver.
- Merges all the way over to the curb, inviting drivers of motor vehicles to “share” an un-sharable lane.
I, the savvy cyclist
I’ll admit it, I was the savvy cyclist. What were my expectations?
- I believed I could communicate with the driver of the vehicle behind me using a hand signal and head turn.
- I knew the driver behind me had to digest my request to merge into line, so I started my communication early.
- I did not assume the motorist would cooperate and let me merge, so I checked — trust but verify. This is easy to do with a quick glance into a rear-view mirror.
- I understood that passing a bus close to its side places me in deadly danger if the bus merges out, and also invites unsafe overtaking.
- I knew the bus driver would have an easier time knowing my intentions if he or she could see me as I prepared to merge right.
- I understood that I could safely allow only one line of traffic to overtake after passing the bus. I had to position myself to avoid unsafe passing by two lines of traffic at once.
- I had a mental inventory of things to watch for: the bus pulls out abruptly, an overtaking motorist moves too soon, a pedestrian abruptly emerges in front of me. But I was ready, so none of these things would cause me a problem, or even require quick action on my part.
This sounds like a lot, but it’s not. It becomes second nature when practicing “driver behavior.”
The cyclist in the video was practicing “edge” behavior
Her behavior indicated that she wanted to take up as little space as possible. She was an “edge rider,” naive about potential hazards in front of her, and fatalistic about those behind her. This made her moves unpredictable and turned potential hazards into real ones.
What behavior is truly easier for motorists?
I have long contended that having to slow and follow a bicyclist disturbs motorists much less than the following confusing situations:
The cyclist is inviting me to pass, but the available width looks iffy. The angel on one shoulder says that I should wait till there is more room. The devil on the other says: ‘It’ll be close, but I’ll make it.’
The cyclist can’t continue riding behind the bus. She is either going to stop behind it, or swerve out. The angel on one shoulder says: ‘Slow down so she can swerve out in front of me.’ The devil on the other shoulder says: ‘Damn bicyclists.’
How about if you’re the bus driver:
I lie awake at night worrying that I’ll crush a cyclist under my bus.
This has happened in my city.
How much better it is for the mental health of everybody concerned for a cyclist to act as a participant in traffic, rather than a nobody!
Lower stress and more safety passing a bus
As for cyclists, it is infinitely more satisfying to interact as a full participant in traffic, rather than be a wallflower!
For savvy cyclists, stress levels go way down, safety goes way up — and there’s even more: A rewarding sense of interaction with other people. Almost every motorist will cooperate with you, if you only help them know how to do that.
One more thought
The driver of the vehicle behind me, intentionally or not, was standing guard for me. I was protected from following vehicles. (The word “protected” has been used and misused in other ways related to bicycling, but that is a discussion for another post.)
On any typical ride, a cyclist interacts directly with tens or hundreds of strangers, sometimes thousands. Cycling and motoring are the daily activities in which a person interacts directly with more strangers than in any others.
It’s a dance, and as we say in CyclingSavvy, the dance is yours to lead. I find it soundly rewarding to do that assertively yet cooperatively.
I shot this video in May 2017 on Boston’s Longwood Avenue — here, in case you would care to know. This neighborhood has a high concentration of health science and research facilities. I may well have been photographing a doctor or scientist. Brilliance in one field doesn’t help you understand safe behavior near a bus. That’s why we need to teach all people, no matter how smart, how to ride safely.
I wish that I could offer a bright and sunny conclusion to this article: Longwood-area cyclists signed up for a CyclingSavvy course, discovered how easy it is to communicate with other road users and control safe space around themselves.
Not so. Since I shot the video, the shared-lane markings on Longwood Avenue have been replaced with bike lanes.
These bike lanes direct cyclists to ride like the one in my video, and give motorists to understand that this is bicyclists’ proper place and conduct — as shown in the image above downloaded from a 2019 Google Street view.
Enough for now. The reasons bicyclists get set up for failure like this are a topic for another post.