Tag Archive for: bike commuting

The Quarter Mile Stroad Hack

In my initial “Stroad Hack” article, I described a hack involving two intersections. I referred briefly to the quarter mile on a different stroad, but I didn’t go into detail on that.

This post will focus on the quarter mile, on Gorham Road. It stretches from left to right in the image below. I use it quite often to go to my dentist’s office.

The quarter mile on four-lane Gorham Road, from Clark's Road to Western Avenue

Use Online Maps…and Work Backwards!

Route planning has of course always used maps, initially on paper. I rely heavily on online maps in these articles, and particularly on Google’s ground-level Street View. Zooming in on Google’s satellite view lets you plan your lane choice. That is especially useful on multi-lane roads that you may be apprehensive about.

Always Use Maps?

So, is it necessary to plan every stroad route with mapping? No, I don’t think so. One of my favorite ways of riding is to explore a new area when I go on vacation. Serendipity is an important aspect of those rides for me. “Hey, that road looks interesting, let’s see what’s down there.” Cycling by the rules of the road is generally safe, even on an unfamiliar road. But you may want to choose mapping, especially when you know you will be on uncomfortable roads. It can allow you to make more informed decisions so the journey is more comfortable.

Mapping is also useful for illustration in these articles. I am using Google Earth for these images, although Google Maps works too. Custom maps are a great teaching tool!

Why work backwards?

When planning a route, it is often useful to start from the destination and work backwards. That way, you’ll see what works as you approach it — and at each step as you work backwards to the start. For that reason, I am numbering the following hacks in reverse order, going back from from the turn into the dentist’s office, to the quarter-mile segment, to the start.

Hack 3 – Lane Choice onto Western Avenue

Western Avenue, center turn lane to turn left to the dentist's office

My dentist’s office is on the left side of Western Avenue. Conveniently, Western Avenue has a two-way center turn lane where I can wait for oncoming traffic to clear, before turning left into the driveway. If I’m already controlling the leftmost through lane, moving into the center turn lane as soon as it opens up is trivial.

Left turn onto Western Avenue

Following the rules of the road for drivers, you must use the left-turn lane to turn onto Western Avenue from Gorham Road. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can dismount and use the crosswalks. But we won’t go into that here.

What lane on Western Avenue do you turn into? Bicyclists who feel like they must always stay to the right might be tempted to turn into the rightmost lane, because “bikes stay to the right”.

Then Why Turn into the Left Lane?

There are (at least) two reasons to choose the left lane. For one, it’s more common when turning onto a multi-lane road to turn into the closest lane, Maine laws do not actually require that, though some states do, and it makes sense here regardless.

There’s an important operational reason here too: It’s only about 225 feet from the intersection to the center turn lane. It’s only about 100 feet more to the driveway. That’s only 25 seconds at 10 MPH. It makes no sense to turn into the right lane, then immediately have to change to the left lane to get to the center turn lane. If you do that, any traffic behind you will turn into the left lane to pass you, and will block your lane change. Why not just turn immediately into the left lane? Any traffic behind you will pass you in the right lane, which is exactly what you want anyway!

So there’s one hack: Turn from Gorham Road into the left lane of Western Avenue.

Hack 2 – Lane Choice onto the Quarter Mile

Continuing backwards, what about the lane choice onto Gorham Road?

Choosing the left lane when entering the quarter mile on Gorham Road

This decision is like the last one. You’re going to spend less than 1/4 mile on Gorham Road (just over a minute at 10 MPH) before you turn left onto Western. So why turn into the right lane and have to change immediately?

Objections?

Granted, that’s a bit longer time spent in a leftmost lane than on Western Avenue. And that might bring up another objection, that motorists don’t expect bicyclists to travel in the left lane for an “extended” time. In”motorist time,” that may be about 10 seconds. 😉 But in our experience, visibility to people approaching from behind more than makes up for any surprise they may have. They still have plenty of time to see you and react.

If you are in a left through lane because you will be turning left shortly, try making occasional left turn signals. I think people are more patient if they understand why you are doing what you are doing. It may also be that they respect you more if they feel like you know what you’re doing. (And as a Savvy Cyclist, you do!)

Evaluating Convenience

I sometimes would still have had time to change lanes if I turned into the right lane here. But I don’t know that when I make the turn. And, whichever lane I choose, motorists behind me in that lane will have to change lanes. So it comes down to a balance of convenience: how convenient is which lane for me, and how many motorists will have to change lanes? Results vary by location, by time of day, and by what the traffic happens to be at that moment. But in this place, I don’t try to overthink it, and simply choose the left lane. The next and final hack makes that even easier.

Hack 1 – When to Turn Right onto the Quarter Mile

Here’s one I never learned until I took CyclingSavvy, even after I had been become a certified instructor with another national cycling program. I’ll frame it as a question:

Q: When would you not want to take a right turn on red?

Everyone makes right turns on red, right? Why wouldn’t you? Bicyclists don’t like delay any more than motorists do. (Consider how many cyclists don’t bother stopping at lights if they think they can make it through. And how many pass even a short line of stopped cars on the way there.)

Red Lights Create Gaps

The answer never occurs to most motorists, including me before I started bike commuting. But you may have noticed it if you’ve cycled in traffic for very long: traffic travels in packs.

And why does this happen? In urban and suburban areas, it’s because of red lights. A red light collects a line of traffic while it’s red. Then it turns green and the whole pack surges forward.

The flip side to this is that red lights also create gaps. While that light is red, the only traffic entering the intersection is turning into it from the left or right (as we are in this case). This is nearly always much less traffic. Therefore, there are gaps for as long as the light is red. And effectively longer, because you’ll have traveled away from the intersection!

We have videos in our Truths & Techniques and CyclingSavvy Mastery courses showing gaps of more than a minute in length created by long light cycles, even at rush hour. You can also see it in this Smart Moves video about riding across a high-speed interchange.

Waiting for the Green when Turning Right…

So, a very basic hack that you can use at every signalized right turn is: Don’t turn right on red. Even if you are allowed to turn right on red, you may wish to wait. Waiting for your green guarantees that you will have a gap with very little or no traffic behind you (except the few that turn onto the road during that time).

Of course, if traffic is light, it may be fine to turn right on red once the initial pack is clear of the intersection. This is especially so if you have the sight distance to see that there is no more oncoming traffic for quite a while. That’s fine. This is a tool, not a hard and fast rule.

As I turn right from Clark’s Road onto the quarter mile segment on Gorham Road, though, the traffic from the left is coming around a curve, so it’s impossible to tell how long until more comes. And it will probably be traveling at the posted speed (or greater) by that time, maybe even racing a yellow. So I almost always wait for the green here.

A curve reduces sight distance for traffic from the left when entering the quarter-mile segment of Gorham Road.
Notice the curve in Gorham Road, limiting the distance from which you can see traffic coming from your left as you wait to turn right.
The curve on Gorham road that reduces sight distance
Google Street View looking left from Clark’s Pond Parkway, about to make the right turn.

Car behind you?

What if, you may ask, there is a motorist behind you who would like to turn right on red?

Positions to allow motorists to turn right on red when waiting to turn right on green into the quarter-mile segment

Well, you can simply move over and motion for them to go ahead. Whether you move depends on the geometry. In this case, the right turn lane gets wider, so I tend to stop at the extreme left side of it. That way, I leave room for a car to turn on my right. I’ll motion for the driver to do that if necessary.

Where the turn is more squared off, you may not be able to extend this courtesy. Moving to the right can put you in a position to be cut off by turning drivers when the light changes.

Summary

In this article, I showed a typical bike trip from my office to my dentist’s office around the corner. In that trip, I utilized two different CyclingSavvy stroad hacks. First, I chose to wait for a green light to make the right turn onto Gorham Road, to ensure that I could turn into a gap, and be well established on the road as I prepared to turn left onto Western Avenue. In many cases, I’m already pulling into the left turn lane before any traffic catches up to me!

Secondly, I turned directly into the left through lane, twice. In both cases, it was because it was a short distance to another left turn, so it was not worth starting in the right lane and then changing. Traffic turning behind me has a clear lane on my right to pass me in.

These two general purpose hacks are applicable on any stroad, in a great variety of situations. Having these tools in your toolbox will greatly ease the friction that you might otherwise experience on such car-centric roads. They are what makes you a Savvy Cyclist.

Aiming for good bicycle lighting

We are now in the time of short days and long nights, and so it’s a good time to talk about bicycle lights.

And there’s good news. Thanks to efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), bicycle lights can be bright while drawing meager power from a small battery or generator.

Even better news — they won’t draw all the cash out of your wallet.

Like the horsepower race…

The trend can go to excess. Some of today’s bicycle headlights have product names like “Atomic”, and I kid you not, “Blinder” — only too true. Brighter, brighter, brighter… 200, 400, 1000 lumens. (The lumen is a measure of light output.)

The lumen war reminds me of the mid-20th-century horsepower race among big American cars. As in “my car is better than yours because it has a V8 engine with more horsepower!”

Why beam pattern matters

Lumens count light in every direction, but it matters in which direction the light goes. Any bicycle headlight bright enough to light your way should have a special beam pattern, like a car headlight, for at least four reasons:

  • Efficiency:  There is no point in using electrical power to produce wasted light.
  • Clarity: Light thrown upward illuminates dust, fog, mist, rain, snow — washing out the bicyclist’s view of the riding surface.
  • Glare reduction: a headlight that spews light upward glares into the eyes of oncoming bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Stray light from a properly-designed headlight is still bright enough to reveal you.
  • Even illumination: a well-designed, shaped headlight beam tapers down in brightness closer to the bicyclist, avoiding a hotspot.

Good bicycle lights have shaped beam patterns

A good beam pattern looks more or less like this, if you shine the light at a wall:

Shaped beam of a well-designed bicycle headlight
Shaped beam of a better bicycle headlight

Germany’s bicycle lighting standard recognizes this. Several brands of bicycle lights with a shaped beam pattern are available, meeting the German standard. Increasingly, the German standard is being adopted by manufacturers in other countries as well.

Still, many bicycle headlights being sold in the USA have a round beam pattern like the one shown below. These headlights cannot illuminate the riding surface evenly without glaring at eye level and above.These lights are appropriate only for off-road riding, and even then not when there is oncoming traffic.. Some lights do let you switch beam patterns.

Round beam glares into people's eyes unless aimed low
Round beam glares into people’s eyes unless aimed low

Any bicycle headlight should throw some light to the sides, to render the bicyclist visible to cross traffic.

Aiming a headlight

For a shaped beam to work correctly, the cutoff needs to be just below horizontal. Check out this video of the beam from my headlight as I walk my bicycle toward my garage. The flat top of the beam slowly rises up the garage door.

Aiming a taillight

A taillight’s beam pattern is less critical. Drivers who can approach at speed will be directly behind you. Aim a taillight level and directly to the rear. As the video shows, you test aim by rolling the bicycle away from a wall. The center of the beam should stay in the same place. The taillight should throw light to the sides too, but need not be as bright there. The headlight and any side-facing reflective material will also be visible from the sides.

What about flashing mode?

A flashing headlight is useful in daylight and at dusk but should be avoided in full darkness for three reasons: 1) it’s difficult for motorists to judge your speed and location from a flashing light; 2) a flashing headlight announces that you are on a bicycle = SLOW. This could inspire motorists to violate your right-of-way. 3) an ultra-bright white LED on a flash pattern could cause a seizure in someone who is vulnerable them.

A flashing taillight also announces that you are on a bicycle, and that is a good thing for motorists to recognize when approaching from behind. It’s best to use a rapid flash pattern for the taillight. If you have two taillights, you can use one on flash mode and one on steady mode.

Good bicycle lights for daytime use?

Some bicyclists, especially those who ride on rural roads, use lights during daylight hours, to be more visible. To be noticed, lights have to be much brighter during the day than at night. Any light used for both day and night should have a different mode for each.

You might ask “isn’t the round beam pattern better for daytime use?” Well, no. To make a shaped-beam headlight work as a daytime running light, re-aim it a bit higher. A shaped-beam headlight also generally has a wider beam pattern than one with a round beam pattern, making it stand out for drivers farther from straight ahead.

More general information

More general information about lights can be found in John Brooking’s article on this blog.

Philadelphia Bicycle Expo

Join Us at the Philly Bike Expo!

The American Bicycling Education Association is pleased to announce that we’ll be at the Philly Bike Expo. So mark your calendars!

Our booth at the Philly Bike Expo
We’re back! This was our booth in 2019.

Founded in 2010 by Bilenky Cycle Works, the Philly Bike Expo promotes “the fun, function, fitness and freedom to be found on two wheels.” The event fosters relationships between the cycling community and dedicated companies and organizations.

Bilenky hosts the event so we can all “admire the artisans whose craft enables us to ride two-wheeled art, to applaud the activists whose tireless efforts further our cycling infrastructure and to explore cycling as a fun and efficient transportation alternative.”

We’ll be sharing a booth in the Expo Hall with the Lehigh Valley CAT-Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

Concerned about Covid? There is information online about the Expo’s Covid Protocol. We are vaccinated, will be masked, and consider the risk acceptable.

Pam Murray’s bike, home from errands…

Street Smarts — and a raffle.

The recently published Bicycling Street Smarts, CyclingSavvy Edition will be available at the CyclingSavvy/CAT booth. Yes, autographed by the author!  And we’ll be raffling off copies. The grand prize winner also gets a full scholarship to a CyclingSavvy course, online or in person.

We’re having workshops too!

Two of us are giving presentations on Sunday:

John and a friend rode Spruce Street.

Pamela Murray, The Bike Life, Sunday. 1:30 PM — Pam rides over 6,000 miles per year for transportation, fitness and recreation. She is a CyclingSavvy instructor and Bicycle Benefits Ambassador, and leads bike rides for vacation and camping.

John Allen, Riding Philly Streets, Sunday, 3 PM. Videos and discussion of tactics to meet the challenges of Philly riding. In and out of the bike lane! Getting a smile from a SEPTA bus driver!

Click to zoom in for details about the ride.

And a bike ride…

We are also organizing an unracer bike ride. It will leave at 7:30 AM on Saturday from the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial (just downriver from the Girard Bridge), and will arrive at the Convention Center in time for you to check in for the opening of the exhibit hall.

We hope to see you in The Cradle of Liberty!

Happy cyclingSavvy group

Webinar Starts Today

In a few short hours

CyclingSavvy’s free one-hour Zoom webinar, Introduction to CyclingSavvy, starts today:

6 PM Pacific time
7 PM Mountain time
8 PM Central time
9 PM Eastern time

Because of demand, the American Bicycling Education Association has purchased lots more Zoom room.

California CyclingSavvy Instructor Gary Cziko will present. The Webinar will include live chat with three other instructors, and a Q&A session. If you can’t make it, ABEA will be posting a recording. We’ll announce where YouTube has placed it, once we know.

Bike club/organization members

Your club’s requested donation of $100 will give all club members free access to the Zoom Webinar for Bike Clubs and Group Rides, being held at the same time next Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

Club leaders, register here. Choose the Benefactor level. Include your organization’s name in the “Company” box. Note that your club is a Webinar Sponsor in the “Comments” box.

Donations will pay for work being developed exclusively for club and group cyclingHere’s a preview of the new online Group Ride Leader course currently in development:

Here are the sponsoring organizations as of December 8, 2020. Yours can still be on this list!

  • Bicycle Club of Irvine (CA)
  • Big Orange Cycling (CA)
  • Cincinnati Cycle Club (OH)
  • Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists (AZ)
  • GS Andiamo (CA)
  • Major Taylor Cycling Club Los Angeles (CA)
  • Riverside Bicycle Club (CA)
  • San Diego Bicycle Club (CA)
  • Velo Club La Grange (CA)
  • WeeklyRides.com (NC)

The Madrid Model

Note from Editor John Allen: This post started with a request from Madrid Ciclista in Madrid, Spain, to publish a translation of an article on this blog into Spanish. We were happy to comply. A look at their website revealed that Madrid has been thinking outside the box about bicycling. Miguel Cardo of Madrid Ciclista wrote the post below describing the “Modelo Madrid” in 99.44% perfect English.

Fire up Google Maps.

Switch to satellite view and have a look at any large avenue in my city, Madrid:

Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking

 

 

Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking

Lanes marked with that symbol have a speed limit of 30 km/h (about 19 mph). The default of 50 km/h (about 31 mph) is allowed in the other lanes. The marking with the oversized sharrow means:

  • Bicyclists can use the lane;
  • They have to ride in the middle of the lane.

All this started in 2013.

The city government was still reeling from the excesses of a real-estate bubble. Debt had ballooned to 7.4 billion euros after a failed Olympic bid. [1] The city could not even dream of any significant infrastructure project. A giant fine from the European Commission was looming for the city’s failure to reduce its pollution levels. [2]

City officials had to come up with something. This time they just couldn’t buy their way out of trouble. So they tried something different: a plan to increase cycling modal share without any large infrastructure projects.

The first plan was modest.

City officials started with a timid plan of “ciclocarriles 30” along the avenues and boulevards surrounding the Old Town. “Ciclocarriles 30” means 30 km/h bike lanes. The plan also included a municipal bike-share scheme that would use electric bikes, because Madrid is notoriously hilly. [3]

Municipal bike-share bicycle riding over a CC30 marking - photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Municipal bike-share bicycle about to pass over a CC30 marking. Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

In the beginning, nobody thought much of the plan.

In a chaotic and aggressive environment, motorists would not welcome the new users on “their” roads. Madrid city police have a well-deserved reputation for not enforcing traffic laws. Most people thought of the plan as some low-cost desperate measure to postpone the EU fine for a while, at least until a different administration was in charge. I’m not even sure that the city officials who created the plan had much faith in it.

Onward to Modelo Madrid.

Modelo Madrid makes urban cycling a transportation mode equal to any otherFast forward five or six years. Madrid city police still turned a blind eye to speeding, but the unexpected happened.

Madrid’s undisciplined, chaotic, aggressive motorists can be seen moving slowly behind a cyclist, waiting for the right moment to overtake — changing lanes to pass in the lane to the left.

The true benefit of the 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit is not that motorists comply with it, but that they drive at 15 km/h (9 mph) behind cyclists without even revving their engines. A new generation of cyclists — many of whom started riding on the new municipal white electric bikes — uses these roads with confidence.

Every road user is mandated to control his or her traffic lane.

A third measure sustaining this change was a city ordinance issued in 2010, which not only allowed but made mandatory riding on the center of the lane. [4]

In the video below, shot by the rider of a folding bicycle, nothing exciting happens, so don’t feel compelled to watch it all the way through.

The number of cyclists is still modest (2-3 percent in the central area, according to counts by Madrid Ciclista) but growing. [5]

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

The graph below, from the city’s lower, less accurate counts, shows the trend from year to year:

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

When compared with other European cities, the number of crashes per million trips is encouragingly low. [6].

City counts showing trend in bicycle use

We can now say that slow lanes were the origin of the so-called Modelo Madrid. The Madrid Model recognizes urban cycling as a transportation mode equal to any other, not requiring special infrastructure but granting the same rights to cyclists as to other vehicle operators. [7]

No cyclists ride on the sidewalk. Cyclists grant the same respect to pedestrians as they demand from motorists. Modelo Madrid puts in practice many of the principles pioneered by John Forester and refined in the United States by CyclingSavvy.

Modelo Madrid: the way of the future?

As with any other aspect of public policy, we can’t “ride” on our laurels — to paraphrase the English idiom — and expect equal treatment for cyclists in Madrid forever.

Economic stimulus money spent on “sustainable” projects is always a threat for urban cyclists, especially in these COVID-19 times. Going back to the segregated model is still possible. Some very loud cycling activists and associations are always demanding narrow bike lanes in the door zone or on sidewalks, following the North European model.

Here’s an example from Seville:

Sidewalk bikeway in Seville, Spain

Bikeway in Seville, Spain, 2018. Photo credit: Gary Cziko

On the other hand, more Spanish cities are introducing slow lanes, especially after the COVID-19 lockdown: Valladolid, Burgos, Leganés, Granada…

Cyclist in Ciclocarril 30

Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Additional thoughts from Editor John Allen:

Which way should US states go? Could there be slow lanes on multi-lane streets in the USA? Keep in mind that higher speeds are common now on e-bikes, which probably did not in exist when Seville bikeways were planned and constructed.

Consider that automated crash avoidance is becoming common on motor vehicles, and improving. A transition to autonomous vehicles will follow, in time.

Suppose that a hoped-for decrease in motor traffic occurs with autonomous vehicles. Consider also the dangers of edge riding, and the reduction in efficiency and safety when turning vehicles must cross the path of through-traveling ones, rather than merging before turning.

All of these factors suggest that an integrated model like the Modelo Madrid could become more compelling as time passes.

Does US practice support the Modelo Madrid?

There is no specific mention in the model US traffic law [8] of different lanes with different posted speed limits. Yet these are in wide use, established indirectly.

In several states, large trucks are held to a lower speed limit than other vehicles [9], and are prohibited from using the leftmost lanes on multi-lane highways [10]. Edge-of-the road “friction” with parked vehicles, walk-outs, drive-outs and parking decreases the safe speed in the rightmost lane on city streets.

The general rule is to pass on the left, in the “fast lane”. But faster vehicles may pass bicyclists on the right in a right-turn lane, and sometimes a bus lane.

In all of these cases, the basic speed limit applies: to drive no faster than is reasonable and prudent. That speed is established by the design of the street and by the users who are present. Here’s an example of a bike lane to the left of a bus lane on University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin. [11]

Bike lane to left of bus lane, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001

Bike lane to left of bus lane, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001. Photo credit: John S. Allen

Footnotes

(Web links in the body of an article are more usual, but we prefer not to sidetrack readers into articles which need explanation, some in Spanish. So, these footnotes – Editor.)

[1] Newspaper article about the debt

[2] Newspaper article about the fine

[3] Online news article describing the original plan, with map

[4] City ordinancetranslation of relevant sections into English

[5] Madrid Ciclista’s article “en Madrid no hay bicis” (“There are no bicycles in Madrid”) describes and promotes bicycle counts by citizens, and asserts that the city government has been undercounting.

[6] Crash rates in different European cities, and bicycle trends in Madrid. Article is in English: http://madridciclista.org/city-of-bikes/

[7] Madrid Ciclista article describing the Modelo Madrid.

[8] https://iamtraffic.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/UVC2000.pdf — see pages 147-148. Each US state enacts traffic law separately, and so there are differences.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_the_United_States

[10] https://static.tti.tamu.edu/tti.tamu.edu/documents/policy/congestion-mitigation/truck-lane-restrictions.pdf

[11] The University Avenue installation serves a large student population. The buses, on their fixed route, stay in the bus lane. More details here.

Passing a City Bus Safely on a Bicycle

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.

  1. 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.
  2. There is, so he makes a left-turn signal with his left arm, indicating the desire to merge left to pass the bus.
  3. He verifies that the driver behind him is yielding to let him move left before he does so.
  4. He passes the bus with safe clearance, ready to brake and fall back in case the bus starts to merge out from the curb.
  5. Once in the bus driver’s forward field of view, he signals to the bus driver the desire to merge back to the right.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Protected by SUV
The next driver behind the savvy cyclist has let him into line.

The yet-to-be savvy cyclist:

  1. Keeps far right as long as possible before reaching the bus, and does not check for overtaking traffic.
  2. Does not signal to indicate the desire to change lane position.
  3. Swerves out shortly before reaching the bus, again without checking to see if there is any traffic behind.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Merges to the right without signaling to the bus driver.
  7. Merges all the way over to the curb, inviting drivers of motor vehicles to “share” an un-sharable lane.
Swerve out
The other cyclist merges out just before passing the bus. What if a car, rather than another cyclist, had been following her?

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.

Too close to bus
I am passing the bus safely. The other cyclist couldn’t see a person crossing the street in front of the bus, and couldn’t avoid the bus if it merged out.

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.’

Or perhaps:

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!

Correct lane position
The shared-lane marking properly indicates my line of travel. The bus changes lanes to pass me safely. The other cyclist’s wheel is visible in the corner of the picture.

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 medical, and research facilities. I may well have been photographing a doctor or scientist. Brilliance in another 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.

Update

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.

bike lane on longwood avenue boston
2019: Google street view of Longwood Avenue

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.