Tag Archive for: cyclist behaviors

Safe passing -- you can see my hand signal in my shadow.

“Control and Release” for safe passing

Several weeks ago I posted an article with dashcam video about roads with double yellow lines. I was driving the car, and slowed to follow a bicyclist at a blind curve on a two-lane rural highway. A large dump truck with a trailer appeared, coming from the opposite direction.

If I had held my speed and passed the bicyclist, I could not have merged left far enough to pass the bicyclist safely.  Neither could the truck driver see me in time to make more room.

Safe passing-- the location on Route 117 in Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA

The location, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA

The bicyclist kept to the right as far as he could. He relied only on hope —  and my good judgment —  to avoid a close pass, or worse.

The video held a message for motorists: “What you don’t see can hurt you” — or hurt someone else (in this case, most likely the bicyclist).

Blind curves hold a message for bicyclists

To clarify this message, I later rode the same stretch on a bicycle with front and rear video cameras.

As this video shows, I mostly rode on the shoulder. Several cars and a pickup truck passed me —  no problem. No oncoming traffic prevented safe passing clearance.

But as I approached the blind curve, the shoulder narrowed to almost nothing. A big truck or other large vehicle could be approaching ahead. Who knew? Who could know? Neither I nor the driver of the car approaching from behind me could see around that curve.

Here’s what I did — what I always do — to protect myself:

I checked in my rearview mirror and took a look over my shoulder. If vehicles had been closer behind, I would have have used a hand signal to negotiate my way into line.

This car was far enough back that I simply merged to lane-control position. Then I made a hand signal: “Slow.”safe passing: the car's slowing confirmed that the driver had seen me and was acting safely.

The driver slowed to follow me for a few seconds. Once I had rounded the curve and could see far enough ahead, I released to the right and give a friendly wave. The driver accelerated and passed me.

How control and release promotes safe passing

What did my actions achieve?

  • They indicated that I was aware of the driver’s vehicle behind me.
  • They indicated that I knew it was unsafe to pass. Maybe I knew something the driver didn’t know!
  • In case the driver was impatient, they made it clear that passing would have to wait until we could both see far enough ahead.
  • The car’s slowing confirmed to me that the driver was aware of me and acting safely.
  • And by releasing as soon as it was safe, I demonstrated courtesy. No motorist wants to be “stuck” behind a cyclist.

As it turned out, there was no large truck, or not even a small car, approaching from the front.

But that isn’t the point. One could have been.

Might the driver behind me have passed, unable to see far enough ahead, if I had hugged the right edge of the road? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because I took active control of my safety in a potentially dangerous situation.

When my safety is at stake, I choose not to rely on others to do the right thing. As we say in CyclingSavvy courses, drivers get smarter when we lead the dance.

Crowd of bicyclists

Bikeway Study: Strategies to Improve Bicyclist Safety

 In Part One of this series, I discussed how most bikeway studies fail to address the key factors that lead to crashes, and I described the basic findings of Metroplan Orlando’s new bikeway study. Part Two went into deeper detail to show how cyclist direction, position and speed affect crash risk. In this final part, I’ll discuss how data from the study should inform attitudes and strategies to improve cyclist safety.

Crowd of bicyclists

Jacobsen’s widely-cited study

In a 2003 paper in Injury Prevention [1], Peter Jacobsen found that higher bicycle use went with lower cyclist crash rates across geographies (European nations and California cities) and over time (United Kingdom and The Netherlands). As cycling (and walking) increased, it seemed that the overall crash risk dropped. In the discussion section of the paper, Jacobsen wrote:

“It seems unlikely that people walking or bicycling obey traffic laws more or defer to motorists more in societies or time periods with greater walking and bicycling. Indeed, it seems less likely, and hence unable to explain the observed results. Adaptation in motorist behavior seems more plausible and other discussions support that view.”

Though Jacobsen provided no behavioral data to support this explanation, it has become popular among bikeway proponents. When skeptics point out conflicts created by many bikeways, advocates have a handy response: “But there’s safety in numbers…” Others have questioned Jacobsen’s math [2].

Does Jacobsen’s conclusion hold water?

Our bikeway study shows whether that assumption holds water. Did rates for motorist-caused or bicyclist-caused crashes increase or decrease with larger numbers of bicyclists?

I divided the twenty streets into five groups of four each, ranked from lowest to highest bicyclist counts over 10 years. The table below shows enormous differences in the amount of bicyclist travel. There was 60 times as much bicycle use on the busiest streets as on the least busy.

Quintile Streets by Bicyclist ExposureLowest Quintile2nd Quintile3rd Quintile4th QuintileTop Quintile
Bicyclist Miles Traveled819,0005.344 M9.674 M13.341 M49.218 M
Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes19,00046,00039,00049,00045,000
Miles Between Bicyclist-Caused Crashes13,00073,000125,000205,000198,000

I left the lowest 1/5 out of the analysis, because the bicyclist exposure and the numbers of crashes are tiny. Even from the second group to the top group, there’s a nine-fold increase in bike use:

Orlando bikeway study: miles between bicyclist- vs motorist- caused crashes
The results? There is little difference in the risk of motorist-caused crashes. (Remember, a higher number — more miles between crashes — means lower crash risk.) But bicyclist-caused crashes were 170% to 180% lower for the top and fourth quintiles!

Better overall bicyclist behavior is responsible for the “safety in numbers” effect. [3]

It’s plausible that motorist behavior improved some small amount on the higher usage streets, but that would probably be masked by the reduced risk due to slower cyclists on the sidewalks.

Three of the four streets in the 4th quintile (with the lowest risk for cyclist-caused crashes) are two-lane streets with bike lanes. These are just the type of streets touted as “bike-friendly.”  Bikeway advocates like to say that bikeways attract potential cyclists who are “interested but concerned.” [4] Wouldn’t “interested but concerned” cyclists generally be more cautious and less likely to cause crashes?

The streets in the top quintile are all high-speed, high-volume, four- and six-lane arterials. Their obvious risks should encourage cyclists to use extra care.

It’s possible that motorist behavior does improve with still higher bicycle use. On the busiest cycling streets in the Orlando bikeway study, a bicyclist would pass any given point about once every eight minutes. In some European cities, bicyclists are almost always in sight. Motorists’ expectations would be radically different there.

Study results: crash risks and numbers

Orlando bikeway study: key to the three graphs below

Key to the three graphs below

In this bikeway study, ten times as many cyclists were using bike lanes on the bike lane streets as were using the travel lanes on the comparison streets. Almost all bicyclists on the comparison streets were riding on sidewalks. But there was only 28 percent more bicyclist travel overall on the bike-lane streets. Most of the increase in bike lane use was due to bicyclists switching from the sidewalk to the bike lane.

Orlando bikeway study: Estimated miles of travel on streets with and without bike lanes

Though the bike lanes in this bikeway study presented a 53 percent lower crash risk per cyclist, four times as many motorist-caused crashes occurred in bike lanes on bike-lane streets as in travel lanes on the comparison streets. Almost all of the motorist-caused crashes on the comparison streets, and more than 3/4 of them on bike-lane streets, occurred on sidewalks and crosswalks.

Orlando bikeway study: Counts of motorist-caused crashes on streets with and without bike lanes

The crash rate was higher for sidewalks on the bike-lane streets than on the comparison streets, and so the bike-lane streets had a higher overall crash rate, despite the 53 percent lower crash risk than with the travel lanes on comparison streets. (Recall that a longer bar in the graph below represents a longer mileage between crashes — lower crash risk.)

Orlando bikeway study: miles between motorist-caused crashes on streets with and without bike lanes

How to approach a Vision Zero goal

The stated goal of the Vision Zero Network is to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. [5]

In order to truly approach this goal, much more effective risk-reduction methods than bike lanes and sidepaths must be implemented. As I highlighted in Part 2:

Rather than bikes lanes or sidewalks improving the safety of bicyclists, bicyclists are improving the safety of bike lanes or sidewalks by riding slower.

Bikeway advocates point to separated bike lanes, special bicycle signals, and channelized (“protected) intersections as improvements over sidewalks and ordinary striped (“basic) bike lanes. Slowing bicyclists at the approaches of intersections is part of bikeway designers’ design strategy, and may reduce risk somewhat.

In our Metro Orlando data, though, only 28 percent of motorist-caused turning and crossing crashes (for cyclists riding with the flow) occurred at signalized intersections. Forty-two percent occurred at unsignalized intersections (mostly minor cross streets), and 30 percent at driveways.

Orlando bikeway study: turning and crossing crashes by intersection type

Most turning-movement collisions do not occur at signalized intersections. It is not practical to install preventive measures everywhere a motorist may cross the path of a bicyclist.

Mitigating all conflicts would require channelization to slow bicyclists at every intersection and driveway. This would be very costly — if even possible — and would slow cyclists nearly to pedestrian speeds, making bicycling less useful. [6]

Cyclists who tried to maintain their preferred speed could be blamed for crashes in the bikeways, or harassed for using lane control in the travel lanes. Now with electric-assist bikes, novice cyclists can ride on bikeways at the speeds of fitter, experienced cyclists. This is not a good combination.

The 6 E's of a bicycle program

Final Thoughts

The real world is a very messy place. As with many of life’s other challenges and questions, prevention of bicyclist crashes doesn’t lend itself to simple, straightforward answers. Nor does the question of whether bikeways really improve cyclist safety.

Cyclist skill, direction, position, speed, predictability, and conspicuity are concerns in crash prevention. So are motorist attention, speed and turning movements, lighting conditions, sight lines, traffic controls, and many other lesser concerns.

Attempting to address all of these factors with street and bikeway design is bound to fail. Design can improve safety, but it won’t get us as far as we’d like.

“Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

This saying (perhaps Native American) has been replaced with a popular version, found on parenting websites, using the word “road” instead of “path.” [7] and [8]

Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. Adults as well as children benefit from such a philosophy. Bicyclist training and education are not optional.

Mother and child riding side by side on a street and both signaling a right turn


[1] Jacobsen’s article

[2] The widely cited hyperbolic, descending curve which appears in every graph in Jacobsen’s report  is an artifact of faulty math. Correct math gives varied results. See this for an explanation.

[3] Other research has also shown that bicyclist crash rates are lower on busy streets, notably a  study by William Moritz from the 1990s. One factor: cyclists with more experience and greater skill are more likely to ride on busy streets. Also, more mentoring occurs where bicycling is more common. See discussion here.

[4] This categorization, one of four by Portland, Oregon bicycle coordinator Roger Geller, conflates two characteristics. Not all interested people are concerned, and vice versa.

[5] Wikipedia article describing Vision Zero, with links to other resources.

[6] The reduction in possible trip destinations within a given time is greater: in an urban grid: half the speed, 1/4 the destinations.

[7] See this, for example.

[8] However, Strong Towns offers the opposite advice.

Bikeway Study Part Two: Your Speed, Your Choice

Safer Motorists or Safer Bicyclists?

Last week, in the first of a three-part series describing my research on bikeway crash risk, I gave relative estimated risks for three types of motorist-caused crashes when bicyclists rode with the flow…

miles between crashes graph_intersection with diagram

Travel Lane Edge – 61,000 Miles Between Crashes (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 75,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

… and asked:

Why would the risk be lowest for bicyclists riding on sidewalks?

All crashes occurred at intersections and driveways with no sort of “protection” for the bicyclist. Don’t experienced bicyclists avoid using sidewalks — and sometimes even bike lanes — because riding in the street is supposed to help them avoid such conflicts?

Stay with me while I show you where the data led me as I pondered this question.

There are two key possibilities why these risks are lower: (1) Motorists might be more likely to yield to bike lane and sidewalk cyclists for some reason, and (2) Bike lane and sidewalk cyclists might be better able to avoid a motorist-caused crash.

It’s often argued and assumed that striping a bicycle lane leads motorists to look for and yield to cyclists. But the sidewalk cyclists had lower risk for these motorist-caused crashes than even the bike lane users, though sidewalks are neither designated nor designed for use by cyclists.

When we split up the crashes further, we see that only the risk of drive-outs is higher for bike-lane and sidewalk cyclists.  Right-hook and left-cross crashes are less likely:

Right Hook & Left Cross

miles between crashes graph_right hook and left cross

Travel Lane Edge – 73,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 100,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 300,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Sidewalk cyclists have the highest risk of drive-out crashes:


miles between crashes graph_drive out

Travel Lane Edge – 367,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Bike Lane – 292,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 245,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Would motorists be more likely to yield to bike lane and sidewalk cyclists during overtaking right turns and opposing left turns, but not during drive-outs? I think that this is not more likely.

People Make Mistakes

News Flash: Humans make mistakes, whether they’re walking, bicycling, or driving motor vehicles.

We expect slower automobile and motorcycle drivers to be better able to react more quickly than faster ones to avoid conflicts caused by other motorists.

Why would we assume differently for bicyclists? [1]

Recall the average speeds we found for cyclists using the three positions. A slower cyclist needs less perception and reaction time and less braking distance:

Bicyclist PositionBicyclist Average (Mean) SpeedBicyclist 85th Percentile SpeedStopping Distance at 85th Percentile Speed
Travel Lane14.5 MPH18.4 MPH104 Feet
Bike Lane11.8 MPH15.7 MPH83 Feet
Sidewalk9.3 MPH12.4 MPH60 Feet

Facing an impending motorist-caused crash, the bike-lane user riding at the 85th-percentile speed would need an additional 23 feet of stopping distance compared to the sidewalk rider — about the width of the typical two-lane street. The difference is about the same between the travel lane and the bike lane. The total difference between travel lane and sidewalk is about the width of four traffic lanes, or 44 feet.

85th Percentile Bicyclist Speed and Stopping Distance

85th percentile stopping distance

With right-hook and left-cross crashes, the motorist is coming from the bicyclist’s left, so the farther right the bicyclist is, the longer it takes for the motorist to reach the bicyclist’s path. This means that the bike lane or sidewalk bicyclist gets more reaction time. With drive-out crashes, the travel lane cyclist gets the most reaction time.

Rather than bikes lanes or sidewalks improving the safety of bicyclists, bicyclists are improving the safety of bike lanes or sidewalks by riding slower.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to ride on the sidewalk, bike lane or edge of the travel lane, you must ride slower.

I can’t tell you how slow is slow enough. But if you’re having more close calls with turning and crossing vehicles than you’d like, you need to either slow down, or use lane control. [2]

Based on the data, each additional mile per hour of bicyclist’s speed increases the risk of a motorist-caused crash about 9 percent.

With lane control, you give yourself much more reaction time for drive-out crashes, you eliminate the right hook crash, and you get more options for avoiding the left cross.

lane control allows faster speed

To put it in the simplest of terms: The faster you go, the more important it is for you to control your travel lane.

Sidepaths and Motorist-Caused Crash Risks

We performed the same type of analysis for five sidepaths which have been in place for over ten years. I was curious as to whether they would have better safety performance than a regular sidewalk. They did — about 68 percent better, on average — but it varied widely. Looking closer, I found that three of the paths had few intersections and commercial driveways — 4.6 per mile — while the other two had 11.6 per mile. Low-conflict paths had 64 percent lower motorist-caused crash rates compared to the other two paths; 51 percent lower than for ordinary sidewalks.

Low-Conflict SidepathsHigh-Conflict SidepathsRegular Sidewalks
Intersections and Commercial Driveways per Mile4.611.610.5
Cyclist Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes81,000 (Lowest Risk)29,000 (Highest Risk)40,000

miles between crashes graph sidepaths

Notice that high-conflict paths had 10 percent more intersections and driveways per mile than the sidewalks, but 38 percent higher motorist-caused crash risk, likely due to the higher bicyclist speeds on the paths (16.3 MPH versus 12.4 MPH for the sidewalks).

If we replace a sidewalk with a sidepath without somehow reducing the turning and crossing conflicts, the risk for the bicyclists will likely increase. This information helps you as a cyclist to decide when a sidepath might be reasonable to use — such as going with the flow on a low-conflict path — and when to avoid one — for example, when going against the flow, or going with the flow fast on a high-conflict path.

Bikeway designers can’t foresee every situation for you, so don’t expect them to.

Next time: Safety in numbers, Vision Zero, and “Preparing the Child.”


[1] The 1976 Bikecentennial study found that 38% of crashes occurred on downgrades, though the constituted only 15% of the route. This was for all types of crashes.

[2] This short video explains lane control and the need for it.

Mighk wilson setting up Miovision camera

Orlando’s Better Data Can Make You Safer On Your Own Bike

Editor’s note

We love to give you the tools to keep you safe on your bike. New research from transportation planner and CyclingSavvy co-founder Mighk Wilson offers surprising insights about your safety when riding in bike lanes, on sidewalks, or on the edge of travel lanes.

In this three-part series, Mighk describes his bikeway research, and how the way he gathered data for it differs in critical ways from other bikeway studies.

You’ll be impressed.

Metro Orlando Bikeway Study

Metroplan Orlando logoThis is the first in a series of articles on new bikeway research which I’ve completed for my employer, MetroPlan Orlando. Findings of this research are useful for planners and designers, and for bicyclists. The study compared risks to bicyclists riding on sidewalks, on streets with bike lanes, and on streets without.

This first segment will cover:

  • My own professional and personal history with bike lanes;
  • How most bikeway studies don’t clearly show how bikeways might prevent motorist-caused crashes; and
  • An overview of the data and basic findings of my research.

The second segment will help you make better decisions as a bicyclist. The third segment will address the “safety in numbers” premise and how bicyclists truly get to “Vision Zero” (the goal of eliminating fatal and serious injury crashes) [1].

Part One: Better Data, Better Understanding

I Used to Be Mr. Bike Lane

When I started work as a bicycle planner for MetroPlan Orlando in 1993, I was quite supportive of bike lanes. After all, the cities and towns that had lots of bicycle traffic had them. Wouldn’t that mean that people there had good experiences with them?

But it didn’t take me long to cross paths via internet forums with the infamous John Forester [2], and to have my assumptions challenged.

While Forester and his supporters had reasonable concerns about bike lanes, there was no solid data to show that they were worse (or better) for bicyclists than a regular travel lane. Concern about bike lanes was based mostly on direct experience. I had little, as the Orlando area had no bike lanes.

I found it frustrating that some bicyclists complained so much about bike lanes, while others expressed a strong preference for them.

Mighk not riding in bike lane on Edgewater Drive

A Quest for Answers

It took quite a few years for the Orlando area to get bike lanes and for me to gain enough experience with them. I found myself frequently having types of conflicts that rarely occurred when I used regular travel lanes. But still, I could find no good objective evidence about relative safety.

It became clear that to assess it, I would need lots of detailed crash data and good measures of bicyclist counts and behaviors.

Assembling crash data was fairly easy. MetroPlan Orlando had been collecting and analyzing crash reports since 1997. Also, I had a solid understanding of how bicycle/motor vehicle crashes happen.

But getting good counts would entail thousands of hours sitting next to roads, counting and observing bicyclists.

A few years ago, computer/video technology finally made counting efficient and effective. I now have the combination of crash, behavior and exposure data to allow useful analysis. But before I get to that, I want briefly to discuss the shortcomings of other studies.

Sloppy Bikeway Research

A number of studies published over the past decade or so have purported to show better safety performance of streets with bikeways compared to those without. Some are before-and-after studies of the same streets. These studies have a major problem: they treat all bicyclist-versus-motorist crashes the same, as if all would be affected in some way by the presence of a bikeway.

But clearly, the presence of a bikeway would not impact many crashes one way or the other. For example, a bicyclist might roll out of a driveway and fail to yield to an approaching car, or a motorist might blow through a red traffic signal at speed. Also, some crash types would likely be made more common by the presence of a bikeway, such as “wrong-way bicyclist” crashes when a bikeway either encourages or requires bicyclists to travel facing traffic.

montreal study comparison streets with and without separated bike lanes

A bikeway study street and its “comparison street” in the 2011 Montreal cycle track study.

Such studies have too many other kinds of failures to describe here, but the highly-touted 2011 Montreal cycle track study by Lusk and Furth [3] had a particularly serious failing. That study compared parallel streets with and without cycle tracks, but the paired streets were often radically different from one another.

One comparison, for example, was of a one-lane, one-way, low-volume residential street with a cycle track vs. a two-way, four lane street with high traffic volume and storefronts. A traffic engineering journal’s peer reviewers likely would have thrown out the Montreal study, but an injury prevention journal published it. The reviewers apparently didn’t catch this major failure of methodology.

Our Data

study methodology, streets with and without bike lanes

The MetroPlan study ensured that the control (no-bike-lane) streets were like the bike lane streets: same number of lanes, median type, same or similar posted speeds, similar traffic volumes, similar land use, and even similar surrounding populations.

We selected ten streets that had had bike lanes for at least ten years, and for each of them, a control street that also had not seen major changes for ten years. The streets were mostly suburban, with just a few a bit more urban.

We had ten years of crash data for all of the streets, categorized by crash type (who turned, who crossed, who violated right-of-way, etc.); the bicyclist’s position leading up to the crash (travel lane, bike lane, sidewalk or other non-roadway position); and the bicyclist’s direction of travel (with or facing the regular flow of vehicular traffic, or crossing the roadway).

miovision setup photo

Left: Mighk Wilson with the MioVision camera system, which is portable and records 48 hours of video. Right: the pole-mounted camera provides a birds-eye view of the roadway and the sidewalk.

Video Data Collection

Using a MioVision camera, we counted bicyclists, with their position and direction, on each bike-lane street and its control street during the same 48-hour period. With this information, we were able to estimate miles of bicyclist travel by multiplying the counts by the length of the study street, and then by 1,825, which gets us from 48 hours to ten years of exposure.

With ten years of crashes and of estimated exposure, we could calculate Bicyclist Miles Between Crashes. A high number means lower risk. (I’ve rounded to the nearest thousand miles for clarity.)

85th percentile speedsWith the video, we were also able to estimate typical speeds for bicyclists. Traffic engineers typically use an “85th-percentile speed” for traffic studies. (85% of the travelers are going at or below this speed.) We found the 85th-percentile speed to be 12.4 MPH for sidewalk bicyclists, 15.7 MPH for bike-lane users, and 18.4 MPH for travel-lane users.

We also looked at five shared-use sidepaths (“trails” directly adjacent to roadways) that had been in place for more than ten years, and collected the same crash and exposure data for them.

Key Findings

This section will explore the risk of a motorist-caused crash.

Most Important Factor: Bicyclist Direction

It is legal to bike against traffic on a sidewalk or path, and illegal in a bike lane or travel lane, but regardless of bicyclist position, we found bicyclist direction to be the most important risk factor. The risk ratio was the same, 5.3 times greater, except for bike lanes, where it was 4.3 times. This means that bicyclists riding against the flow of motor vehicle traffic are 4.3 to 5.3 times more likely to be in a crash than those who ride with motor vehicle traffic flow.

These results show higher relative risk than prior studies, but this study had many more streets and better bicyclist-count data. (Wachtel and Lewiston in 1993 [4] found 3.6 times greater risk, and Huang and Petritsch in 2007 [5] found 4.4 times greater risk.)

Risk by Position

So we know that going with the flow is much, much safer. But if we’re going with the flow, is it better to be along the edge of a travel lane, in a bike lane, or on a sidewalk? For bicyclists traveling with the flow, the Miles Between Motorist-Caused Crashes were:

miles between crashes, bike lane, sidewalk, roadway

Travel Lane Edge – 31,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 64,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

I have assumed that the bicyclist in the travel lane is riding along its right edge. Very few bicyclists use lane control, and only a tiny percentage of crashes involves bicyclists using it. This study could not assess that strategy.

These numbers make it look like the sidewalk is the safest place to ride, with four times lower risk than the edge of the travel lane. The sidewalk looks better than the bike lane too. But stay with me…

study crash types

The four main motorist-caused crash types for bicyclists going with the flow were: overtaking motorist, drive-out, right hook, and left cross. (Dooring was not a significant issue with these streets; only two of the twenty streets had parallel on-street parking. There was only one reported dooring during the ten-year period.)

Overtaking crashes are very rare. Of 428 motorist-caused crashes on these twenty streets, only ten (2%) involved overtaking motorists. Six of those ten involved bicyclists in bike lanes. But the bike lanes did show a much lower risk for overtaking crashes: 585,000 miles between crashes compared to 92,000 miles for travel-lane bicyclists.

Setting Overtaking Crashes Aside

For now, let’s set overtaking crashes aside and look at the risks for drive-outs, right hooks and left crosses. Again, we consider only bicyclists going with the flow.

miles between crashes at intersections, bike lane, sidewalk, roadway

Travel Lane Edge – 61,000 Miles (Highest Risk)

Bike Lane – 75,000 Miles

Sidewalk – 122,000 Miles (Lowest Risk)

Here we still see much lower risks for sidewalks, and somewhat lower for bike lanes. But why would there be lower risks for those crash types? They all occur at intersections and driveways with no sort of “protection” for the bicyclist. Don’t experienced bicyclists avoid using sidewalks — and sometimes even bike lanes — precisely to avoid such conflicts?

I have the answer for you in the next article.


[1] Wikipedia article describing Vision Zero, with links to other resources.

[2] John Forester, pioneering bicycling educator, died in April 2020. We have an evenhanded article about him.

[3] The Montreal study may be found here. Michael Kary’s critique of it may be found here, Wayne Pein’s, here and Paul Schimek’s here.

[4] The Wachtel and Lewiston study is available online.

[5] The Huang and Petritsch study is available on the Metroplan Orlando site.

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 has let the savvy cyclist 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 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.

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.

Requiem for a Heavyweight-••-John-Forester-1929-2020

(Also in Spanish — este artículo está también disponible en español en la web de Madrid Ciclista.)

Back in my misspent youth, I dropped 60 cents on the then-new February 1973 issue of Bike World Magazine. In it was the first-ever article by a guy named John Forester.

John Forester photo with note of appreciation.Forester was steaming mad.

The city of Palo Alto, California, had decided it wanted bikeways. The city got them by putting up signage, requiring bicyclists to ride on the sidewalks. Forester tried them and found them dangerous at very ordinary cycling speeds of 10-12 mph, and so he chronicled the hazards in a two-page article.

Forester cited two fatal bike/pedestrian collisions to underscore the danger of mixing bicycles and pedestrians. He wrote about turning conflicts, poor sight distances at driveway intersections, and the impossibility of making a safe and sensible left turn. Forester wrote that he hoped to get arrested, so he could challenge the city’s sidewalk requirement.

That article sparked an epiphany for me. Until then, I’d dreamed of sidepaths along all my favorite roads. Three feet wide, and just for me! Wheeeeee!

The epiphany was, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because even a city as sophisticated as Palo Alto got it completely wrong.

I learned: Sometimes, a well-intentioned intervention is far worse than leaving well enough alone. And that is just the beginning of what I learned from John Forester.

Forester died on April 19, half a year shy of his 91st birthday. The cause of death was a lingering flu, not suspected to be Covid-19. Forester left behind nearly 50 years of immense contributions to the cycling community, in ways that weren’t even imaginable before he articulated them.

My own Forester-related epiphany pales in comparison to those of many thousands of others. I was already a bike rider. Forester made me a better bike rider. Others were liberated to use their bikes to go anywhere, when they previously couldn’t.

Independent mobility for a legally blind person

No one has expressed this better than Eli Damon, a resident of western Massachusetts whose eyesight is not good enough for him to get a driver’s license:

Socializing was especially difficult for me for many reasons, but an important one was that my mobility limitations hindered my ability to act spontaneously or to interact with others on an equal basis. . . . Asking for a ride . . . left me in a constantly dependent and inferior social position. I was lonely and isolated. . . .

. . . My principal social outlet [in 2005] was my weekly choir practice, which . . . was fifteen miles away (ten miles was my limit at the time) on unfamiliar, difficult, scary roads, so biking seemed impossible. I was too far out of the way for other members of the choir to pick me up. There were no buses that could take me.

And Damon had lost his ride to the choir practice.

He found a cycling book that had been given to him.

Eli Damon's copy of Effective cycling 6th Edition

Eli Damon’s copy of Effective Cycling, 6th Edition

In desperation, I dug the book out and started reading it, hoping to find a clue to my mobility problem. The book was Effective Cycling, by John Forester.

As I read the book, I became very excited. It suggested that I should ride my bike according to the same rules drivers of motor vehicles use and that I should stay away from the edge of the road, sometimes riding in the center or even on the left side of a lane, thus occupying the entire lane. I knew that the designs of roads provided a simple and predictable environment for motorists to travel with ease and flexibility. If I could use the roads in the same manner on a bike, then I could go anywhere with the same ease and flexibility. This was a totally new concept to me, and I was somewhat skeptical of it, but I recognized its immense potential.

I quickly became comfortable riding assertively on small quiet roads. I advanced my testing to bigger, busier roads. And then even bigger, even busier roads. . . I was ready to take on the scariest road I knew of: Route 9 in Hadley, a major four-lane arterial.

. . .

Eli Damon Rides Route 9

Eli Damon rides Route 9 in Hadley, Massachusetts

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