An observation, and a confession:
It’s much easier to shoot video than to edit it.
I use bike lanes.
In November 2015 I spent part of a day exploring Philadelphia by bicycle. I shot video of my ride, as I like to do.
I ride with a forward-facing camera on my helmet and a rearward-facing one on the bicycle’s rear rack. The video accompanying this post was recorded on Spruce Street in downtown Philadelphia.
Spruce Street is straight, narrow and one-way, lined with brick row houses. There are a couple of big, old churches. The street has sidewalks on each side and, from left to right, a parking lane, single travel lane and bike lane.
Fast forward two years
In November 2017, 24-year-old cyclist Emily Fredericks died at the corner of 10th and Spruce streets. As she rode on Spruce in the bike lane, a right-turning garbage truck swept over her and she went under its rear wheels.
Then in December, one block from Spruce Street, a truck turned right and ran over Becca Refford, also 24 years old, leaving her seriously injured.
These heartbreaking events
moved me to edit my Spruce Street video and place it online.
Let’s be clear.
I can assure you that I wish this post didn’t have to be written.
I wish Emily and Becca — and every cyclist — knew what I know: How to protect yourself when choosing to use bike lanes.
I want you to understand why what happened to them doesn’t happen to me.
I want you to know how to avoid a catastrophe when you use a bike lane.
Pragmatic vs. Dogmatic Use of Bike Lanes
A cyclist who insists on never using bike lanes is, without question, rigid and dogmatic.
But a cyclist who insists on always using bike lanes is equally rigid and dogmatic.
My use of bike lanes is pragmatic.
I use a bike lane when it works. I get out of it when it doesn’t.
To Use or Not To Use
The bike lane on Spruce Street is entirely reasonable where it does work. The bike lane is next to the curb — parking is only on the other side of the street — so the bike lane doesn’t create a problem with a door zone or blocked sight lines.
I used this bike lane to let motorists pass me when they were faster. The bike lane also let me pass motorists when they were slower. Here’s what’s important:
When I use a bike lane to either release or pass motorists, I do so with caution — and constant observation of what’s happening around me.
Especially when approaching intersections, riding in line with motor vehicles is safer, and often easier.
Traffic Safety is a Dynamic Condition
For much of Spruce Street’s bike lane, sight line obstructions are minimized and there’s no door zone to worry about. But the remaining hazard killed Emily Fredericks and put Becca Refford into a body cast. You can avoid this!
How to Avoid Right-Hook Collisions
Merge left to ride in line with motor traffic. It’s easy to communicate with slow-moving motorists. Look over your shoulder and signal to the driver behind you that you want to take your place in the queue.
In the video you’ll see me take my place in line. I followed our traffic system’s Rules of Movement and passed right-turning vehicles on the left.
Yes, I waited a few seconds longer than some of the cyclists who stayed in the bike lane, but I also could get moving while others were trapped behind right-turning motor vehicles.
No motorists had to wait for me before turning right. So this worked better for the motorists too.
Complain to the Preacher?
I rode Spruce Street on a Sunday morning. In the video, you’ll see worshipers’ cars parked illegally in the bike lane.
I preferred not to get into the middle of a dispute involving politics and religion, so I got into the middle of the travel lane instead, avoiding the door zone on both sides.
Pragmatic, not dogmatic.
to get into a bike lane, once you decide it’s OK to use.
It’s much harder
to get out of a bike lane, once you find yourself in danger.
Tune in again…
for a post about a couple of encounters on Spruce Street that could have turned into real trouble, and how I managed them.