Tag Archive for: John Allen

A roundabout

A modern roundabout, or is it a traffic circle?

In an earlier post on this blog, I described savvy strategies to navigate a small, single lane traffic circle. I’ll now take the discussion up a level and describe a modern roundabout. I shot the video below in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, while on a bicycle tour with a friend. The location in the video, FYI. Have a look at the video and then I’ll follow up with some comments.

Roundabout or traffic circle? Does it matter?

Articles about this intersection call it either a roundabout (rond-point) or a traffic circle (carrefour à circulation giratoire). One of the articles explains that entering traffic must yield to traffic in a roundabout; rules for a traffic circle are the opposite: antiquated French practice. At every circular intersection I have seen in the US or Canada, entering traffic yields, for a good reason which I’ll explain later. Here, signs tell drivers to yield at crosswalks and again when entering the circular roadway. So, I’ll call this a roundabout, though in some ways it doesn’t quite operate as one.

Signs indicating yielding rules at the Place du Commerce on nuns' Island in Montreal.
Signs indicate that drivers must yield when entering the roundabout

Modern roundabout advantages and disadvantages

Modern roundabouts have deflection – curved entrances and exits. Also, there is a truck apron — a ring of raised pavement inboard of the circular roadway. When a large truck is in the inner lane, its left rear wheel(s) go up onto the the truck apron. These features slow traffic down. There is more time for drivers to negotiate right of way, reducing crash severity. There are no head-on conflicts. And, because traffic in the circular roadway never stops, a roundabout can carry more traffic than an intersection with traffic signals.

Roundabout advocates like to stress these advantages, but there are also some real problems. Unless drivers reliably yield at crosswalks, pedestrians have a harder time at roundabouts than at signalized intersections. Because traffic flows continuously, gaps in traffic downstream of the roundabout are fewer. Drivers in side streets have a harder time entering or crossing downstream traffic.

In a two-lane modern roundabout, drivers are supposed to yield to traffic in both lanes and go directly to the inner lane except when taking the first exit. Drivers must cross the outer lane when exiting from the inner lane. These issues have led to quite a bit of confusion and to increases in crash rates. As noted in the video, one leg of this roundabout has been restriped from two lanes to one — probably reflecting this concern.

A mostly modern roundabout Quebec-style

In the satellite view below, the orange arrow at the left shows where I began my tour of the roundabout. The green and red arrows point to markings that tell drivers which lane to use at two-lane entrances. Lane use is different at these two entrances, reflecting the volume of traffic which takes different exits.

It is unusual for both lanes of a two-lane entry, like the one with the red arrow, to allow right turns. Though drivers are not supposed to change lanes or overtake inside a modern roundabout, a red car is doing that anyway. The yellow arrow points to an example why they shouldn’t overtake: the truck’s cab is in the outer lane, but the trailer is off-tracking into the inner lane. A driver who tried to overtake would get a big squeeze. If the truck had entered from the north, it would first have off-tracked to the right. You can actually see where trucks have gone up over the curb.

Do you see inconsistencies with standard US roundabout rules? I see two! Explanations are below the picture.

Features of the Place du Commerce mosstly modern roundabout

The inconsistencies:

  • If the truck (or any other vehicle) entered from the east (red arrow), it would have to change lanes to get to the southbound exit.
  • The section with the dashed line at the head of the yellow arrow also extends back under the truck. It is long enough that drivers entering from the west (left side of the image) will be merging across this segment rather than yielding to traffic in both lanes at once.

And for bicyclists and pedestrians..

Something different, the video shows… Quebec is very intent on separating bicyclists from motor traffic. Bicyclists are directed to ride around the outside of this roundabout, using crosswalks along with pedestrians.

Motorists’ yielding to heavy bicycle and pedestrian traffic in crosswalks overturns the advantage of a roundabout in increasing capacity for motorists. And safety issues with the sidepath treatment are debatable, as most crashes occur at intersections and driveways, where bicyclists and motorists do not have a good view of each other. Motorists are supposed to yield to bicyclists, but for safety’s sake, bicyclists also most be prepared to yield. Mighk Wilson’s summary of his research, published in this blog, highlights such issues. His key finding was that bicyclists make the bikeways safer — by riding slower — rather than that the bikeways make the bicyclists safer. Safety at speed becomes an increasing concern with the advent of ebikes.

One side, two-way

A two-way sidepath runs along one side of each street that connects to this roundabout. The sidepath runs only 3/4 of the way around the roundabout — and so, to connect with the streets going in all four directions, the sidepath is two-way. The fourth quadrant has only a narrow sidewalk.

Mighk Wilson, among others, has shown that entering a crosswalk from the right is generally much more hazardous for a bicyclist than entering from the left: right-turning drivers will be looking left. In this modern roundabout, crosswalks are well back from the circular roadway. Motorists’ attention does not have to be directed toward roadway traffic when scanning for bicyclists. But still — bicyclists need to be prepared to yield.

I explore the roundabout

While my companion checked out a map, I first rode the sidepath. Fortunately, traffic was light. A motorist was approaching at only one crosswalk, and yielded to me.

The route around the outside of the roundabout on the sidepath is long, and slow. For purposes of comparison, I also rode around in the roadway.

The same strategies demonstrated in the earlier post about traffic circles apply in this modern roundabout. Except when preparing to exit, I kept to the inside, where there are no entrances or exits and motor traffic is slow. My strategy worked fine, and I decided to take a second tour around the roundabout. Riding the roadway is my usual choice, and at many circular intersections, it is the only option.

Bend the rules in a modern roundabout?

Really, the savvy approach to roadway riding is the same in an old-style traffic circle or a modern roundabout: use the correct lane, and especially, get away from the outside if you are going past the first exit. Be careful of entering traffic when you are exiting, especially at a two-lane exit. I sometimes do find it useful to bend the rules and merge toward the outside lane before I exit, to avoid conflict with traffic coming around in the outside lane — explanation here.

The video reveals that two quadrants of the roundabout were originally two-lane, and entering drivers would have to yield to traffic in both lanes. One quadrant still is two-lane, under the semi truck in the image above. Striping a gore (no-drive zone) next to the center island in the other quadrant reduced it to one lane, at least in theory – you’ll notice that the paint is worn. I rode over the gore myself. Bad me. But I avoided a potential conflict with an entering vehicle!

What do you think?

Expect another article soon, taking the exploration of circular intersections to yet another level…

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.

Bicycle Portland, Maine

Pamela Murray welcomes you to the Maine lighthouse bicycle tour
Pamela Murray welcomes you to the Lighthouse Tour

Bicycle Portland, Maine and the surrounding area, August 25-28 (Thurs.-Sun.). Pick and choose among any or all of these events:

  • 6-lighthouse coastal tour,
  • lobster dinner on the beach,
  • overnight camping trip,
  • CyclingSavvy bike handling and street skills  sessions. 

Let us know if you need help finding accommodations for the nights of Aug. 25 and 26. We may be able to help. But the overnight for the tour August 27-28 is free at the People’s Perch in East Baldwin, Maine, a unique and friendly spot with camping accommodations. Then also, there’s a 200-foot water tower which you may climb, safely belayed. Great view…

Bicyclists arrive at the People's Perch in East Baldwin, Maine with its 200-foot water tower.
Bicyclists arrive at the People’s Perch

Click here for a form to contact us and sign on. We’ll soon get back to you by phone or e-mail.

And click here to register for the CyclingSavvy course. Truth and Techniques session is over Zoom on August 19; then Train Your Bike August 25. Both of these are prerequisites for the Tour of Portland, August 26, but see the course listing for alternative options.

It’s going to be a great time, so bicycle Portland, Maine and the Portland area with us!

Maine is a beautiful place that I paradoxically want to hoard to myself and share with everyone I meet.

John Hodgman

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!

Shifting Gears to Accelerate Quickly

Welcome to the next in our series of beginner articles. In this one, I’ll introduce the topic of how to use your gears.

Most bicycles in the USA these days have the chain shifting across several sprockets. Many earlier bikes, and some current ones, have actual gears inside the wheel hub, “internal gears”. We’ll discuss both kinds.

Why do bicycles have multiple gears? Multiple gears can make your riding smoother and less tiring, especially if you live in a hilly area, as well as in extremely windy situations.

The point of gears is to keep your pedaling effort and speed (“cadence”) at a comfortable level. Pay attention to your effort. If you are pushing down too hard, you need to go down to a lower (easier) gear. If you are spinning uselessly, you need to go up to a higher (harder) gear. CyclingSavvy Instructor John Allen demonstrates.

Just as with a car, low (easy) gears are for starting and moving slowly, and higher (harder) gears are to keep your engine — your legs — from turning too fast as you speed up. But there are important differences compared to shifting gears in a car.

Your bike’s drivetrain: 1) front derailer, 2) crankset, 3) chainrings, 4) rear derailer, 5) cassette made up of individual sprockets

Two shifters: what’s that about?

Many bikes have two or three front sprockets (called chainrings) at the cranks (pedals), and several sprockets on the rear wheel, giving you two shifters to think about. It would be simple if you had, say, a 21-speed bike with just one shifter that went from 1 to 21. But unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

The good news is, using two shifters in combination is not as hard as you might think. Let’s say you have 3 chainrings (front sprockets, left shifter), and 7 in the back (right shifter, remember that both “rear” and “right” start with R). Don’t think of them as having 21 steps in a sequence (because they’re not): think instead of having 3 overlapping ranges of 7 steps each. Each chainring gives you a different range, and the rear sprockets let you make smaller adjustments within the current range.

  • If you have 3 chainrings, think of the middle one as your “normal” range, where you will spend most of your time. Start and stop in this range, generally with the back sprockets at or near 1 (easiest). The smallest (inside) chainring shifts the whole range down to be  easier, for when you are going up a steep hill or into a strong headwind. The largest (outside) chainring shifts the whole range to be harder, useful downhill or with a strong wind at your back.
  • If you only have 2 chainrings,  which one is “normal” will depend on you and on the specific gearing. Experiment.
  • If you have just 1 chainring, the preceding 4 paragraphs don’t apply. :-)

You can feel how pedaling gets harder as you move a shifter one way, easier the other way.

Homing in on the range

One way or the other, once the range is right for the conditions, just shift your back sprockets as necessary. (Remember, rear = right shifter). Start from a stop at the easy end, or near it. As you gain speed, you will notice at some point that your pedaling is no longer delivering much power; then it’s time to shift up. This is usually all with the same front chainring.

The outermost of three chainrings (at the cranks) should be used only with the outer four or five rear sprockets, the inner chainring only with the two or three innermost rear sprockets. This essentially boils down to: avoid having the front in the easiest gear while the back is in relatively a hard gear, and vice-versa. Keep easy with easy, and hard with hard.

The middle chainring can be used with any unless the chain rubs against the outer chainring when used with the smallest rear sprockets. If there are only two chainrings, the outer one can be used with more of the rear sprockets.

Shifting gears strategy

Think “how do I shift to get to the gear I need to use,“ not “am I in 7th gear or 8th gear.” It would be complicated to keep track of the sequence from gear 1 to gear 21; also, many combinations are duplicates and near-duplicates, so it is pointless. Typically, a “21-speed” bicycle will have a working sequence of 10 to 12 different gears, and a wide enough range for any terrain and level of fitness, with small enough steps to be comfortable. Use the numbers on twist-grip shifters only as a guide — lower numbers, easier.

The basic sequence is to start in a low (easy) gear, and shift to a harder one when the pedals get to turning too fast. Keep pedaling lightly and shift down as you slow down. This will allow you to accelerate briskly from a stop or a low speed.

When accelerating from a stop, you may need to shift as often as once per second. This keeps your cadence in the sweet spot and accelerates you quickest. You have something in common with a big semitrailer truck — listen to it as it accelerates. The driver shifts through multiple gears, because the truck also has a narrow range of engine speed which optimizes power production.

Gear range wide enough?

Is your bicycle’s easiest gear easy enough? That depends on the terrain where you ride, and on your fitness. On most bicycles, it is possible to replace rear sprockets and widen the range. There is no shame in using an easy gear. It shows that you know how to take care of yourself.

No matter how many speeds your bicycle has in theory, you can use only one at a time! “21-speed” does make a nice advertising slogan, though, doesn’t it?

Derailer Complications

Most multi-gear bicycles in North America use derailers at the cranks and the rear wheel. Those mechanisms push (derail) the chain to one side or the other, from one sprocket or chainwheel to another. The derailer at the rear wheel has pulley wheels to take up slack in the chain produced by the different-sized sprockets. (Clever, right?)

A derailer system has some complications:

  1. Shifting works only when the chain is moving forward! If you shift without pedaling, including when stopped, you will get a lot of grinding once you start pedaling, as the chain finds its way to the right spot. That is tough for the chain and sprockets, and embarrassing for you. If you did not shift down before stopping, the bicycle will be in a high gear and starting will be hard.
  2. To shift smoothly as you slow down, keep spinning the pedals but without putting any force on them. When accelerating or holding speed, reduce force on the pedals momentarily as you shift.
  3. You backpedal to step forward off the saddle when coming to a stop. (See our post about starting and stopping.) Finish shifting before you stop. If the chain and derailers are not aligned, the chain will jam as you backpedal. Test by backpedaling lightly. Sometimes you can adjust the shift levers even after stopping.

Internal Gears

Instead of a derailer, some bicycles have gears in the hub of the rear wheel, or sometimes at the cranks. Usually a shifter and cable connect to the internal mechanism; some two-speed hubs shift by backpedaling. 3-speed internal-gear hubs were very popular in the mid-20th century. Now 7 and 8-speed internal-gear hubs are common, and some have even more speeds.

An internal-gear hub shifts best when the chain is not moving, just the opposite of a derailer system. Coast or backpedal slightly for a moment while you shift. You don’t need to worry about downshifting while slowing to a stop; you can do that after you stop. It’s one less thing to concern yourself with. The sprocket can be changed with internal gears, in case you find that the range is too easy or too hard (usually, too hard). More about internal-gear hubs.

Shifting gears – Summary

Now that you know how shifting works, keep the goal of consistent cadence in mind as you ride. If your bicycle has more than one chainring, remember that the easy range is for uphill or headwind, hard one for downhill or tailwind. Middle (if you have 3) is for all other conditions. Use the sprockets at the rear wheel to adjust within the range as necessary. Easier gears are also good for creeping along while maintaining control, and being ready to accelerate, for example if a red light turns green before you reach it.

The idea is to keep your feet turning at a constant rate. A follow-up article will help you feel in your legs what that rate needs to be.

CyclingSavvy group at Woodford Corner, Portland, ME

Springing Forward with Spring Courses

As the weather warms, thoughts turn to bicycling. CyclingSavvy spring courses are happening. Classroom sessions are being held online — which has proved to be, all in all, an advantage: people don’t have to travel, and can join from anywhere. Instructors and students can hang around longer at the end of a session.

On-bike sessions with Covid precautions are ramping up too. Here’s what we have as of now.

Savvy Cycling Now April Series

Instructors John Allen and Pamela Murray are hosting a Savvy Cycling Now online series on two Wednesday evenings, April 21 and 28. This will cover the same material as the “Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling” classroom session of our regular 3-part course, and qualifies students to proceed to the Train Your Bike in-person session anywhere, anytime and with any instructor. Students in this round will qualify for the Boston course described below, if space is available; we’ll arrange more sessions as needed. On-bike sessions will be discounted if you take Savvy Cycling Now to qualify for them.

Here’s a video clip from an August 11 2020 session of Savvy Cycling Now:

“Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling” contains a lot of information and ideas. They are easy to digest in a series of one-hour sessions, spread over four weeks. This format has proven itself.

St. Louis, April 21-25

Instructors Karen Karabell and Matthew Brown are running a full three-part course April 21-25. The classroom session is online and the on-bike sessions will be adapted with Covid precautions.

Boston area, May 14-15

Instructors John Allen, Bruce Lierman and John Brooking are running a full three-part course May 14-15. As with the St. Louis course, the classroom session will be online. The in-person sessions will be in Waltham, 10 miles west of the Boston downtown area. Both on-bike sessions will be on the same day, May 15.

Check Out Ride Awesome!

Ride Awesome!CyclingSavvy’s premium online course — is … awesome. There’s truly nothing like it. During the pandemic, lifetime access to Ride Awesome! is half price. This is the best fifty bucks you’ll ever spend.

This too qualifies students to proceed to discounted on-bike sessions anywhere, anytime and with any instructor. With enough requests, we should be able to have on-bike sessions within driving distance for most U.S. participants. Let us know if you want to complete the course. Contact us

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.

Worcester Turnpike to Route 9 to…?

We can’t understand our present time — or plan for the future — unless we know how we got here. In a previous post, I described how I ride on Massachusetts Route 9. Now I’ll tell you what that makes me think about. Bear with me.


One of the pleasures of riding in eastern Massachusetts is to discern the age and the history of roads from their meanderings, and by studying the buildings along them. Most rural roads here pre-date the advent of motor vehicles. That works well for bicyclists. Roads follow the contours of the land, except for notorious roads with “hill” in their name,

From the arrival of the first humans as glaciers retreated, until the arrival of settlers from Europe in the 1600s, there was only singletrack, trodden on foot.

Settlers introduced horses, oxen and wagons.  Many old trails widened to doubletrack. The settlers located early town centers on hilltops for defense against Native Americans who did not like being driven from their lands. Settlers later built town centers in valleys with water power for mills. Local people would organize a “bee” — a day when they’d get together for road maintenance. Distances between towns were short, so farmers could manage a day trip by wagon to market and back.

I can infer all this as I ride my bicycle in the Eastern Massachusetts countryside. Some old roads still have stone mile markers from before the Revolution.

In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin organized the postal service. Town-to-town roads, strung together, connected major population centers. Parts of U.S. Route 20, which passes a half mile from my home, are still called the Boston Post Road. It connected to New York and beyond.

From the Worcester Turnpike to Route 9

In the early 1800s, private companies established turnpikes with government authorization. These toll roads radiated out in several directions from Boston. The Worcester Turnpike heads west to  — Worcester. The Turnpike was created in one political stroke, rather than its evolving like most roads. For this reason, it is quite straight, and for the most part, avoids town centers.

A wWrocester turnpike-like toll gate

A turnpike toll house and toll gate, early 1800s — from robertpeecher.com

Turnpikes served budding intercity commerce, but they soon failed financially. They were expensive to construct. Unlike modern toll roads, the turnpikes had no access control. “Shunpikes” went around the tollgates.

By the mid-1800s, railroads linked cities. The turnpikes couldn’t compete. Many did continue to exist, under government management and free for users.

The eastern half of the Worcester Turnpike survived; the western half deteriorated. In 1903, the entire Worcester Turnpike revived, hosting a light rail line. Trolley cars stopped running in 1932 as increasing use of motor vehicles drained demand. Some political shenanigans occurred, too,