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Posted by on Aug 15, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

The Inferiority/Priority Paradox

A week ago, while waiting in a queue of cars at Lake Howell and Howell Branch, I saw a group of 3 cyclists roll past on the edge of the right-turn lane. I personally think it is better to wait in line, but there is a short drop lane on the other side of the intersection, so I understand why cyclists ride to the front.

Now, here’s the problem with using the drop lane. Initially, that lane is an unmarked right lane, but it soon becomes a right-turn-only lane (RTOL). There was a rather long line of cars gathered by the time the light changed, so the cyclists who were out of position could not merge back into the thru lane before the RTOL began. Even though I was 4 cars back from the light, I passed them as they were rolling down the RTOL, waiting for a gap in traffic. The cars behind me were overtaking me easily in the center lane. All traffic in the thru lane was flowing just fine and no one was inconvenienced—least of all, me.

As the traffic began to slow for the stop sign, I looked back and signaled for the car behind me not to overtake and moved to the left side of the lane to maintain my position in the queue (and to avoid the nasty potholes ahead on the right). The queue always moves steadily through that intersection. I maintained position, stopped when it was my turn, and continued down Lake Howell… hoping I had set a good example.

Shortly after, two of the cyclists passed me. They were not immediately behind me approaching the stop sign, so that means they had to squeeze past the queue in order to pass me. Members of this group ride through there every morning at the same time, and this is their typical behavior at that intersection (see below). Normally, it means they are passing the same cars that they rode down the RTOL to be out of the way of and then getting in their way in the narrow lane. Even though most of the cyclists hug the curb, it’s not a share-able lane and safe/courteous motorists don’t pass unless the oncoming lane is clear.

That morning, the car behind me could have passed me, but the driver chose not to. Probably since there were 2 more cyclists 30 feet ahead. (But kudos to this motorist for taking in the whole situation and recognizing it wasn’t necessary to pass, many of them don’t.)

Of course, the cyclists did not stop at the stop sign at Lakemont. I pulled up immediately behind them, stopped and had to wave a motorist through who had the right of way, but was not about to move — those two had set the precedent and he expected me to run the stop sign, too.

He waved a “thank you” to me as he went.

After turning, I waved a “thank you” to the motorist who had waited patiently behind me.

As I mentioned before, I see this behavior regularly from members of the morning club rides. It’s always some variation of this:

  1. Ride down an RTOL to the front of a queue at the traffic light
  2. Ride down a drop lane to its end to stay out of the way of the cars just passed before the intersection
  3. Ride down the gutter past the queue at the next stop sign (passing same cars avoided by using the drop lane)
  4. Ride down the edge of pavement in the narrow lane to stay out of the way of same cars just passed in the queue at the stop sign (but not really out of the way because the lane is not wide enough for motorists to pass with 3 feet of clearance)
  5. Run next stop sign and turn left
  6. Ride down edge of pavement on 4-lane road with narrow lanes
  7. Pass queue at next red light
  8. Run red light if possible
  9. Continue down gutter pan seam to stay out of the way

Did I make that sound silly enough? I hope so.

Want respect? Act respectably!

The “bubble” of space to which we cyclists (and all road users) are entitled—in front, behind and to the right and left of us—is predicated upon the fundamental right of First Come, First Served. You delegitimize your claim to that when you violate the FCFS of other road users by running stop signs, red lights and squeezing past queued motorists in narrow lanes. It costs you nothing to wait in line behind a few cars.

Cyclists who do not think of themselves as drivers of vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers practice a paradoxical inferiority/priority style of riding. It’s an inconsistent combination of staying out of the way when it’s not necessary and getting in the way when it’s not appropriate. In other words, it’s bassackwards!

This behavior is the source of much animosity toward us. Not surprisingly, cyclists who ride this way are the ones with the most stories about close calls and conflicts with motorists. It’s very liberating to overcome the inferiority/priority paradox, and it makes road cycling a relatively uneventful and far more enjoyable form of transportation… or recreation.

2 Comments

  1. I think you have a key point, Keri, when you say that cyclists who ride this way are the ones with the most stories. They don’t recognize that their own riding “style” and habits are the cause of the conflict or collision.

    The news media does nothing to promote safer cycling, especially in the recent increase of articles about cycling increasing as a means of saving fuel expenses.

    The interactions I have with motorists are mostly positive, because I behave as the vehicle I am. Being in a fully-enclosed velomobile confuses many drivers, so they are un-confused to have me stop at lights, signal turns, maintaining my lane… operating just as they do (other than the red-light runners.)

    I’ve given up on trying to educate other riders, sad to say, after my expulsion from a local bike shop, but given a chance, I’ll explain VC to anyone willing to listen.

    I would not be surprised to learn that the general motoring public considers the lycra bunch to be traffic scofflaws, specifically because of the way traffic lights and stop signs are not obeyed. I’ve come to consider the local riders in my area in a similar manner.

  2. Doom and gloom. I know it is raining, but if it wasn’t I’d be out for a ride.