Bicyclists suffer far less from actual dangers on the road than they do from the mythologies which influence their behavior. I bring these up a lot because the key to being a truly empowered and safe cyclist is overcoming them… I mean really purging the damaging nonsense from every fiber of your being.
Yesterday, P.M. Summer pointed his readers to a truly disturbing blog entry from Seattle. Similar to the Corvallis letter from last month, this author feels insecure with having sharrows instead of bike lanes. Among other annoying things (which Summer has addressed in his post), she writes:
…substituting sharrows for bike lanes on downhill slopes creates problems the city might not have foreseen. Unless you’re going as fast as car traffic—in which case, you’d have to be cruising along at 35 miles per hour on most of the designated bike routes in Seattle—you’re going to stick to the right side of the lane, to avoid annoying drivers and to stay out of harm’s way. That puts you right smack in the “door zone”—the area of the traffic lane where car doors can open into a cyclist’s path. If you’re moving at a typical downhill speed of 15 to 20 miles an hour, you’re not going to have time to stop—or check the lane, move out of the way, and shake your fist at the jerk who didn’t bother to look for you—before you run into an opening door.
So, having a door zone bike lane and a stripe to make motorists think you’re going to stay to the right of it (in the hazard zone!) would be better, how? This tortured logic screams of this cyclist’s need to take a bike ed class. First of all, when riding at downhill speeds you MUST ride farther out into the lane (and she makes the case perfectly, without meaning to, in the last sentence). The common crossing and turning crashes are increasingly possible and potentially deadly when a cyclist is traveling over 18 mph outside the primary travel lane and the sight triangle. Even on a minimal downhill grade, like we have around here, it’s easy for the average cyclist to achieve speeds well above 20 mph (on real hills, I easily reach speeds above 30 mph).
The whole point of using sharrows instead of bike lanes on hills is that cyclists should NOT ride that far right at downhill speeds! It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is! It doesn’t matter if motorists have to wait a few seconds to pass!
Which brings me back to the most irksome statement in the quoted paragraph: “you’re going to stick to the right side of the lane, to avoid annoying drivers…” Well no ma’am, inexperienced, mythology-driven cyclists might do that—putting themselves in harm’s way—but a competent cyclist will use the lane properly as a (properly-placed) sharrow indicates. And without a bike lane stripe to ignore, the properly-riding, competent cyclist will most likely not be harassed by a misguided motorist.
Compromising your safety for fear of “annoying drivers” is pathological. First of all, I don’t ever do that and I very rarely have drivers express annoyance at me. And if they do, so what? Their lack of perspective is hardly a reason for me to put my safety at risk, or to give up my right to safe space on the road.
I’m going to offer a story from my commute yesterday. It illustrates the myth-busting reality of a cyclist’s impact on traffic.
As I approached the Howell Branch intersection, headed south on Lake Howell, the light was red. I rode in my usual position, occupying the center of the thru lane early, so right-turning motorists could enter the right-turn lane as the road widens (right-turners make up about 50% of the traffic). That morning, there was a truck in the center turn lane, waiting to turn left. Just as I was passing him, a motorist squeezed between us on my left (I honestly don’t know how she fit). She just had to get to the back of stopped traffic 40 feet ahead. She was moving slow when she passed, so I shrugged it off and just pulled up behind her (no fist-shaking necessary).
After the intersection, several more cars passed me. As the line of traffic backed up at the stop sign, I looked back, signaled to the the next motorist not to pass and slipped behind the one that was passing—moving from the right tire track to the the left tire track. I then coasted along in the queue, stopped at the stop sign, and was on my way. One of the cars that had passed me earlier took the speed bumps very gingerly. I really love it when that happens, I just relax and effortlessly soft-pedal along in the line of traffic.
Despite his slow progress down “bumpy alley,” we caught up to the line of traffic again at the stop sign at Lakemont, because there was a school bus picking up children at the corner.
So, when I got to the red light at Palmer, guess who was directly in front of me in the right lane? That’s right. The lady who felt it necessary to squeeze past me a mile earlier. I coasted behind her through the Lakemont Elementary school zone. She accelerated after the school zone, but I arrived at the red light at Aloma only seconds behind her.
There are a lot of elements on the road which cause delay. Count them in the 1.5 miles described above: red lights, stop signs, speed bumps, gingerly motorists, school buses, school zones and the volume of motorists on the road. The one element so often perceived as causing delay, the cyclist, did not delay anyone!
And this brings me back to the aforementioned Seattle cyclist. She is not only her own worst enemy, but when she insists on entering the advocacy scene with her fear-based mythology, she is all of our worst enemy. She is inwittingly aiding the forces which undermine our efforts to become a normal, accepted and respected part of traffic.