Another traffic/delay reality check
This is CyclistView video from Brian DeSousa’s first visit to Orlando. I first used it in a post called Take the Red Pill. At the time I had no idea how to edit video, so Brian kindly did a quick edit. I was recently preparing a DVD and decided to re-edit the video to emphasize some key points about traffic.
Platoons and gaps
One of the challenges I have with creating videos of confident traffic cycling is that it is mostly uneventful. Of course, that’s exactly what I want to show, but, well, it’s almost too boring to watch. It consists of less than a minute of cars changing lanes to pass, followed by less than a minute of nothing. So, if I show several minutes of continuous video, it’s going to have long periods of nothing but a cyclist on an empty road. Thirty seconds feels like an eternity if you’re watching nothing happen in internet video. I recently cut together a 6 minute video of me riding on University Blvd, just showing the platoons and not the gaps, I eliminated about 3 minutes of empty-road footage to get that. And it was shot at the tail end of rush hour. Unfortunately, eliminating the boring parts actually means I’m not telling the best part of the story. It makes it look as if passing traffic is a non-stop experience. It isn’t.
Funny thing about video. It’s incredibly useful for telling a story about how bad things are. I could do that in one or two sessions by riding too far right and then cutting together a 2 minute video with numerous close calls. You can find stuff like that all over YouTube. It’s much more difficult to portray cycling as safe and uneventful without producing something soporific.
The reality of delay
In the video above, I called attention to the van. From the time it comes up behind us until it is able to pass, the “delay” is 30 seconds. As much as I hate passing a queue, doing so gave us some valuable footage because we passed that van. Including the time we waited through one light cycle (I cut that part), it had been 4 1/2 minutes since the van had passed us. Notice that there are cars queued in front of that van. Those cars had already been ahead of us on the road before we ever turned on to Orange Ave — possibly by 30 seconds or more.
One thing I’ve seen entirely too often — from motorists, cyclists and law enforcement — is an obsessive lack of perspective about a cyclist’s impact on traffic. In my experience, 30 seconds is a relatively long time for a motorist to have to wait to pass me. Rarely, it may be a bit more. Usually it’s 0-10 seconds. Invariably, that motorist will then wait behind other traffic (that was already in front of us) at the next red light. At the red light he is stopped, when behind me he is still moving.
Lately upon the internet, I’ve heard my fill of blather about courtesy (mainly chest-thumping from other cyclists about what better citizens they are than my friend Reed). They seem to wish to outdo each-other by claiming how dutifully they’ll hug the gutter or how quickly they’ll skitter into the shoulder upon the appearance of a motorist.
Courtesy is an important aspect of civility on both sides, but reality should have some bearing on the matter, especially when courtesy is being balanced against the cyclist’s safety and efficiency. If I’m on a 2-lane road with constant oncoming traffic for as far as I can see, I typically will pull over or practice control & release. Additionally, if I am first at a red light and a lot of traffic queues behind me, I will often drive through the intersection and turn into whatever business is on the corner. In 10-20 seconds (usually, little more than the time it takes to turn around) the traffic will often be gone, then I ride out on the empty road. That’s less about courtesy than my own comfort.
In most of my riding on arterial roads, the platoon looks like the one that catches up to us in the video above. Most motorists change lanes far enough back to open the sight lines and everyone goes by with little or no slowing. Occasionally an inattentive or incompetent driver will wind up stuck behind me until the platoon clears. But even so, all of them will be waiting together at the next red light. My getting out of the way would make zero difference in their trip time.
Increasing confidence with evidence
Shooting and watching hours of video has really given me concrete proof of how little actual impact I have on traffic. This further empowers me to ride assertively as an equal vehicle driver. It makes my bicycling experience calm, enjoyable and virtually conflict-free. It gives me the freedom to not worry about what’s behind me. It makes me feel as if there is no limitation for me to access any destination by bike.
I hope that sharing a few minutes of video here and there does the same for you.