This “three foot” thing has me thinking.
Long time ago, I drove ships for a living. First in the Navy and then in the US Merchant Marine. Ships are funny things, they don’t turn “on a dime”, rather when the rudder is shifted and the wheel held at a certain number of degrees to the left or right, it may take 1/4 of a mile or more before any change in direction is made. The heavier the ship is, the slower it responds to rudder changes.
On a “voyage” of three months I stood watch with a new third mate who didn’t quite understand why things were the way they were. He had earned his pilot’s license for the upper and lower Mississippi.
There, boats and barges routinely pass each other within 100 feet or less, sometimes within ten feet. Running aground, while not common, was not all that unusual and, in most cases, a reversal of the props, then full forward and back again, would free the ship of it’s muddy bottom grounding. Extreme cases required a tow from a tug boat, but that was considered part of the job and since the bottom shifted constantly, not a job killer. No damage done.
Back at sea, when two ships approach each other, careful calculations (called the Closest Point of Approach or CPA) are made as to how close they are predicted to come within each other. Radio contact is made between the ships and they compare each others CPA calculations. The autopilots are disengaged and the ships are steered by hand. Captains have standing orders that when a CPA is calculated to be less than a certain amount, usually a mile, he is to be called so that he can make the course change since it is his butt on the line if things go wrong.
The air is tense, people’s voices rise in pitch and volume, then . . . the ships pass and things go back to normal. The captain retires from the bridge, the autopilot is turned on.
This whole procedure seemed very odd to the new third mate and one night he asked me why everybody freaked out the way they did. He had a good point.
My answer was to him was that when driving a ship across an ocean there are not too many ways to screw it up, but one way was to have a collision at sea, maybe 500 or 1000 miles from land. People would quite logically say, “How the hell could such a thing happen?” yet it has happened. A former President made a career of it happening.
When you are out in the ocean, you may not see a ship for a week or more, yet when you finally do, it invariably is going to cross your charted path and then the above described activity should take place. And when it doesn’t, then there is a collision. It is hard to believe, but it happens. That’s a job killer. Everybody gets fired — except our former President who becomes a hero due his daddy doing damage control for him before he landed.
So what does this story have to do with bicycles? Well, how many feet do you need to be passed by a car to “feel comfortable” ? Six inches? Three feet? Six feet? 5,280 feet? It’s worth thinking about.
Years ago, when I was taught to stay out of the way of cars by hugging the side of the road, cars didn’t move over the double-yellow and “shared the road” with me by passing within a foot or less. Am I dead because of those tens of thousands of close passes, even by semis doing 55? For me, at that time, just like the third mate/pilot, a miss was a good as a mile.
Yet I know it would have been nice to be passed with a wider berth and I like about three feet or more. And I guess that is why tension builds up within me when passed “too close.”