The Commute — Possibly the Safest Bicycle Trip You Can Make?

I recall reading somewhere years ago that bicycle commute trips are some of the safest trips cyclists make.  I don’t know if that claim was based on any really sound research, but the more I ride, the more I believe it.

This morning I had a meeting up in Maitland, so I didn’t take my normal route.  The ride up there was uneventful, but coming back to downtown between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., it had its moments.  First was the old man who passed too close on Fairbanks between Wymore and I-4.  He had a clear lane to the left, but must have felt that magnetic draw of the curb.  I chalked that one up to just old age.  (BTW, he passed me again on Mills Ave. just south of Princeton.  I suppose he must have stopped somewhere…)

After crossing Colonial on Mills I had two drivers get ticked at me for commanding the lane.  (The lanes on Mills south of Colonial are about 10 feet.)  Both honked their horns and gave me the finger.

But on my routine commute on South Street where I take the lane I rarely get much grief from motorists.  It’s not that it’s any easier for motorists to pass, it’s that they see me day after day and figure out that I’m not out there “joyriding” (“You’re enjoying yourself at my expense!  Hissss!”), but going to work just like everybody else.

So that’s one reason why commuting is safer — less antagonism.


Knowing the route.  You learn where all the little problem spots are; whether those are bad pavement, bad bikeway designs, unresponsive signal loops, etc.  And you learn how to deal with them.

Knowing the flow.  You learn how traffic moves at that particular time of day, and how to deal with (and take advantage of) that.

Motorists generally know where they are going.  They make fewer unexpected moves because they know their routines.  The worst problems I experience are near commercial districts on the weekends.  “Oh, wait; the store’s on THAT side of the street!” [SUDDEN TURN!]

So if you start commuting by bike, don’t be discouraged if the first couple trips are a bit challenging.  Those rough spots will get smoothed out over a couple of weeks and you’ll soon find it pretty stress-free.

8 replies
  1. Keri
    Keri says:

    Good points!

    BTW, Wymore-Fairbanks-Driver used to be part of my regular route. I found motorists uniquely resistant to changing lanes on Fairbanks. I guessed it was because they wanted to get on I-4 and didn’t want to be in wrong lane.

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    In my experience, the morning commute is less eventfull than the evening return home. In the morning, the kids aren’t out and those on the road are focused on getting where they want to go. All of my “mean” encounters are on the way home, despite mornings being darker.

  3. AndrewP
    AndrewP says:

    Mighk, great observation!

    I really agree with all your points, especially the one about seeing you day after day. Many people are very habitual with their commutes and their time, so — assuming you are habitual too — it stands to reason that the same people are seeing you at approximately the same place and same time on your commute. It’s one of the reasons I try to interact with drivers at every oppertunity (waving thanks, signaling to go ahead, hold back, etc.) and try for eye contact.

    It’s also another great reason for obeying all the traffic rules. The same people would see you running reds or blowing stops over and over — reinforcing their initial thought that cyclists are scofflaws when it comes to following traffic rules ….

  4. mikedfunk
    mikedfunk says:

    I don’t know if it’s the safest but it’s generally safe. Riding a bike-only trail is pretty darn safe.

    My favorite way to respond to honkers, yellers, and the like is to wave back and grin as if they were saying, “have a great day! we need more bikers like you on the road!” it cracks me up because they’re thinking, “no, it wasn’t a compliment! ARGH!” Even more funny is when they yell at you only to be stopped by a stop light as you glide up beside them. They never say anything because as we know they’re cowards – they only give you a hard time from the safety of a speeding car.

    I only take over the lane on the poorly designed segments of the road that are too narrow for cars to pass comfortably. Another part I take over: when there is a highway exit style turnoff. Otherwise people will gun it to pass me and slam on their brakes and turn almost on 2 wheels just to save 2 seconds to turn in front of me instead of behind me as I ride by.

  5. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    mikedfunk, you wrote, “I only take over the lane on the poorly designed segments of the road that are too narrow for cars to pass comfortably”.

    Florida DOT states that a lane of less than 14 feet in width is too narrow for a motor vehicle and bicycle to occupy safely, side-by-side.

    We need to keep our road use consistent for maximum safety. Your comfort level might not be the same as mine, but if you control all lanes under 14 feet wide, the result is consistent.

    I will let a motorcycle operator pass me on lanes under 14 feet width, but return immediately to my proper position after he passes.

  6. rodney
    rodney says:

    Mighk, what’s up with the dark colors? Looks like a equinox moment in the picture. Is brown the new bike ninja evening riding attire?

    From the picture, it does look like you were seen (as evident with the truck changing lanes). I just want to be seen and making a fashion statement is of little concern in the being seen department for me. Happy riding!

  7. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Re: my drab attire: Around downtown the auto speeds are rather slow. The speed differential is only about 15 mph. And I don’t ride all that fast, either, so I can stop very quickly if front and side conflicts get out of hand. I’ve not noticed any problems while wearing drab colors during normal daylight, so I don’t fuss about it. Around dawn and dusk and on rainy days I’ll certainly crank up the neon.

  8. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Oh, and as for Rodney’s “equinox” comment: I think it was shot about 4:PM. Note the shadows; the sun is quite a ways off to the side. (The shot is on Robinson St. next to Lake Eola.)

    A point I like to make about taking the lane vs. gutter-hugging is that I’ve never had an overtaking close call in about 15 years of taking assertive lane positions (except for situations in which the motorist was being obviously, intentionally rude). We know that close calls far outnumber collisions. A close call for an overtaking situation would result in the driver having to lock up the brakes (most likely) or suddenly swerving into the next lane. Hasn’t happened yet; either with my brown ninja-wear or my neon jacket.

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