Why do they do that?

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.commuteorlando.com/ontheroad/animations/why/why.swf” base=”http://www.commuteorlando.com/ontheroad/animations/why/” width=”600″ height=”300″ ]Get Adobe Flash player


“How stupid can you be?!”

Yeah I did. I lost my composure and yelled at Mr. Head-up-his-@$$ as he stopped at the stop sign NEXT TO ME, 3/4 in the oncoming lane. Lucky for him the car on our left was not turning right. I don’t think he heard me in his insulated BMW. He was busy waving the other motorist through the intersection.

This happens to me regularly on residential roads. Today it was at Chelsea and Plaza Terrace. It’s happened there a number of times. It happens frequently at 4-way stops in College Park. It once happen to my group of Road 1 students in Oviedo, despite my straight-arm, position near the center line and bright yellow “cycling instructor” shirt. The motorist ran the stop sign in the oncoming lane as the group stopped. Last week a guy passed me at high speed within a few meters of the stop sign at Fairgreen and Primrose and almost hit another car head on as it turned onto Fairgreen.

What the heck is wrong with these people?

I could maybe understand the mindless stupidity if I was somehow facilitating it, but I don’t. I don’t ride near the edge of the lane anywhere. When approaching a stop sign, I actively discourage passing by riding in the left half of the lane and signal that I’m stopping. If a motorist seems antsy, I use the straight-arm “don’t pass.” I did that today, right after an oncoming car went by and I knew we were too close to the stop sign for him to pass.

Of course, it works on the majority of drivers. But the minority still contains distressingly large numbers. I’d love to be provincial and blame it on Orlando drivers, but I’ve seen it everywhere (except Dallas, but I’m sure it happens there too). It’s puzzling to me that I regularly operate conflict-free on busy roads, even high speed roads, and yet run into this stupid behavior consistently on quiet streets.

So far, it’s been more irritating than dangerous. But I’m sure you can imagine the potential. This is not a behavior that would be responsive to education or awareness. It’s completely mindless— it’s checked-out cager-coma behavior. If we tugged their craniums out of their leather bucket seats and showed them a video of it, I bet they couldn’t even tell us why they did it.

Sorry for the rant. The endless heat is making me cranky.

18 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Even though I don’t often ride on two-lane roads, the same situation happens far too often to me as well. I also control the lane in the same manner as you, Keri, but don’t stick out my arm.

    I find it equally inexplicable and just shake my head.

    Perhaps on a par with this ridiculous driving practice is that of drivers who pass on two-lane roads and literally run oncoming traffic off the road. Far more dangerous to us as cyclists, because I believe that the overtaking driver is more likely to rip back into the lane and cut us off in a dangerous manner.

  2. ToddBS
    ToddBS says:

    I lost my cool today, too. I was riding along a section of rural, two-lane highway riding just a hair to the right of the right tire rut. The pavement seems less worn and more supple there. If pavement can be supple. I definitely wasn’t hugging the white line though.

    90% of people give me a wide berth, but today I had two vehicles in a row come by me at 55+ mph and I could have reached out and touched them. After the second one I yelled out “are you f*****g kidding me!?” but they were already out of earshot. I’ll never understand it. Even if there were no law governing it, most people still understand that it’s best not to hit people with your car. What are these others thinking? Or are they not at all?

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    Fred, You’re exactly right about the risk to us from reckless passers. Mindless passing behavior (must pass the cyclist) is my number one complaint against motorists and it almost never involves close passing. These drivers rarely give me less than 3 or 4 feet.

    Todd, I hate those roads where the only smooth pavement is that far right! Yeah, I don’t get it. It should not matter where a cyclist is in the lane, s/he’s a human being for God’s sake! Some people just have no decency when they get all caged up in their little box.

  4. Rantwick
    Rantwick says:

    I hit lots of four way stops on my street. No matter how clear I try to make it or how much if the lane I take, some people will do just what you showed. I just don’t understand. I’ve come to really appreciate that so long as drivers know what you are up to thanks to good communication, they don’t get nearly as angry or aggressive. When you have made everything crystal clear and they still do stupid stuff, it is indeed frustrating and infuriating.

  5. Velocentric
    Velocentric says:

    There’s some lower level thought processing that demands they cannot stop behind a cyclist no matter what the situation.
    Yesterday, I waited at a red light to make a left. A car rolled up behind me blaring its horn. Then the driver rolled down his window and let loose a barrage of childish abuse mostly centered around me getting the hell out of the way. It’s a red light! how was I holding him up? Even if I wasn’t there he couldn’t run it with the heavy traffic. But this happens quite often. I’ve even been purposely bumped while waiting at a red light.

    • Bryan
      Bryan says:

      Motorists do this all the time. They not only feel they “must pass”, but they also feel they must stop beside you, even if you are taking the whole lane. I too have been bumped on purpose. I’ve had a car force it’s way between me and the inside median while I was waiting to turn left. Not only did they knock me over, but they screamed at me for trying to scratch their car.

      This has long been my number one reason why I believe that pure VC advocates are not thinking things through. Taking the lane is not always safer, and it does not give always you more room. The only thing it does consistently is make confused motorists angry.

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        Of course, someone will always try to make this a case against VC, or claiming the lane.

        Explain how sharing a narrow lane would make this — or any — situation safer for a cyclist.

        1) The one thing these dumb motorists DON’T do is pass me too close. Not ever. But they’d probably run me off the road if I was near the edge because they’d be using the center line as their guide for where to be. Even if they are doing something inherently stupid and dangerous, I have a hell of a lot more room to maneuver where I ride than if I was trying to stay out of the way.

        2) These people are are unconscious, not angry. I have very rarely (one in tens-of-thousands of motorists) had a motorist do something stupid in anger because of my assertive riding style. Invariably, that one is trying to scare me, not hit me.

        • Bryan
          Bryan says:

          Keri says: “Explain how sharing a narrow lane would make this — or any — situation safer for a cyclist.”

          You were turning right. What practical purpose did taking up the full lane at the stop sign serve? It accomplishes only one thing: the very thing you posted this thread about. Stop right at the curb on the right side to make your right turn, and let the motorist stop where he expects to stop.

          • ToddBS
            ToddBS says:

            “Stop right at the curb on the right side to make your right turn, and let the motorist stop where he expects to stop.”

            Which is right next to you, which is not what the lane is designed for. Then when you start to go, and he’s turning right, he runs into you (because he’s no longer watching you since he’s right next to you). That’s actually one of the more common types of incidents at intersections. Owning the lane at a stop sign is cycling 101. You don’t have to be a strict VC advocate to get that one.

          • Keri
            Keri says:

            As Todd pointed out, the lane was not wide enough to share. If he had been turning right as well, I was far more protected where I was than pinched up against the curb.

            And nothing in my riding REMOTELY resembled a swerve. In the Flash, or in actual practice.

  6. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    ToddBS says: “Owning the lane at a stop sign is cycling 101. You don’t have to be a strict VC advocate to get that one.”

    Right, and it’s one of the most easily demonstrated really bad ideas of VC. Because it results in incidents like the one that inspired this post. I’ve been cycling for over 30 years, and I’ve never experienced a right hook. I do, however, get incidents identical to Keri’s graphic every single time I ride like that.

    • ToddBS
      ToddBS says:

      Every single time? Really? Because legions of cyclists ride that way every day and incidents like that are pretty uncommon. In fact, it’s never happened to me.

      You must be really unlucky.

      • Bryan
        Bryan says:

        When I say “every time”, I don’t mean at every intersection. I mean at least one of these types of incidents per 12 km commute when I used to stick to VC (as opposed to none ever now that I don’t).

        If they were so uncommon, Keri would not have felt it necessary to not only post about it, but to build the animation to go with it. “This happens to me regularly on residential roads.” is what she wrote.

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Don’t read too much into the animation. I like playing with Flash and I already have all the objects. Some people watch TV to unwind. I play with Flash.

          I posted about this because I find it bizarre and frustrating. And because I can’t think of a solution for it.

          But you glossed right over this:

          It’s puzzling to me that I regularly operate conflict-free on busy roads, even high speed roads, and yet run into this stupid behavior consistently on quiet streets.

          That doesn’t support your point of view about VC not working at all, does it?

          So here’s an overview:
          close passes — one or two a YEAR (not counting when I’m in a bike lane — a lot of BL passes are too close for my taste)
          right hook conflicts — none when commanding the lane
          left cross conflicts — one, a year ago, when commanding the lane (I was riding fast. I slowed and passed behind him on the left—I couldn’t have done that if I was hugging the curb)
          Drive-out conflicts — none when commanding the lane

          (Note, that’s not crashes, it’s conflicts.)

          This stop-sign thing happened to me twice in the last week. I think it happens about once a month. Possibly more when I’m riding predominantly in the grid vs on the bigger roads.

  7. Wayne Pein
    Wayne Pein says:

    Bryan first says “motorists do this all the time,” even when he was turning left. Then he attacks “taking the lane” (it’s better to say “using the full lane;” saying “taking it” is old school inferiority language) because some confused motorists may bully bicyclists because that makes them mad. Then he justifies inferiority cycling because motorists can stop on the left of a bicyclists at a stop sign because they expect that.

    I submit that ubiquitous inferiority behavior has created this dysfunctional situation where motorists expect underclass bicycle users to function like road lepers, out of sight out of mind.

  8. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    It’s everywhere; I get it all the time here in Maine, too. Happened once last winter when I was coming home in an *snow storm*! Boy, did he get in earful! (Which he no doubt didn’t hear a word of.)

    I don’t really get it either, but my leading theory is that these are the self-centered motorists who will try to get away with as much as they can in any situation they are in, so as not to be held up by anything if they can help up. They are even more emboldened on quiet residential streets because they perceive the danger of, say, riding along the wrong side of the street for a while, as low.

    Also, they are probably conditioned to other bicyclists on these streets following no rules whatsoever, riding the wrong way, being all over the road, teenage cyclists and skateboarders playing. Anarchy breeds anarchy. Your taking up a full lane coming to stop has no meaning for them, they just categorize you as another bicyclist to be avoided as best they can, not as another driver to regard as such.

    On a busy road, as a VC cyclist you probably have a better chance of the motorists around you understanding instinctively that you are “trying to act like them”, even if they don’t fully understand the reasons. So in that situation they are more likely to treat you as other traffic because they don’t have much choice, unlike on a quiet residential street. On a residential street, the “must pass cyclist” reptile brain is less inhibited.

  9. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    I think Wayne is on target with the cause; that they are used to passing cyclists whenever they wish — even when it’s unsafe and unnecessary — and so do it even when the cyclist is controlling the lane. It’s related to the monkey-see-monkey-do passing behavior. Mindlessness.

    I get that mindless passing behavior once in a while, too. Often it’s on the approach to the first signal on my street on the way to work. I now check my mirror as I approach that signal (which is usually red and often has other vehicles already waiting) and move even farther left if I see a motorist preparing to pass. That strategy seems to be working pretty consistently. Sometimes I’ll just blatantly wave my arm in a motion indicating they need to stay behind me. Confidence trumps mindlessness.

  10. Columbusite
    Columbusite says:

    I have the same situation occurring on residential 4-way stops here also. In one instance, not only did the car attempting to pass me remain next to me when approaching the stop sign, but they blew right through it while passing. As far as VC, I’ve noticed incidents where I could have been killed had I not been in the middle of the lane. Motorists understand what I’m doing and most have no beef, but man that 1% is really out of control and you have to keep an eye out..

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