Control the intersection, control your safety

 

Recently, my wife and I were driving up Doheny, just below Beverly, when we came upon a young woman riding slowly in the right lane.

She was nicely dressed, as if she was going out for the evening. Yet she seemed to know what she was doing, riding just inside the right lane — and just outside dooring range.

I made sure to give her a wide passing berth as I drove around her, as a courtesy from one cyclist to another, before stopping at a red light at the next intersection.

As we waited for the light to change, the rider carefully worked her way past the cars lined up behind us until she reached the intersection. Then she moved left, stopping in the crosswalk just in front of our car.

My wife was annoyed that she was in our way once again. But recognizing a skilled rider, I told her to be patient. And sure enough, as soon as the light turned green, she pulled to the right, allowing us — and the other cars behind us — to safely pass while she crossed the intersection, before reclaiming her space in the lane.

I could fault her for not wearing a helmet — while she looked great, her stylish tam wasn’t likely to offer much protection in the event of an accident — but I had to admire the way she rode. And the way she controlled the intersection.

Because an intersection — any intersection — can be a dangerous place for a cyclist. And too many make the mistake of letting traffic dictate how they ride, instead of taking control of the situation.

For instance, a lot of riders will just stop in place when traffic comes to a halt, and stay right where they are in the traffic lane behind the line of cars.

They probably think they’re doing the right thing. But drivers coming up from behind may not expect to find a bike there, and may not react in time. And waiting behind even a single car could hide a rider from cars coming from the opposite direction, dramatically increasing the risk of a collision.

Which is not to say that drivers shouldn’t be aware of everyone on the road — bikes and pedestrians included.

But this is the real world. And you shouldn’t risk your life based on the limited skills and attention spans of those sharing the road with you.

Moving up to the front of the line ensures that everyone can see you, no matter what direction they’re coming from. It also means that the cars behind you are stopped, instead of leaving you exposed and vulnerable to any cars that are still moving — and drivers who may not be paying attention.

But even riders who make a habit of moving up to the intersection sometimes stop there, and wait patiently next to the lead car.

That can present it’s own problems, though.

By waiting beside the lead car, you run the risk of blocking access to the right turn lane, preventing cars from being able to make the right turn on a red light that we Californians treasure as our God-given birthright. And that can mean having an angry, impatient driver behind you — which is never a good thing.

Then there’s the risk that the driver at the head of the line won’t notice you waiting there beside him, and make a sudden right turn across your path — or worse, directly into you.

But you can virtually eliminate that risk by moving slightly forward and to the left, coming to a stop in front of the driver’s right front bumper.

That way, the turning lane is clear for anyone who wants to go right. And you’re directly in the lead driver’s field of view, where he can’t help but see you — and blocking him from any sudden moves that could put you in danger. Yet you’re still close enough to the side that you can get out of the way quickly if anything goes wrong.

Then once the light changes, just move slightly to the right so the cars pass while you cross the road. And then back into the traffic lane when you reach the other side.

I’m usually faster off the line than most drivers, and often reach the other side long before they do. But I still move to the right when the light changes — both out of courtesy and to protect myself from any impatient jerks who feel the need to race me across the street.

Bob Mionske, the cycling lawyer, joins the debate on changing the law to treat stop signs as yields. A self-described mediocre cyclist wants your help to become a full-fledged racer. An Alaskan rider explains why some riders prefer the streets to a “perfectly good” bike trail. Green LA Girl notes that LACBC is looking for bilingual bike safety advocates. Finally, City Watch points the lack of bike parking — and quality crappers — at Downtown’s new LALive.

 

5 comments

  1. ed greenberg says:

    Very good points, but doesn’t this technique block the crosswalk for pedestrians?

  2. bikinginla says:

    Good question, Ed.

    In my experience, it’s not a problem, though. There’s usually enough room for pedestrians to get by. And on the rare times when I do block the crosswalk, it’s an easy matter to roll forward or back enough for people to cross — and unlike many drivers, they almost always appreciate it.

  3. labikerides says:

    Great post. It’s usually my practice to slip to the front of the pack at a red light, so long as there’s enough room between cars and the curb for me to get by. As for Ed’s point about pedestrians, there are rarely enough pedestrians in Los Angeles to make this a problem – and, as bikinginla pointed out, it’s usually a pretty simple matter to acknowledge their presence and roll a little one way or the other.

    As for that right-on-red thing we all love, I usually do my best to roll up to the intersection in the right turn lane. As soon as I see a car behind me, I move my bike, but trying to do it visibly enough so that the driver realizes that I saw him on the road and moved out of the way as a courtesy to him/her. Sometimes I get a nod, mostly people roll through, but I like to think it’s one small way of making drivers pay attention.

    But yeah. Well put.

  4. [...] Control the Intersection, Control your safety (BikinginLA) [...]

  5. [...] to look at the driver when I roll through – I guess, following BikinginLA’s lead (parts 1 and 2), it’s an instance of me trying to control the [...]

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