Tag Archive for urban cycling

Control the intersection, part 2: Actually, it is polite to point

Just last week, I was riding towards a busy intersection. Ahead of me, there was a long line of cars facing me, waiting to make a left turn onto the cross street.

The driver of the first car had plenty of room to make his left before I got to the intersection, crossing my path and going on his way with room to spare.

The second car probably shouldn’t have gone. The driver’s view had been blocked by the first car, and he had no idea I was there until he followed the first driver in making his turn. Fortunately, I hadn’t quite entered the intersection, so he rounded the corner without posing an undue threat.

The third car was another matter.

It was clear that his view had been totally obscured by the cars ahead of him. And if he followed their lead, neither one of us would make it to the other side.

So I pointed at him.

I wasn’t trying to be rude. It’s just a little trick I’ve learned over the years. When a driver doesn’t seem to see me, I extend my arm and point at him. And invariably, they notice me, and respond appropriately.

Don’t ask me why it works. It just does.

In this case, I pointed at the driver as soon as he came into view, after the other car turned. We made eye contact, he nodded, and I rode safely through the intersection and on my merry way.

I’ve used the same technique as I’ve been stopped at a light, when it appeared a driver a going to try to get the jump on me as soon as the light changed. In that case, the driver appeared to be purposely ignoring me, refusing to make eye contact — always a bad sign.

Sure enough, the light changed and he gunned his engine, lurching into the intersection, despite the fact that I had the right of way. So again, I pointed.

And God help me, he stopped.

He sat there with an embarrassed look on his face and let me ride past. Then gunned his engine again, screeching through the corner and down the road.

Other times, I’ve used an extended digit — the first one, not the second, which I tend to employ all too often — to indicate where I intend to go. By pointing straight ahead, I could show that I was going to ride straight across an intersection, even though it was a situation where most drivers would have expected me to turn.

Or I’ve pointed out at a slight angle, to tell drivers that I was entering the lane briefly to go around some obstacle, rather than taking the full lane — or risk confusing them by making a left turn signal.

And in every case, it’s worked. Drivers slow down, and give me enough space to make my move or cross the street. And more amazingly, I’ve never gotten a single horn, shout or obscene gesture in response.

Don’t ask me why.

I’ve even been known to take it a step further by actually directing traffic.

Like at a four way stop, for instance, when no one knows who should go first. In some cases, it may have actually been my right of way. But only a fool would insist on taking it without knowing that the other vehicles intended to cede it.

And as they say down south, my Mama didn’t raise no fools.

So I point at one driver, and hold up my hand to indicate halt. Then point at the other driver and wave him through the intersection, before waving the first car through. And once the intersection is clear, I’ll go through myself — sometime holding out that same halt signal to tell a late arriving vehicle I’m going through.

I always expect the drivers to ignore me. Or laugh. Or get pissed off. But oddly, it never seems to happen.

Instead, they invariably respond to my points and hand commands as meekly as a herd of sheep with a border collie nipping at their flanks.

I can’t explain it. I won’t even try.

All I know is that it works. And the fact that I’m still here to tell you about it is all the proof you need that it does.

 

Bicycle Fixation offers their stylish Limited Edition Herringbone Knickers; very cool, but at that price, I think I’ll continue to wear my decided unstylish spandex. Meanwhile, another rider offers a jersey indicating the three foot passing distance we should all insist on — at least until our personal portable bike lanes hit the market. Gary relates his semi-soggy saga of riding to San Diego over the weekend. Another local bike path becomes a habitat for homeless humanity. Leave it to the Japanese to meld a parking garage with a bicycle vending machine. The Expo Construction Authority seeks an alternate for the Expo Bikeway through NIMBY-ist Cheviot Hills. Yeah, good luck with that. Bike paradise Boulder, Colorado is about to get a state-of-the-art off-road bike park, while Belmont, CA drivers are raging over the new bike lane. Finally, the Rearview Rider, aka the Bicycling Librarian, offers up her new blog of bike-worthy links.

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.

 

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