Just the other day, I mentioned that sometimes when drivers are nice to cyclists (it does happen!), it can cause safety problems. Sure enough, on our club ride Sunday, we ran into that very situation — twice.
One of my favorite routes is Fitzhugh Road. It’s in the Hill Country west of Austin, but not too far west. In fact, it’s only about a 10-mile ride to get there, and then the rider can go for as long as 30 miles, on some challenging rolling hills. We didn’t go that far Sunday — in fact, we went only about five miles on Fitzhugh before we turned back.
But here’s the tricky part. When Fitzhugh ends at U.S. 290, we have to make a left turn onto the highway. At this point, 290 is four lanes wide with a center lane. Cyclists take the center lane, because in just about 200 yards, we’re going to make another left turn — and being in the center lane is safer, believe it or not, than trying to ride an iffy shoulder, then cut across traffic lanes to get into position to make a left.
Most of the time, it’s an easy maneuver. Because of the way stoplights are timed along 290, we often can make our left turn from the center lane without dealing with oncoming traffic. But that wasn’t the case this time. We were in a tightly-packed group of 10. The oncoming traffic was as heavy as I’ve ever seen it. We reached the left turn, and had to stop.
But one of the oncoming cars decided to do us a favor. He stopped, and waited for us to turn in front of him. We all stayed put, and signaled him to keep going. After all, he had the right of way. But one of our group decided to take him up on his generous offer, and started to make the turn. The car, responding to the group’s gestures, started up again. Then, more cars headed in his direction caught up. Our cyclist friend could have been t-boned, and the result would not have been pretty.
Later, just yards from the end of our ride, we were in the left turn lane of a four-lane divided road. We were about to turn into the shopping area where our Starbucks meeting place is situated. The traffic spaced out enough that some riders opted to proceed across the oncoming lanes. Others of us weren’t quick enough in our reactions, and stayed in the left turn lane, waiting for all the traffic to pass. But one car decided to be a nice guy. He stopped — in the middle of a 50 mph suburban arterial — to let us make our turn. Other traffic was closing the gap. We had to decide quickly what to do. We all made it across, waving at the guy as we did.
We get enough static from bike-hating drivers that it’s a pleasant change of pace to see someone who’s looking out for bikers. But when their generosity has the potential of causing worse traffic hazards, I’d just as soon have them be less nice.