Natural Selection

We were thundering down a semi-rural road on our weekly ride. The road was deserted, for a change no cars or trucks were on hand to buzz us.

Off in the distance, we saw a bicyclist turn to cross the road at a right angle. Although the road was empty, traffic does travel fast: 55-60 mph, and sometimes faster. It’s a two-land road with no shoulder. We thought the cyclist was putting herself in some danger.

But she got to the opposite side of the road, and as we got closer, we could see she had taken out her phone, and was using it to take a picture of something.

Just before we pulled even with her, she put the phone away, got back on the bike, and started pedaling in the same direction as we were going — without checking to see if any traffic was coming up behind her. (We were — she never knew we were there, until we passed.)

“Not only that, but did you notice she had both earbuds in her ears?” asked Maggie from behind me.

“Yeah,” I answered. “Earbuds, and no check on traffic before getting back on the road.”

Maggie smirked. “She’s making it easy for natural selection to weed out the stupid ones.”

A Fatal Bike Crash Plays Out — 2 Years Later

On Monday, an 87-year-old man pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide in a crash that killed a cyclist. The crash happened in April, 2012. I wrote about it at the time, and about a memorial ride several area bike clubs staged some weeks later.

We all knew at the time that an older man had been driving the car that killed Verter Ginestra, 54. Verter had been riding on the shoulder of Loop 360, a popular biking route just west of Austin. The road is also a high-speed route that gets drivers through the western suburbs. We were convinced the case would be a slam dunk for the local prosecutor. The driver had pulled his car out of the traffic lane onto the shoulder, because he was upset about having to wait in traffic. He sped up, and hit Verter from behind.

But as weeks went by, nothing seemed to happen. I checked in with riders who were friends of Verter, and they said they had no information about the case. The driver had been charged with criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon. But after time passed with no resolution, the case dropped off my radar.

Now, its turns out his attorney and the prosecutor worked out a plea agreement. The driver hasn’t been sentenced as of this writing, but newspaper accounts say he is expected to get five years’ deferred adjudication. In other words, probation.

One of the things the incident spurred on was an increased effort by local cyclists to get the authorities to levy tougher penalties on drivers who kill cyclists. That didn’t seem to happen here, although given the age of the driver, it might be the best that could be hoped for.

Since that fatality, we’ve had others in town. We’re still waiting for stiffer sentences for drivers.


Holding Up Traffic – Why Do I Feel Guilty?

Had a nice ride Saturday morning on a favorite route of mine — the so-called “Zoo Ride.” But I don’t often do the Zoo Ride on Saturday, and I was taken aback by the amount of traffic as opposed to Sunday.

Of course, there’s always going to be less traffic on Sunday. It’s just that, on one section of the Saturday ride, I felt like I was contributing to the problem.

UnknownIt’s a two-lane road called Thomas Springs. It’s a nice connector between two other roads on the route, only about a mile and half long, but it has no shoulders to speak of. That hasn’t posed a problem for me in the past. But Saturday, I could hear the rumble of a big diesel engine behind me, and a quick glance over my shoulder revealed an 18-wheeler with a flatbed trailer, hauling a bulldozer.

He could have passed me easily — most other days. For some reason, though, the oncoming traffic was, if not heavy, steady. It seemed that whenever cars heading toward me went past, there was another one off in the distance. He didn’t have enough space to pull around me and speed up as much as he’d need to before the oncoming car met him face to face.

For my part, I started feeling uncomfortable. I was cruising at 26 mph. The chances of going faster were minimal, because of slight upticks in the grade I was traveling. Even though I had the right to take the lane, there being no room for both of us to occupy it at the same time, I hugged the white line at the right edge of the road — hoping he’d get just enough of an opening to get by me. I started looking for bailout spots along the way, but very few roads empty into Thomas Springs. The best option was blocked by the large FedEx delivery truck trying to make a left turn. If I braked to make a quick right where the truck was, two bad things could happen — the 18-wheeler would have to brake, too, or I might miss my turn and hit the FedEx truck.

So, my only choice was to keep pedaling hard and try to get the 18-wheeler up to the next stop lighted intersection as quickly as possible — quick being a relative term.

Now, in my experience, professional drivers like the guy in the 18-wheeler are pretty savvy when it comes to bikers and the rules of the road. I don’t much like to be around taxicabs, or buses, but big trucks have never really bothered me. And this guy appeared to be the epitome of patience. He never revved the engine to let me know he was there (as if I couldn’t hear it just fine), he never honked. He waited for his opening, and it finally came.

About 400 yards before the intersection, there were no more oncoming cars. He pulled out around me, passed rapidly, and settled in for a red light at the corner — a light that mercifully turned green just before we got there. He turned into the cross street, I zoomed across the intersection, and we went our merry ways.

Everything happened as it should have. He waited for his opening, I held my position. But I felt guilty holding the guy up. Have you ever had a similar feeling?


This is a Bad One

A cyclist was hit and killed this morning by a pickup truck in Edinburg, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. The two men in the truck allegedly tried to hide the cyclist’s body, but were caught by police.

The victim, Eddie Arguelles, was a close friend of Ramon H., who has commented here several times and even written a guest post.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the family.

Hold Your Line!

Recently, I was riding with a group I hadn’t ridden with before. We got along well, and seemed to have similar abilities. About halfway into the ride, we crossed a busy road and got onto a rough street in a rural town. The street made a 90-degree turn to the left to go into the town’s business district.

I was in the middle of the group, making the left turn, when suddenly, a rider to my left called out, “Watch it, there!”

I flicked my handlebars a little to the right to make room for him, concerned that I might bang into the rider on my right. The guy who had come in on the left realized that he had nearly caused a crash, and started apologizing profusely.

“Yeah, I was coming down that small hill and had more speed than the rest of you,” he said. “I was swinging a little wide there. Sorry ’bout that. I didn’t mean to crowd you.”

Well, maybe not — not intentionally. I had picked a line for the turn and stuck with it, mindful of the positions of the riders around me. He had been trailing the group a bit, so we weren’t aware of his presence nearby. His speed caused him to make a wider turn than I was, but since he was on the inside of me, he almost hit me.

The drawing is crude, but you get the idea.

The drawing is crude, but you get the idea.

What should he have done? Braked harder. That would have allowed him to control his turn and stay on a line to my inside. He had been riding behind the group most of the morning anyway, so falling back a little at this point would have made no difference. Besides, we had a rest stop coming up in just a few blocks, anyway. He’d have gotten there pretty much with the rest of us.

In a turn while riding with a group, be predictable. Stick with your line. I’m hearing about too many crashes lately, and many of them result in serious injury.

Who Subsidizes Whom?

Have you ever been riding along on your bike, when a passing motorist yells something like, “You don’t pay taxes — get off the road!” or something to that effect? In my experience, those shouts are triggered because bikes slow down traffic, and adversely impact a commuter’s driving time. In my experience also, that slowdown lasts for approximately three seconds. Then, the car is free to pull out and roar past — often at a distance too close for comfort.

On the urban planning website Planetizen, blogger Todd Litman dissects the internal combustion crowd’s arguments against supporting better infrastructure for cyclists, including the one on taxes. It’s a thorough, thoughtful piece, and I look forward to more discussion on this subject.

Litman’s post, “Who Subsidizes Whom?” can be found here.

Three-foot Passing Reminder

Although a three-foot passing law was vetoed by the governor of Texas, the city of Austin has passed its own local version.

Still, a lot of area drivers are unaware of the local ordinance.

That’s why it was nice to come across this picture of an Austin police car with a reminder on the rear window:


Here’s hoping some drivers realize they are obligated to give cyclists some room.

Almost hit

One of the routes I travel most often takes me up an easy hill past a supermarket parking lot. There are two entrances to the lot — one right after crossing a main street, and one farther up the hill. If cyclists build up speed early, cars wanting to turn in at the first entrance often figure it’s easier just to keep going and turn at the second one. But sometimes, they speed past you, slam on their brakes, and do a right hook into the lot.

The other day, I had passed the first entrance without any such right hook turns. But as I approached the second entrance, I could see an oncoming car preparing to make a left turn across my path into the lot. I figured he’d wait for me to get past, and I speeded up my pedaling to get by quicker. The car kept coming. He was moving slowly, but he obviously wasn’t planning to stop. It was almost as if he was playing chicken with me.

The car in the picture is going past the first parking lot entrance. The one in question is farther up the hill, where cars are coming out on the right.

The car in this picture from more than a year ago is going past the first parking lot entrance. The entrance in the incident in this post is farther up the hill, where cars are coming out on the right. 

I shot him a look (always make eye contact with drivers to make sure they see you) and he looked back. But kept coming. I pedaled faster. C’mon, man — I’ve got the right of way. He must have been one of those drivers who thinks bikes must always give way to cars. The number of those folks is pretty large.

I reached the parking lot entrance, and as I crossed it, a pickup truck driver waiting to exit the lot called out, “Brave man!” Hm. That must mean he also thought I should have stopped.

The car was about 10 feet from me, still moving to turn into the lot, as I went past the entrance.

Now, perhaps the driver knew I would get by, and just wanted to get into the lot quickly in order to not hold up other traffic. Still, left turners must yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. Which I was. Furthermore, I was in the bike lane. And going up hill. Ain’t no way I was going to stop.

Besides, if I did stop to let the guy enter the lot, wouldn’t that confuse drivers even more? They’re already complaining that they don’t know what cyclists are going to do. My response to that is to ride my bike as though I’m driving a car, and to try to be as predictable as possible.

As I went by, my look at the driver turned into a scowl, but I didn’t make note of his license plate. Nor did I stop to chase him into the lot and confront him. Nor did I flip him off, or yell. I just wanted to get out of his way and travel the last mile home. I’ll save my confrontational self for when I have a closer call. Because I bet there will be one.

Share the Road

Share-the-Road-SignA bike advocacy organization, Bike Delaware, has come out against “Share the Road” signs. I’m sure these signs are common in most places throughout the United States — I certainly see them on several city streets near me.

I’ve always been glad to see the signs. It’s an indication that the city recognizes that cyclists use our streets and roads, and is a reminder to drivers that we’ll be out there, too. So often, when a driver gives the excuse, “I didn’t see you,” it’s likely they were not expecting to see cyclists.

But the point Bike Delaware makes is that the signs can be interpreted differently by different people, under different circumstances. The group also contends the signs serve no traffic control function.

Hm. Hadn’t thought about that before. Apparently, some drivers think “Share the Road” admonishes them to give up something they own. Why share the road when it’s mine?

I think most drivers don’t realize that bikes are treated under the law as vehicles, subject to the same rights and responsibilities as cars. “Share the Road” is a reminder that bikes have a legitimate right to be out on the roads.

But I could be easily persuaded one way or another. What’s your take?