Door Zone Warning

Last week, when I went for a ride against my better judgment and wound up aggravating my bronchitis, I was cruising through a new housing development that still has some construction going on. I saw one of the workers shoulder some tools and head toward the street, so I swerved a bit to my right to avoid him. Just then, the door of a pickup truck on my right opened. I had just a second to swerve back and thread the needle between the tool guy and the door.

I got through that all right, but lots of cyclists get nailed by the opening door. So I was glad to see some new striping go down on streets in my area, with a feature I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve already written about the new double lanes they’re putting in. The right lane next to the curb is for parked cars. Then there’s a bike lane to the left of the parking lane, then the lane for cars. It recognizes that people have been parking their cars in the bike lanes, and tries to make room for both.

The additional feature is a diagonal line that cuts into the bike lane every ten yards or so. It appears to designate the door zone — that area that a car door will cover when it’s opened.

The door zone stripes aren't obvious, but bike riders should be able to spot them easily.

The door zone stripes aren’t obvious, but bike riders should be able to spot them easily.

I don’t know how accurate it is, but it’s a nice reference point. And the new bike lanes are wide enough that there’s plenty of room for a bike to stay outside the door zone while staying inside the bike lane. I hope the city continues to add these kinds of features as other streets are re-striped.

Is It Getting More Dangerous Out There?

My friend Ramon H. from the Rio Grande Valley recently had a shock when a drunk driver plowed into several members of a group ride he was in. Two were banged up, and one went to a local hospital’s ICU. Ironically, the group was riding in honor of another of their cycling circle who was killed a year ago — again, by a drunk driver.

The crash rattled Ramon, and he is reassessing his commitment to cycling.

“At this point,” he wrote me, “I am not sure what the future holds for me as it pertains to pre-dawn cycling or road cycling in general.  This event hit too close to home and emotions are very raw still.  Not just for me, but for my wife as well.”

A lot of Ramon’s riding is done on a trainer now.

I have noticed an increase in traffic on roads I’ve biked on for years. Until the shoulders were recently widened on one popular (but high speed limit) highway, I had stopped riding it. Too many cars going too fast. However, on our longer cycling routes into the country, I can’t say motorists are any more of a threat than they have ever been.

So I was concerned when two members of my cycling club posted about one of their recent rides. Going down Cement Plant Road near Buda, Texas, a cement truck passed so close that it touched the arm of one rider, and left a disturbing cement dust print on his shoulder. Neither of the two was hurt, but we probably will confine our riding on that road to Sundays in the future.

However, a heightened sense of danger on the roads is far from universal. Our guest poster, Don Blount, says he hasn’t seen a problem.

“I have found drivers to be remarkably courteous, giving me plenty of space,” he said. “I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have been buzzed and most of those times will involve some knuckleheads in a pickup truck.”

Don surveyed members of his cycling club in California, and they had similar impressions.

  • “Motorists are pretty mellow in my experience.”
  • “Having lived and biked in the foothills since 1997, I see no real difference in the autos.”
  • “I have not noticed a greater danger,  bad drivers are still bad and don’t count on anyone giving you three feet clearance.”

Our other guest poster, Jeff Hemmel, checks in from Florida: “Not sure if I would say that it feels like things are getting worse, but there are definitely moments.” Jeff says he’s noticed more anger on the roads, as well as more disregard for traffic laws. So, he’s adjusted some of his riding practices.

“I always ride with a very bright, Blackburn Flea blinking taillight day and night,” he said. “I’m also really conscious of watching taillights, looking ahead to intersections, etc, to try and anticipate what might happen.”

Jeff said it’s up to the cyclist to be proactive. “I think about what hours I’m out there,” he said. “I pretty much stick to morning, and especially avoid later afternoon as kids are out of school, people are starting to go home from work, etc.”

Frankly, one of the reasons I’ve started doing some mountain biking is that it gets me off the roads. If I hit a rock and do an endo — well, that’s my fault.

And even Ramon hasn’t given up. “I am not ready to stop cycling because I have seen the tremendous weight-management and stress-relief benefits it provides,” he wrote. “I have seen very positive changes from when I started back in 2009 to where we are today.  Drivers have started to look out for us, and we have slowly started to instill a ‘share the road’ mentality.”

And Saturday, Ramon finished a 100-mile organized ride with his best time ever for a century.

Running Interference

We’ve been enjoying the newly-striped roads in our immediate area. As I’ve mentioned before, in some places there are parking lanes for cars, with bike lanes next to them. The bike lanes are fairly wide, which squeezes moving cars a bit, but has the effect of slowing them down — theoretically.

But I still see cars that follow bikes to an intersection, pass them, and then cut them off to make a right turn. My friend Maggie said she nearly followed a woman into a parking lot to yell at her about it. Maggie is better at controlling her temper than some, and thought better of it.

It doesn’t seem like it’s too much for cars to pull in behind bikes when approaching a right turn. It will cost them, what — only two or three seconds?

So I’ve decided to intervene — surreptitiously. When I’m driving my car, and a cyclist is ahead in a bike lane, I make sure he or she will get to the turn unmolested. I slow down and ease over so the side of the car is right at the edge of the bike lane. That blocks following cars from trying to pass me on the right in the bike lane to beat me to the corner. It also forces them to stay behind me so they can’t cut off the biker.

The beauty of this is that the cyclist is probably unaware I’m even there. They can keep pedaling without worry and get through the intersection. Drivers might get impatient, having to follow behind this slow guy, but they don’t honk or complaint. At least they haven’t yet.

Some of use from the club were sitting around after a ride recently, and the topic of running interference came up. Every person — all six of them — claimed to do something like what I describe here.

How about you? Do you take an active role in protecting cyclists from cars?

A Good Sign

During the summer, I expressed my concern over the resurfacing of streets in our neighborhood with chip seal. Chip seal is irritating, because cyclists are riding through small, loose gravel until it become tamped down to a sort of smooth surface.

That tamping is pretty much taken care of now, and on a ride the other morning, I saw some crews striping the streets. The striping doesn’t just trace the marking that had been in place previously. Instead, it accommodates cyclists better. Here’s a look at what I mean:

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there's still some room for bikes to miss doors.

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there’s still some room for bikes to miss doors.

One irritant to me when riding in the morning or mid-afternoon was the number of helicopter parents who drop off and pick up their kids at school. They had no qualms about parking their cars in the bike lane, forcing bikes out into the traffic lane. That wouldn’t be a problem, since everyone was moving at a snail’s pace, but a bike mixed in with all those cars caused consternation on the part of drivers — many of whom had no idea what to do. Of course, indecisive drivers can be a bigger hazard to cyclists than blocked bike lanes.

Well, the new markings angle that problem. There’s a parking lane for cars next to the curb, then a bike lane. The traffic lane is considerably narrower than it had been before.

It’s not perfect. The bike lane could put bikers in the door zone. But it’s a little wider than most lanes that are in the door zone, and frankly, I’m not too concerned. It appears the city is listening to cyclists and making improvements in traffic markings.

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?