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?


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.