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.

A Dialogue Over Cycling

Two of my biking friends recently had unpleasant encounters with drivers. In one case, a car passed unnecessarily close to a cyclist, and he was concerned about being hit. That didn’t happen, but it upset my friend enough that he followed the car to the next stop sign, and started a dialogue about car-bike safety.

The driver didn’t take to it well, and my friend — one of the most mild-mannered folks you’d want to meet — thought it could have escalated to blows. He pulled away and continued his ride.

My other friend is naturally cautious while riding the roads, and most often stays on the suburban-style residential streets in our immediate area. But even there, problems can arise. At a stoplighted intersection, he had the green light and started across the intersection. An oncoming truck started to turn left across his path without signaling. My friend yelled and waved, and the truck stopped just five feet from him.

“I would have let it go at that,” he said. “But then he starts yelling at me like it was my fault. I had the right-of-way!”

He threw down his bike and started toward the truck with clenched fists. Believe me, you don’t want to tangle with him one-on-one. The truck driver figured that out, and drove on.

“What gets me is that some people figure if they’re in a motor vehicle, they’ve got the right of way,” my friend said. “They need to be better educated about the rules of the road regarding bikes.”

The guy in the first incident had another point of view. “We really need to start showing our neighbors who we are,” he said. “We’re just like them. We live in the same kind of houses, we work jobs — the only difference is, we choose cycling as a form of exercise or recreation.”

He suggested making an affirmative effort to talk to our neighbors about our biking, why we do it, how we hope cars behave around bikes, how they should expect bikers to behave around them.

People for Bikes, an organization that aims to promote cycling to more prominence in public discourse, offers the same idea in this video.

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Others suggest that as more people ride, biking will become more a part of our culture. This article on Business Insider urges more commuting by bike.

I agree with all of the above. I’m just not optimistic that things will change much. Recently, the city laid chipped stone over a lane of one of the main streets in our area. As my wife was riding along that section, a pickup truck passed her, and spun his wheels to throw the stone-gravel mix at her. “Some people,” she said, “are just asshats.”

Let’s Ban All Drivers From the Roads!

It was Friday evening rush hour.  I was driving home from a full day at work, and was just as glad as everyone else on the road to get a jump on the weekend.

Friday evenings have some weird effect on drivers.  Here’s what I saw just a few blocks from my house:

I turned onto a residential street, and noticed a Saturn sedan on my tail.  I recognized it by sight; it lives two blocks from me.  The high school aged girl driving it was obviously impatient with my speed on the street — I was going 30 in a 30 mph zone. She tailgated me closely. At a fork in the road, I went right. She went left.  I knew our two roads would converge again in moments.  When they did, at a 4-way stop, I was on the right, so had the right of way at the stop sign.  She came up on the left, and tried to jump out ahead of me. I wouldn’t let her, and took my rightful turn.  I’m sure she’ll make a note of my car in her s__t list, after I held her up from getting home by … oh, I dunno … maybe five seconds.

A half hour later, I was making a run for take-out food.  At a stoplight, I was in the right lane, a big black Tahoe or something on my left.  I guess the driver was trying to signal me at the light, but because we were side-by-side, I didn’t see her wave at me, or see her turn signal.The Tahoe must have needed to make a right turn real bad, because when the light changed, the driver jumped ahead, shot me a dirty look, signaled her turn, and nearly cut me off.  I eased up and let her go. Then, just as she reached the street where she was going to turn, she had second thoughts.  She signaled left, swerved into the left lane, then shot across to a left turn lane at the next corner, and did a U-turn.

Both these incidents happened in less time than it takes to read about them.  I just shrugged my shoulders and mentioned to my wife when I got home that drivers were a bit loony tonight.  That was it.

Now suppose those two drivers were on bikes instead of behind the wheels of cars?

When bikes jump in front of cars at stop signs, motorists get pissed.  When cyclists drive erratically, motorists write to the newspaper, or call the local talk show blowhard, and bitch about those rotten bikers and how they all oughta get off their bikes and drive cars the way God intended.

Now suppose every time a biker experiences bad driving by a motorist, he or she writes the same newspaper or calls the same talk show?

Nah. Their letters wouldn’t be published, and the call screener wouldn’t let ‘em on the air.