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.”

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.

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?

Reporting On Cycling

I might have mentioned a time or two before that I am a journalism professor. As such, I see a lot of academic research in that area. In one fairly new venture, the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University sends synopses on research being done on current news topics, with ideas for incorporating that research into news stories.

This morning, I got the latest batch of synopses, and one caught my eye right off the bat. It’s titled, “Ten key issues for covering bicycling and bike infrastructure in your community.” The Center’s newsletter editor suggests that taking a look at these ten issues and related studies can “facilitate deeper coverage of cycling in your town.” Some of these will be old news to seasoned cyclists, but others offer the germ of an idea that just might trigger some more in-depths looks at the role of cycling in a community.

Here are their ten issues:

1. Cycling trends. The Center links to two studies of cyclists, one from big cities, one from smaller towns. “Both include data on trends in the age, gender, incomes and race of cyclists,” the item says. “This background information, much of which comes from Census Data, can help indicate how your state and city are doing relative to others.”

2. Helmets and safety. (Oh oh.- Bike Noob.) The Center cites studies on the effect of helmet laws on children’s cycling injuries, and the health impact of mandatory helmet laws. It also notes that helmet use is less prevalent in Europe than in the U.S.

3. Balancing health benefits and risks of cycling. A British study examined the use of a bike share program in Barcelona, Spain, and found that deaths rose when people used the bike share, but because of increased physical activity, 12 times that many deaths were avoided each year. With any physical activity comes risk, the Center notes.

4. Automotive air pollution and cyclists. A 2011 environmental study found that cyclists who share the road with motorized vehicles have decreased heart rate variability for three hours after being exposed to car exhausts. That is associated with a higher risk of heart attacks.

5. Bike-specific infrastructure and laws. One study looks at cycle tracks, and how they reduce the chance of injury, while another finds that even in a city with a bicycle-friendly attitude, bike infrastructure can be “patchy.”

6. Conflicts between cyclists and cars. One study used helmet cameras to track commuter cyclists, and found that in 90 percent of collisions, it was the motorist at fault. Another found that the three-foot passing law in Baltimore is routinely ignored.

7. Car-free events. You’ve heard of “ciclovias” — when city streets are closed to cars for a day? One study looked at the health benefits of four different ciclovia programs. It found the more often such events are held, the greater the health benefits.

8. Immigrants and cycling. One study showed that immigrants are 41 times more likely to use bikes than to drive cars, while another found that as the number of cycling immigrants goes up, so does the rate of car-bike collisions.

9. Commuting by bike. One study did an overview of the literature on bicycle commuting. It found that the distance of the commute was a factor, but so was bike infrastructure and the availability of such amenities as showers at work.

10. Commuting by car, transit and other modes. Two studies look at the health costs of commuting by car, compared to other means. The numbers are startlingly high: $180 billion/year for traffic crashes, and $50-$80 billion from traffic congestion. Any ideas for a healthier, cleaner and cheaper mode of transportation? (Oh, you mean bikes?)

Most, if not all, of these issues have been touched upon either here or in other popular cycling blogs. Maybe it’s time to revive some of these discussions. I’d be happy to tackle them, using the studies suggested by the Shorenstein Center. What’s your take? Are these ideas worth investigating, or have they been done to death? I’m interested in your reaction.

Don’t Turn In Front of Me

It was one of those things that, thankfully, happens only once in a while. On the return leg of our Sunday ride, I was in the bike lane of a four-lane divided suburban arterial, probably moving at 18 mph, gaining speed. A road on the right made a T-intersection with my road. Oncoming traffic on my road could use a left turn lane to make a left. I saw a red pickup truck enter the turn lane.

No problem, I figured. He’ll just wait for me to go by him, then he’d turn.

Yeah, right.

After coming to a complete stop, the pickup truck driver looked as though he was weighing the pros and cons of turning in front of me. Don’t do it, I thought to myself. He did it.

By this time, I had covered enough ground that I was almost to the intersection. I pulled on the brake levers and slowed, just enough to let him turn in front of me.

I’m sure most of us have a had a similar experience while driving our cars. Sometimes, someone will make a left turn across your path, and you have to brake to avoid hitting them. It’s enough to make you grumble, or worse. So why doesn’t that situation apply when you’re making a left turn and it’s a bike in the oncoming lane, not a car?

Maybe some drivers just don’t have a handle on how fast bikes are moving. It’s a bike — I’ve got time to make the turn. Or maybe they figure that the result of a car-bike collision would be a lot less dire than a car-car collision. Specious reasoning, that.

Hey, if you’ve got to think about whether it’s safe to make that turn, you probably shouldn’t make that turn.

I’ve had plenty of drivers turn left across my path. I really don’t mind it, as long as I don’t have to brake. But if I do have to brake to keep from hitting the turning car, the driver of the car has made a bad move.

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations for which I see no solution. Just stay alert, and be ready to react if a driver does something dumb. (Which they do often enough that you should always be alert.)

Bike Lanes Are Inadequate

I’ve noticed that more bike lanes are popping up around town. I think that’s generally a good thing. My attitude is, if I stay in my lane and motor vehicles stay in their lane, we should have no problem.

Of course, we’ve all had experiences with drivers who can’t seem to control their vehicles and cross into the bike lane from time to time. In addition, bike lanes tend to become repositories of broken glass, gravel, and other debris that can make riding there hazardous.

Still, if I have the option to use a bike lane, I generally take it.

But during the week, my attention was drawn to an interesting collection of infographics regarding bike lane design. In essence, the infographics suggest that a three-foot wide bike lane is inadequate to meet the safety needs of cyclists. They’re part of a web site called “I Am Traffic,” whose stated goal is to achieve equal status for bikes with other vehicles on the road. Some of their information is new to me, and quite thought-provoking. Here’s a sample:

BikeLane

Click the image to enlarge.

To see the whole collection of infographics, and get an in-depth dose of cycling infrastructure ideals, visit I Am Traffic.