Since beginning biking way back in 2007, I have had a healthy respect for trucks and buses. Not because they’re big and are a threat, but because they are driven by pros. Pros know the rules of the road, and they’re sharp enough to anticipate moves other drivers and cyclists might make.
During the road part of my Traffic Skills 101 course, we were negotiating the streets of downtown Austin. I had a left turn coming up, and I was keeping my bike as far to the right as practicable, just as a good cyclist is supposed to do. But I had to move left, and a big city bus was approaching from behind.
I signaled my left, started to move in that direction, and low and behold, the bus let me through. We were able to flow smoothly with no disruption of traffic. I got to make my left turn, and he got to pull up to the corner at his next stop.
I’ve had other encounters with professional drivers that have only increased my confidence in them.
And then, Friday morning came.
Pat and I were out on a ride in the neighborhood. She usually goes 12-15 miles, and I’ll tack on another 10 or so after she heads home. This time, we were coming up to a major intersection of two four-lane divided streets. Some time ago, I taught Pat to leave the bike lane just before it ends, and “take the lane.” That way, right-turning cars have to turn behind her, rather than cut her off and trap her in the right turn lane.
She was quite a way behind me. She signaled, moved left to take the lane, and the light went yellow. She pedaled hard to get across the right turn lane and pull back into the bike lane at the stop. Then she heard it. A truck owned by a well-known food distributor decided he wasn’t going to stop at the light and gunned it to get through the yellow. So here she was — in a traffic lane, braking for the light, and a truck right behind her was speeding up. She dove for the bike lane early and just got out of the way of the truck.
I always wait for her at the top of a hill about a half-mile up the road. When she caught up to me, she was pretty rattled. But I congratulated her for handling it well, and she put the incident behind her.
Until the next morning.
This time, we were climbing a hill on State Highway 45. The bike lane — shoulder really — narrows and disappears as an intersection approaches. If you turn right, a fire station sits nearby. A fire truck coming up the hill didn’t give Pat any room. It stayed in its lane instead of moving left for her (the other lane was clear) and squeezed her into the gutter just before the right turn lane for the intersection.
Two days, two trucks. Pat’s not excited about riding in traffic right now. And my regard for professional drivers is not as high as it once was.
Very frustrating. On my commutes to work, I cycle through an industrial area, and have noticed that tractor-trailer rig drivers seem to be less courteous than non-professional drivers. And when they honk at you, you’re lucky to stay on the bike. Maybe it’s the “time is money” factor…regardless, they should do a better job of sharing the road.
I think the lesson here is to acknowledge that professional drivers are not an homogeneous group, but are as varied in their skills and attitudes as any randomly compiled assortment of drivers.
Unfortunately, the anonymity of driving in an enclosed vehicle encourages the same sort of aggressiveness as does the anonymity of online comments sections (this site excepted, since we cyclists are more intelligent, aware and exercise better judgment than others :^). So, the same people who are inclined to rant online are inclined to run cyclists off the road. Plus, add the folks who are just clueless, but not sociopathic, into the mix, and your sedate suburbia becomes a war zone.
That’s why I always ride with a special ultrasonic gamma ray accelerator that melts the tires of offending vehicles.
John Z says
I think you have a false sense of security regarding “professional” drivers. The trucking (and livery) business has changed that there are few career drivers. With the exception of the recession, the trucking industry suffered from a shortage of drivers. It’s an arduous lifestyle filled with stress – traffic, fuel prices, delivery times. A significant problem is overtired drivers. Living in the NY metro area, at least once a month there’s a report about a truck getting on a forbidden highway and hitting the underpass. So, you can surmise from their diligence with large obstacles and extrapolate that to smaller obstacles, which we cyclists are considered. NYC buses are another example – they just go where they want to, so you need to anticipate to prevent being forced into a parked car.
Obviously, if you can avoid high traffic areas even if there is a bike lane, it would be preferable. Some other (obvious) points:
1) Ride at low traffic times and especially rush hour in the morning and evening.
2) Avoid riding when the sun is low that drivers need their sun visors. They often cannot see you, as they can barely see the road.
3) Wear hi-visibility clothes and use a flasher light during morning, shaded, and dusk rides.
4) Ride defensively – anticipate that cars don’t see you and avoid situations that could pose a danger.
5) If you know there’s a particular intersection that is inherently dangerous (usually a high accident area for cars), try to plan your route around it. That may include going out of your way or using the sidewalk or cutting through a parking lot. It’s all about “exposure” time.
When riding with your wife, you might try some off-road riding like a rails-to-trails path. No traffic and some diversity for you.