Friday, March 4, 2011

You Take What You Can Get!

Today was the first time in two months that I went on what can even remotely be described as a "recreational" ride. Having finished my errands, I continued onto the Charles River trail for a half hour - then turned around and rode back. The wind was brutal and the temperature around 30°, but the trail was finally free of snow and I couldn't resist it despite my continually running nose. 

It felt weird to cycle "for no reason" after not having done it for so long! I kept thinking "wait, where am I going again?" before remembering that I wasn't headed anywhere in particular. But I'm sure I'll get used to it soon.

The Charles River trail now has less snow on it than the roads do - which is odd, because I didn't think they'd even plowed it all winter. Maybe it's warmer next to the river.  As for the roads, the snow has mostly melted - but hardened snowbanks still pop up when you least expect them, making transportation cycling like an obstacle course that requires constant merging in and out of traffic. I keep looking out the window and hoping that finally, today cycling will be normal again. But it isn't quite there yet. You take what you can get.

On the road, I had a conversation with a motorist at an intersection that I've had several times before (not with the same motorist, mind you). The light had just turned red and the driver began signaling a right turn. Since I was already on his right, I positioned myself slightly ahead of him and waited for the light to change.
Driver (good-naturedly): You trying to race me, hon? I'm pretty sure I'll win!
Me: What?... Oh. No, I'm trying to make sure that you see me and we don't collide when you turn right. If I'm further back you might not see me.
Driver: Huh?  (thinks about it for a moment) Oooooh. Huh! Okay, that makes sense. And I've been wondering why you guys do that.
For me, these kinds of interactions confirm what I intuitively suspect: Some of the safety maneuvers that cyclists take for granted as being logical and inherently understood by both parties involved, in fact often aren't. So here was this motorist, apparently wondering for God-knows-how-long why the heck all these cyclists need to make it a point of stopping slightly in front of him at intersections, and the reason simply never occurred to him until I explained it. And no, I don't think he was teasing me by pretending not to understand. Still, at least he was friendly and from now on he'll know. You take what you can get!

32 comments:

  1. Lucky! The drivers in my neck of the woods (Salinas, CA) are not as very warm and friendly. I just get dirty looks and horn-honks when I do that.

    Come to think of it, the only thing anyone has ever said to me was when an old man on the sidewalk, seeing me in my lycra, asked me, "how do you get yourself into that suit?"

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  2. Gorgeous photos! Love the one of the bike over the icy river.

    You should make a ride blog :).

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  3. This past summer, the city painted lines for some of those dedicated bike "areas" (for lack of a better word) that sit in front of the traffic light but behind the crosswalk. For those who haven't seen them, it's like a blocked out area with a bicycle painted on it where the bicycles can wait in stopped traffic without having to worry about the issue of being seen next to or behind a vehicle.

    When I was in England, most of the towns had these types of bike stopping zones installed near the more critical intersections and even where there were not the dedicated zones available, the drivers seemed to anticipate seeing a cyclist up front rather than sandwiched behind in traffic. Consequently, whenever I approached a traffic light with stopped cars, I felt comfortable cycling between them to reach the front area because I knew that we both would understand and expect this as the safest option.

    However, for cities where this arrangement isn't the norm, the learning curve is steeper for drivers AND cyclists. Perhaps it is something worth mentioning to your appropriate city representative, someone must have done in mine or I doubt they would have thought to install the cycle spaces at all!

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  4. Apparently such interactions are uncommon enough to be mentioned, see Mark Uiterwijk on David Hembrow's blog:
    http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2011/02/when-drivers-stop-and-open-windows.html

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  5. Learning bike etiquette ought to be part of Drivers Ed training! Share the road. What kind of bike have you? I like the low step-through feature. Even on my "girl's" Specialized Globe, I get tripped up trying to step through, because my legs are short, as is my height at 5'4". It's dangerous and I can't find a "zippy" bike with low enough step through.

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  6. "Some of the safety maneuvers that cyclists take for granted as being logical and inherently understood by both parties involved, in fact often aren't. " I'm not surprised and all I have to do is think about myself. I had no idea about what and why cyclists did what they did. I used to ride motorcycles and there it's clear, the m'cyclist is traffic, using a full lane and hopefully obeying all the laws. I'm sure I'd never even read the sections of traffic laws that say bicycles are allowed on the streets until I bought one. So really, can I expect anyone else to be more knowledgeable than I was?

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  7. While useful, many of your people-related insights such as this seem to derive from what must be an engaging personality or perhaps an approachable appearance. I particularly remember your blithe advice to shoo malingerers to the proper side of the bike lane. The least I could hope for from trying this would be a one-fingered salute. Maybe you are just braver than the average bear.

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  8. Most drivers would be much more understanding of bikers if they
    a) did it once or twice to know how it feels to be on the other side and
    b) got an explanation of why bikers do some of the things that they do to herd traffic.

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  9. @MFarrington
    Boston is putting these in as well. They're called "Bike Boxes".
    As for riding in the "cramped" conditions where the bike lanes aren't really clear, I've been just riding with the traffic and taking my place in line behind the car in front of me rather than riding on the right. That way, I can continue in a "straight line" which is safer than dodging in and out of traffic. Legally, in Massachusetts the cyclist is allowed to take the lane if conditions don't let you ride to the right.

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  10. What is it about riding a bicycle in a cold wind that makes one's nose run ad infinitum?

    I really think it's nearly a safety hazard for me, since I have to free one hand for the handkerchief so often.

    One of the perils of the sport!

    jn

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  11. It may be that the driver does not understand why you are pulling ahead, but at least it seems to be the case that they are seeing you do it. Which means it is still an effective strategy. I've never really considered what the driver thinks when I do that, all I care about is not getting hit or cut off. I don't really think driver education needs to be my job.

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  12. Thanks for sharing your driver interaction. Almost every time I tell someone new that I'm a bike commuter they say something like "Isn't it so dangerous?" or "I don't know how you do it- the drivers here are so terrible." When that happens I usually try to tell a story about the good interactions I've had with drivers. I feel like being negative only helps to perpetuate the 'Us v. Them' myth. It's not 'bikes v. cars'- we're all road users, sharing the road. It sounds like you did a good job of educating that driver, which is what it's going to take to continue make our streets friendlier, and much less about 'us v. them'

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  13. a couple of nights ago, while waiting at a red light near Mass General, a passenger in the SUV beside me rolled down their window and said, "sir, when the light goes green, you should go ahead of us. We're going to turn right and will wait for you to go past."

    That was rather lovely.

    MFarrington -- the zone you're describing is known as a 'bike box' and Boston has already taken to adding some of those on busier throughways like Commonwealth Avenue. They are rather neat.

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  14. I can handle rain. I can handle hills. But that ice cold Charles River headwind would not be fun. Too bad it wasn't at your back on the way home!

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  15. There's also often a disjunct between actual and perceived behavior when it comes to both bicyclists and drivers. Last weekend my wife and I were proceeding with the right of way at a four-way stop and the driver to our right started rolling just as we were about to cross in front of her. I yelled "we have the right of way" -- in part to make a point, in part to make sure she saw us -- and her reply was "I'm not going, I'm just rolling." To her, that was perfectly innocent, to us that seemed ignorant or even aggressive. How often is my behavior as a bicyclist similarly misinterpreted as hostile, aggressive, or stupid? How can we fix these little misunderstandings? I think it must go beyond simply driver or rider education -- it has to be a cultural shift, perhaps.

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  16. tomthel - I think it's much more basic than my personality. I am female, I ride a "cute" bike, and I look harmless. This motivates male drivers to make teasing/flirty condescending remarks to me more so than downright hostile ones, because I don't look like someone who threatens them. If I were a male with tattoos on a roadbike, I am pretty sure that driver would not have been as nice.

    Having said that, I do get occasional hostility. It hadn't happened in a while, until it happened here, so it caught me by surprise.

    As for pedestrians/cyclists blocking the bike lane... I don't like telling people what to do, unless their behaviour immediately and directly impacts me. So yes, if I am cycling and people are standing there in the bike lane, I ring my bell and say "excuse me" as nicely as I can. They usually get offended and give me dirty looks, which I ignore.

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  17. Frits - I think it's more common in the US. I've had maybe close to a dozen interactions with motorists over the past 2 years. Sometimes they're just asking for directions!

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  18. Velouria said...
    "Some of the safety maneuvers that cyclists take for granted as being logical and inherently understood by both parties involved, in fact often aren't. So here was this motorist, apparently wondering for God-knows-how-long why the heck all these cyclists need to make it a point of stopping slightly in front of him at intersections, and the reason simply never occurred to him until I explained it"

    Yep, the things cyclist do to survive a ride is amazing. This is also a case where clothing colors can play a huge role in rider conspicuity!!

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  19. @ Anonymous & Chris: That's interesting about the bike boxes, thanks for the info! It would be nice to get some impressions about them once they become more common and whether it alleviates the turning in traffic issue. Also, I wonder how the Boston drivers will adapt to the change? (being a much larger city and all)

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  20. Off the original topic, but since you raised it, what gets me about pedestrians is that no one ever walks without impaired hearing anymore, so far as I can tell. Virtually every time I approach a pedestrian from behind (sometimes I ride on the sidewalk to avoid risking my life on a narrow highway) I have to yell quite a bit to get their attention over the iPod. It is amusing to come up behind a guy walking a dog -- usually the dog notices me first, then the guy notices the dog noticing me.

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  21. It's good to read that you got a chance to go for a recreational ride despite the cold weather and runny nose. And now we have one smarter motorist out there on the road. Also, thanks to you and MDI (about the pannier). It fits perfectly just like you said.

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  22. Walt - Wouldn't you have a ball if a motorist rolled down his/her window and asked "Hey, why do you guys always wear those annoying bright colours?" : ))

    Jon - My experience has been that there is no way to adequately get a pedestrian's attention without either scaring them or offending them, or both. Maybe I am just particularly inept at this, but even when they do hear me, the result is usually a panicked dashing directly into my path, or indignation at being required to get out of my way. That's one reason I avoid MUPs.

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  23. SM - Oh good, so glad the pannier worked out! I stopped by a local bike shop today and tried a bunch of different pannier systems on my bike, photographing the mounting systems. Will have a post about that in a couple of days.

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  24. I heart bike boxes.

    I agree that it's almost impossible to get a pedestrian's attention so I just always assume they are going to walk right into my path, or, just walk right into, um, me, which did happen to me once -- last summer a woman walked right into my stopped bike as I waited for a light on Canal Street in Chinatown. She was carrying a ton of tropical fruit, too, which she dropped theatrically. She yelled something, more at the gods than at me, in Cantonese, and we all went on our merry way.

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  25. "Velouria said...
    Walt - Wouldn't you have a ball if a motorist rolled down his/her window and asked "Hey, why do you guys always wear those annoying bright colours?" : ))"

    Oh yes! I have had several driver/cyclist conversations in past several years and I must say I'm in my element educating drivers on sharing the road!! :))

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  26. Oh! Seriously? There were drivers who didn't know about hi-vis wear? And I thought I was joking.

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  27. Velouria said...
    Oh! Seriously? There were drivers who didn't know about hi-vis wear? And I thought I was joking."

    Yes, In the area where I live they do know about hi-vis wear just not on cyclist. State road workers, phone & cable company etc. all wear hi-vis so it's common enough to be sure but there are moron drivers that freak and make really asinine comments when they see any cyclist in hi-vis. Heck, I've even had drivers pull me over an ask why I was trying to be a distraction!! :()

    Know I know why all state road crews have police cars at the job sites!!

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  28. I see you haven't learned the snot rocket yet.

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  29. Sunny cycling days in the first week of March are precious indeed, and a reminder that spring is less than three weeks away. I'm hoping for sunshine and a 90-minute ride tomorrow.
    Congratulations for helping to educate another motorist. Sounds like you were quite tactful in your interaction. I find that I have to stifle the urge to strangle clueless drivers during such encounters.

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  30. Walt - I too have heard drivers speak of high-vis wearing cyclists as distracting.

    Anon - I admit that the art of it alludes me. We can' all be good at everything!

    MT cyclist - Even after 2 years of cycling for transportation, I don't really see people as drivers vs cyclists. Rather I see them as people who are safe vs people who can harm me, people who are pleasant vs people who are annoying, and so on. I probably get annoyed by cyclists, pedestrians and motorists in equal measure during my commutes.

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  31. Speaking of cyclist-motorist conflicts. This is scary:
    http://grinderswheels.blogspot.com/

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  32. It is so exciting that the Sun is coming back and making bicycling more temperature-friendly! OK so we cheat here in Texas and don't really have winter...but! The return of sunlight is lovely regardless! I love the photos....enjoy the end of winter!

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