Friday, September 2, 2016

The Cyclist and the Roadworks


On my bike, I often find it a challenge to make it through stretches of roadworks within the allotted timeframe. The type of situation I'm talking about, is where the entire road is dug up and only a narrow single lane is open in one direction of travel, the traffic along it managed by a streetlight at each end. More often than not, it seems that even when I take off immediately, as soon as my light turns green, by the time I get through the cars at the other end already have the green light to start in the opposite direction.

Now, in theory, there is no reason this should be happening. The speed limit at entrypoint is 15km/h (just under 10mph), which I am certainly managing on my bike - I should not be any slower than motorised traffic.

The possibility that immediately occurred to me, is that the traffic light functions on a sensor. It senses when a car is still going through the single travel lane, but not a bike?

But later I realised that couldn't be it, as I've also been in situations with a colonnade of cars behind me, and still by the time we all reach the other end of the roadworks the vehicles on the other side already have the green light.

It was a mystery, until recently I found myself traveling through some roadworks in a car. Despite the 15km/h sign prominently displayed, the drivers in front of me were doing 55km/h. And judging by the screech of brakes when I attempted to actually follow the speed limit, I was expected to do the same.

It would appear, then, that the timing of the streetlights regulating the roadworks traffic can conflict with the posted speed limit - so that it may actually be impossible to travel through the single file stretch of roadworks at 15km/h, and make it before the cars at the other end get the green light.

I should say that I have experienced this inconsistency not only in Ireland (Ulster, both sides of the border), but also back as a cyclist in New England, USA. It is a worrying discrepancy, as it means the cyclist risks a head-on collision with oncoming traffic when traveling at ordinary bicycle speed.

We all know that roads are not exactly optimised for non-motorised vehicles. It should come as no surprise that roadworks are no exception. Nevertheless I believe the issue deserves some attention - especially in areas where flood-damage has made roadworks a common occurrence this year.

As a cyclist, have you encountered problems with roadworks? How do you deal with them safely?



27 comments:

  1. Is this a theory or do you know it for a fact? There are so many signs up at road construction sites warning of the hefty fines for speeding through those zones. Not only fines but worse if one were to injure a worker. I've not confronted this on the rare occasion while cycling through construction, usually there are men/women with flags and some sort of communication device to monitor traffic. Where there are bridges/tunnels with one way traffic controlled by lights the cyclists can push a button before entering which, I assume, lengthens the amount of time they have to get through.

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    1. Well, the facts are that
      (1) I have witnessed cars exceed the speed limit considerably, and
      (2) on a bike, I am often unable to get through within my allotted green light cycle.

      As for what causes this, I can only theorise. There are no flag-wavers in these zones, just lights.


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    2. The authority charged with setting up the lights and safety requirements should be informed. There's a liability issue involved in the event of a collision.

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    3. I agree, though there is rather a lot to report. Over the weekend we did a long ride through southern Donegal and went through at least 3 roadworks sites where the lights were not working at all; took us a while of standing there and waiting to realise that; complete chaos for vehicles traveling in either direction.

      https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ8VM78jLL3

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  2. It's an interesting experiment to drive while strictly obeying the traffic laws. Here in the greater Boston area obeying the traffic laws from a vehicle will often lead to road rage. Stopping at the stop line instead of across the crosswalk seems to be a particular trigger for non-law-abiding drivers. Of course driving the speed limit on secondary roads will also get people wound up if there is no way to pass.

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  3. I employ two tactics; 1 - Speed up and ride through faster to make the exit before the oncoming traffic enters, or 2 - if possible, ride at the other side of the cones so as not to be in the traffic stream at all. Option 2 if available, also deals with the problem of traffic overtaking from behind, when there clearly isn't enough room to do so safely; it's bad enough when it's a car but absolutely frightening to have a bus do it, which I've experienced more than once.

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  4. This kind of alternate traffic situations do not happen usually too often but the time I encountered them there was usually at least one cop present on site who would manage traffic from both directions. As such, the issue you are describing was non-existent. But I can see how this could be a problem when lights are automated.

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  5. An embarrassing and dangerous situation happened to me several years ago. I was cycling over a mile-long narrow bridge where one lane was closed and under construction. I was first in line at the temporary stop light on one end. When the light turned green I let the traffic go ahead, then followed last, unwilling to hold up the entire line. I planned to ride a ways, then pull over between construction vehicles, and continue the rest of the way during the next wave of vehicles heading the same direction. However, I did not anticipate the closed lane would be barricaded with chain-link fence (and construction workers and help non-existent due to a weekend) and I was left in the one passable narrow lane with vehicles starting to head towards me. Several vehicles, including a large delivery truck, had no choice but to back up, quite long ways, to let me get off the bridge. In this instance, I think the green light detected the weight of vehicles and did not allow for pedestrians or cyclists. Boy, was I happy to get off that bridge!

    I'm happy to report the bridge was eventually replaced and now has a large breakdown/cycling lane in both directions.

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    1. That is exactly the type of situation I was trying to describe. Glad you were okay

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  6. I usually ignore lights in that situation as there is usually enough space for bikes to make room for incoming traffic. There often is room on the other side of the cones. On rare occasions I have to dismantle to let traffic pass.

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  7. While touring in Yellowstone National Park 2 years ago, the work crew recognized the speed disparity and decided it would be far safer for us if they shuttled us and the bikes through the work zone in a truck. That was the perfect solution!

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    1. I had the same experience in Yellowstone a few years ago!

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  8. "...the drivers in front of me were doing 55km/h"

    Well that speed is possible on a bike, isn't it? And you get to draft the vehicle in front. Start training.

    The above is not entirely facetious. When I have attempted such stunts I sometimes get enthusiastic support from drivers. Which helps when scared out of my mind. What you describe is a difficult situation. A largely intractable difficult situation.

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  9. What a wonderful illustration. Love the gaeilge signage and the spiffy purple car!

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  10. Around here, my more immediate problem with construction is that often times riding in the road with cars going 50+MPH is not an option so you ride on a sidewalk or bike path, but the construction blocks things all the way to the curb!! Wait for a break in traffic and try not to get killed! Or go around the block! - Masmojo

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    1. Yup. Unfortunately no such thing as around the block on rural roads, unless we're talking a 10 mile detour!

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    2. I encountered this recently, it was about a half a mile, so I just unclipped and walked my bike around the site. Took a couple extra minutes but no big deal.

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  11. Sometimes, construction is indeed a problem. Other times, though, it's great for cycling. Often it's possible to ride your bike behind the orange construction cones and get out of the motor traffic for a while (obviously, it's not a good idea to do this when the workers are actively working on that section). Right now, there's a huge road-construction project in my town that requires a lengthy detour by car, but on a bike you can sneak right through, continuing on your merry way and shedding the car traffic to boot.

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  12. This is not just a problem at roadworks, it happens in some permanent situations too. There's a bridge over the River Wye in Chepstow that I use quite a lot, which has lights at each end as it's too narrow for two cars to pass (it's quite an old bridge). Often the light at the other end has gone green before I get through. In this particular case it's not a serious problem as the bridge is wide enough to cycle against the flow, but oncoming drivers often assume you've jumped the light. When faced with roadworks, I often ride in the coned-off section; of course this isn't always possible though.

    A question about language; you use the word 'streetlight' to refer to the lights controlling the traffic, which in standard British English would be called a traffic light. I know various words are used in various English dialects around the world (in India it's a traffic signal, in South Africa it's a robot, or so I understand), so is streetlight the standard Irish term? Or is it used in the USA? Your English seems to combine aspects of the two (quite naturally given what you said about languages in a previous post). Maybe it's neither?

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  13. Much of downtown Spokane, WA is torn up right now and I'm finding that with cooperative drivers I can get through things just fine. However, if the drivers around me decide to not be cooperative it can be down righ scary. Mostly I worry about me hitting something and coming off the bike with cars close to me or people getting in a rush and not seeing me with all the equipment, signs, and other things to look out for.

    In other situations I've found my narrowness on a bike to be really helpful as I can ride just outside the traffic cones marking the route for cars and weave around giant potholes and torn up bits that cars have to slow down for.

    The couple of times where I had to deal with a light activated one lane road I was able to sprint though the section of roadway faster than cars could take it.

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  14. easy to forget how fast is fast. and how fatal speed is(?)
    i'm glad that you mentioned the driver (yours) perspective. i relate to this very closely anytime i do happen to drive, by the way people in nearby vehicles treat a 'slow' driver in a vehicle (me) that happens to be going at the speed limit posted. perhaps people aren't on the pedestrian and bike perspectives frequently enough, if at all, so that it is that easy to forget these too, are people.

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  15. Rather 2CV-esque looking car! I like.

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  16. I suspect you've noticed this, whether a cyclist or driving a car, there are bizarre things we've got to put up with in the coarse of our daily moving about the world. It's all what it is…and what you make of it…Happy cycling.

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  17. I had no idea there was a speed one should be travelling at. I make the assumption that the construction crews will take account of bicycles on the road and have allowed for the slower speed of e.g. me. I cycle through at the best speed I can manage and if traffic is held up then hopefully someone will take note and make a better allowance for cyclists in future. Until everyone stops trying to ride bikes like pro-cyclists, nothing will get better for we lesser mortals on our bikes. Someone should give me an award, I am mobile traffic calming ...

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  18. Riding through roadworks has fortunately been rather rare for me. When it has occurred, the roadworks were very temporary in nature, so there was no need for a semi-permanent "automated traffic control device". I signal and move out into the middle of the traffic lane as I approach the roadworks. There's a police officer (or two, depending on the size of the work being done and/or the expected traffic volume; also, police officers, not workers covered in hi-vis gear, are required in work zones in my area) directing traffic. I queue up in line with the motorized traffic. One incident stands out in my mind: as I was cycling past the roadworks, moving into the opposing traffic lane to go around it, a motorist tried to go around me; fortunately, the officer stepped forward and motioned them to stop, while waving me forward. It sure was nice to be treated like a normal part of the traffic flow.

    There was one road in a city near me where part of the road (which was quite narrow to begin with) had collapsed, and the "solution" they used was a traffic signal to control two-direction traffic through a one-lane road, much as you describe here. I never cycled that road, nor do I live near it, so I don't know what it would be like on a bike. Indeed, I don't know if they have changed it all to a better solution, such as permanent one-way traffic with weight limits (doubtful!)

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  19. All of these situations are what finally took me out of cleats and into tennis shoes for all my riding. Being able to hop off the bike and walk as needed, carrying the bike if necessary, simplifies a lot of difficult situations. For example, if there's a pile of gravel ahead and my choice is to ride around it in the face of high speed auto traffic, or just scramble over the gravel carrying or pushing the bike, I will choose to scramble. But if you're wearing slippery cleats, you might choose to try to make it around, which could be really dangerous.

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