Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The way I roll - April 6, 2011

There has been a whole lot of discussion as of late around bicycles and their riders.  This is from not only the cycling communities but the motorist and transportation communities as well.  I don’t often form strong opinions on these types of issues, but in this case I have some.  In no particular order:
“All the bikes on the road slow me down/road diets slow me down”: this one amuses me to a large degree.  It seems that part of the backlash against cyclists is that they don’t move as quickly as a vehicle so they are causing traffic to slow.  Would you rather that the cyclists that you had to either maneuver around or wait for were in cars in your way.  A lot of drivers complain about this, but don’t stop to consider the fact that if they weren’t riding they would be driving.  In some areas that could be as much of a 5% increase in traffic.  I would think that they would want more bikes to lessen traffic further.
“Bikes don’t pay for the roads/should be on the sidewalk”: again with the amusement.  The gas tax is less than 4% of the total taxes in road maintenance.  And really, the $100 to $200 once a year for vehicle tabs is paying for the millions of dollars in basic lane re-stripping that happens because motorists can’t stay between the lines?  No, most of the taxes are paid by property tax and sales tax, that unless they live in a box, everyone pays.  I also own and maintain vehicles, so I don’t escape that anyhow.  As well to this point think of the additional demand/cost if the 5% of people who ride a bike instead of drive would place on the price of fuel.
“All cyclists blow stops signs and red lights/don’t follow traffic laws”: and with very few exceptions I would happily slap those riders.  They do a disservice to the entire cycling community every time they blow a stop sign, roll through and intersection and change from vehicle to pedestrian and back.  HOWEVER, there are instances when “bending” a law (splitting traffic) in the instance of safety, not convenience, are acceptable.  The other issue is that often motorists don’t know what the laws are that govern bicycles and really shouldn’t point fingers.  Like cyclists, for the most part vehicles follow the law but they roll through intersections and lights, speed and drive aggressively; the difference here is, they cease being a danger to jus t themselves and become a danger to others.
I’m sure there are more, but I can’t think of them right now.  Basically the blame for the escalating tension between cyclists and motorists should be split evenly 3 ways: the cyclists, the motorists and the various DOTs.  Cyclists need to remember that most drivers aren’t bad but when you swerved to avoid that pothole at the last second, the driver behind you had no idea what you were doing or why.  The roads for the most part were designed for cars, they are bigger and there are more of them so ride appropriately and predictably. 
Motorists need to be educated on why cyclists do certain things.  You can driver right over that pothole with four tires and now worry about bent rims or blown tires.  Most of the time that bike will do what you expect it to do, but be patient and give them an extra five seconds; they just took another car off of the same road you are on.
DOT – fixed the damn hole!  I know you have budget crunches and all the rest, but the complete inability for this department to paint a line that makes sense is mind boggling.  Bike lanes against parked cars are dumb, put in a sharrow.  Bike lanes that just end in the middle of a block without warning to cyclist or motorist are dumber.  Instead of counting the numbers of cyclists on any given route once a year use the technology available and get apps that track them every day.  Then you could target facilities where they make sense.  Finally spend the money to educate drivers about what cyclists do and why and educate new cyclists how to do it and why.
Back to the point, how I roll.  In order of most important to slightly less important I ride: safely, predictably, visibly and legally.  Yes I know legally is at the bottom of the list.  I don’t blow intersections or speed limits, but I bend rules if they will keep me safe or allow me to ride predictably and visibly.  I have seen a lot of recent discussions on vehicular cycling vs whatever the other option is called.  Basically it is “ride like a car” vs “use the existing facilities”.  My answer is: yes.
I ride using both and other forms.  I ride in the manner that I would want to see my children ride in traffic.  There is a certain amount of assertiveness but also courteousness to the drivers around me. 
Specific examples from my commute and other rides – note these are the most often scenario types, I adapt keeping SPVL depending on the time of day, amount of traffic and weather conditions.
First, my bike(s) – they are always lit up front and back, from simple flashers on my road bike during the day, to retina searing flashing and steady lights on my commuter in the dark.  I have a jacket that is reflective and lights up and always wear clothing that is more visible than drab.  I am looking at adding some additional lighting to the side for additional visibility, but my front and rear lights are strong enough to light me up 360 degrees.
Home to Canyon Park/YMCA – in both instances there are decent facilities.  The left turns are accomplished in traffic as one is low speed and the other handles two lanes (to the Y).  I would go so far as to say one of the facilities is well laid out.  Crossing I5 has an overpass and on the east side of the bridge, DOT couldn’t have two bike lanes, so they drop the one going downhill with two lanes of traffic to keep the one going uphill with one lane of traffic…very smart.  I always give a wave to any cars on my right that make the effort to stop and wait for me.  Actually I do this consistently unless I need both hands for steering.  I figure maybe they will more attentive when they pass me or the next cyclist.
Canyon Park to Bothell – this area forward and backwards is sort of a mess.  Going south, the bike lane ends on the far right leaving me to either try and cross a lane of traffic that is speeding up to try and get on the freeway and still not have a facility of any kind to cross over I5 on where one lane is single occupant traffic and the other is HOV, to then get to the other side and have traffic merging from the right and a bike lane that picks up in the middle of nowhere.  What I generally do is move over to the right of the left hand lane that goes over I5 early, allowing traffic to pass me on both sides.  As I move up over the bridge I continue to move left, holding the lane which allows through traffic to pass in the left hand lane and SOV traffic in the right, holding up HOV traffic until they can turn behind me.  As tricky as it is, I rarely have an issue with vehicles here.  The rest of the way into Bothell has a nice shoulder and is the safest place to ride as I am still visible.  Coming north, there is a downhill run to the overpass and the traffic and lights don’t often agree with each other, so even though there are lanes entering and exiting and appearing and disappearing bike lanes, I take the right hand lane and move with the traffic.
Bothell to Kirkland – Right now this is all kinds of fun.  Bothell is doing major renovations, the roads are dug up and there are new cone configurations every day.  I avoid it and jump on a nearby MUT to go south.  Going north traffic backs up for nearly a mile some days and I simply ride past them in the bike lane/shoulder instead of waiting for some impatient motorist to run me over because I am preventing them from moving forward ten feet.  After that, south bound, there is a nice bike lane that eventually gives out dropping down a hill with two lanes of traffic.  As it is downhill and there are two lanes, I take the right lane, staying out far enough to discourage a vehicle from sharing it with me and where I can be seen by vehicles on the right side drives and streets.  The reverse route is not so good as the bike lane just ends in the middle of the street, traffic is heavy through poorly set up lights and I again ride in the right hand lane far enough out to be seen.  If I get a honker or buzzer, this is normally where I see it, but I have never come close to being hit because someone didn’t see me.  Bike lanes pop up here and there, but for the most part are beside parked cars so I either don’t ride in them at all or don’t ride in them deeply.  Going north through Kirkland is one of the few places I split the lane of cars and move up.  The lights are so poorly set up that it is safer for me to make my way to the front of the line of vehicles and then move into the bike lane on the other side of the intersection, then trust them to see me.
Kirkland to Bellevue – The south end of Kirkland has a good bike land in both directions that is safe and keeps me out of the single lane of traffic.  Approaching Northrup there is a left turn in heavy traffic.  If I can cross safely while in motion I will, otherwise I pull into a nearby parking lot and wait for traffic to clear before making my way to the left turn lane.  Going up Northrup there isn’t a shoulder or lane or sharrow and it’s uphill, so can be a bit challenging, but I hold a line as far right as I can be, occasionally pulling into a parking lot if I can hear a bus or big truck laboring up the hill behind me.  This is more of a courteous thing.  Going past the hospital there are again two lanes, so I take up the right hand one and make my way to work.
I have the same route every day, but really there are only so many versions of similar scenarios.  I look at it from a SPVL model.  Where is the safest place for me to be, what do the vehicles expect me to do, where can I be seen, is it legal.  I will ride assertively (holding up several cars to safely pass through a construction zone or other area), but courteously as well (pulling over when it’s safe to do so and let those cars by).  I ride by the Golden Rule.  If I was a driver and saw myself on a bike, would I be happy about where and how I was riding?
The people in vehicles that scare me are the ones that aren’t driving; they are talking on their phone, playing with their stereo, watching the birds, whatever.  The people on bicycles that scare me are the ones riding in the gutters and on sidewalks or trying to behave like a car in every instance.  Gutter riding is rarely needed but neither are you a car.  Ride safely, ride predictably, be visible, follow the rules of the road and we will all get there safely.

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