Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dancing with cars on Diamond Drive

Posted this to the LANL employee's page a couple days ago. Feel free to chime in.

This morning (March 21), I was riding my bicycle to work going south on Diamond Drive, in the bike lane and passing the Metzger’s gas station at Orange/Sandia. Speed probably between 15 and 20 mph. A northbound government vehicle started to make a left turn across my side of the road into the gas station and then stopped abruptly in mid turn as he saw me, with the van partially in the inboard southbound lane. I spotted the first sign of the turn and was out of the saddle with my hind end behind the saddle making a quick stop at the same time, in case the vehicle kept turning.

I made the next right into the gas station and pulled up to the driver and asked if he had not seen me. He said he did not see me until halfway through his turn, when he saw my helmet. He hit the brakes immediately. He was quite apologetic and a little upset. I quipped that he was probably more shook up than I was, which was true. I teach that scenario and mentally prepare to deal with it.

I noted to him that this was one of the likely car vs. bike accident scenarios on roads that are wide and which have bike lanes, e.g., Diamond, since drivers preparing for a left turn are often scanning for other cars approaching in the oncoming travel lanes, and are not always watching as far over as the oncoming bike lane. I think he understood the scenario. No harm, no foul. I wrote it up to an effective teaching moment—for both of us.

Some lessons learned:
1. Motorists—it’s spring. Start seeing bicyclists, and make sure you start seeing pedestrians and motorcyclists. They will be coming out of the woodwork.
2. Cyclists—apparently all that yellow fluorescent tape on my helmet does some good, even in the daytime. Bright colors on helmets and vests are a good idea, even if people think you are a geek. So does being alert and practicing your situational awareness. (note added here--bike lanes make you more vulnerable here because you are to the right of what motorists are looking for--oncoming motorists).
3. Handshakes, which were exchanged this morning, work much better than raised middle fingers in helping promote learning and understanding. Sure, one can get pretty ruffled when you see two tons of vehicle headed your way. Chances are that it is an honest mistake, and the person involved will be a better driver if you are a better teacher.
4. Be careful out there. Near misses are indicators.  When all of the factors in an accident scenerio go wrong at once, you get a crash.  It’s better to be a near miss than a mishap, so its up to you to make sure all those crash factors are not lined up in a row. Avoid The Big One. If nothing else, you have something unusual to talk about at the coffee break.
Shamelessly stolen from Steve A at DFW Point to Point
A near miss is more common (and less deadly) than a hit
A hit means all the stars lined up--against you
As I said in an earlier post to LANL on safe sidepath sharing between cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic is a dance; all parties must share the responsibility of not stepping on each other’s toes.

I am not terribly keen on adding bike lanes to wide roads with a lot of turn opportunities, and have seen hits and near misses in these situations before. If anything, such arrangements call for more rather than less bicyclist competence than simply riding in traffic. Unfortunately, that is not how bike lanes are sold to bicyclists.

What we really need is a solution with some human values..

Hawaiian treasure Rev. Dennis Kamakahe


Steve A said...

Perhaps I'll post about a different dance with motorists I had earlier this week. No bike lane in my dance.

Chris said...

A lot of the time, if it's a road with a lot of turns, I'll drive. I keep a folding bike in my trunk and ride when I can, but there are definitely places where I'm glad I have the option to drive.

Jimbo said...

Nicely stated, Khal!