I am an idiot driver…
It happens to the best of us, unfortunately I had to drive my car to run errands in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood of Seattle. It was a bright sunny day and I was heading downhill on a two-was two lane road with a bike lane next to parallel parking stalls. Not the ideal situation for cyclists being a prime zone to win a door prize. As a cyclist, I am always watchful of cyclists when I am driving. I remember seeing a cyclist in the bike lane and thinking that he should take lane control since he was rolling at nearly the same pace as traffic. He turned off and I continued on my way.
Down the road a ways, I had to make a right hand turn. This maneuver required me to cut across the bike lane. So I was sure to do a head check, check the mirrors and signal before moving over. That is when I heard yelling. A cyclist was yelling at me. I had cut him off changing lanes. Where the hell did he come from? How in the hell did this happen? Luckily no one was hurt. Hell no one was even touched, but it was still upsetting.
I had thought I had taken all the correct steps, I had checked my blind spot and my mirrors. I then signaled before making the lane change. However despite my attention and care, I just did not see the cyclist. There is a valuable lesson to be learned here.
On the Bike…
I have a 13 mile (each way) bike commute. On the way, I pass through some industrial areas of Seattle. As a result, I see some heavy truck traffic. One of the multi-use trails on my route crosses several driveways which are frequently used by trucks. Someone must have told these truckers to watch out for cyclists. They are amazing. They almost always stop prior to the trail to check for bike traffic. In the event that I am cut off, they will even back up to get out of the way. These guys are the best truck drivers ever! I always am sure to wave and show my appreciation for their courteous driving. Despite this, I still have to be on the lookout. I have been cut off by trucks making turns into our out of one of these driveways. The fact is despite their best efforts, trucks have enormous blind spots. They may be on the lookout for cyclists, check their mirrors and still not see me.
The road under the Alaskan Way Viaduct is the final stretch on my bike commute to work. This is a major traffic route which has been strangled by construction of the new traffic tunnel. If you have heard anything about this project, you know that the project is a clusterfudge. That is also an apt description of this road. It has thousands of traffic lights which are carefully timed to slow traffic. It has a parallel multi-use lane, which serves no function for cyclists. Roads perpendicular to the trail are not regulated in any way and to make matters worse, cops like to park on the trail. Clearly the safest option is for me to take lane control. I can keep pace with traffic even on the rare occasions when it is flowing smoothly. Despite this, I get morons in cars passing me too close, pulling ahead and slamming on their brakes to slow for traffic ahead. It is infuriating and my biggest driver related pet peeve. As a result of this stupid action, I have been taking more and more lane control to make it more difficult for these idiots to pass me. Well Monday afternoon, it happened again. I was rolling along with lane control, when some lady passed too close, pulled ahead and slammed on her brakes. That was it. I was going to let this reckless bitch have a piece of my mind! I am not going to be bullied by anyone just because they have a car. As I pulled up next to her vehicle, I noticed that she had a nice road bike in the back of her Toyota. I was so stunned, I could not utter a word.
There is no doubt that we cyclists are bullied by arrogant drivers. If you have spent any time in the saddle, you certainly have experienced it. However, that does not mean that you should expect the worst any time you feel slighted on the road. Even cautious drivers with the best of intentions don’t always see other cars. How do you expect them to see you on your tiny bicycle? Nothing is ever going to change that. However, you can make yourself safer when you ride. Here are things I do every day to increase my safety on the road:
- Try to make yourself visible. Lights and reflective vests are nice, but don’t do a bit of good if you are in a driver’s blind spot. Imagine what other drivers see and position yourself accordingly.
- Try to predict the actions of other road users. If a driver is driving slow for no reason. They most likely either about to make a turn or distracted. Give them a wide birth.
- Pay attention to your route. Look for spots that might lead to conflict, like a bike lane on an inside curve or a right turn lane crossing a bike lane. Try to position yourself in the best spot.
- Assume no one else sees you. This sounds like a contradiction to the first item, but it is not. You should strive to make yourself visible, but don’t expect drivers to see you react to you. Assume that you are invisible. More often than not, you are.
Even drivers with the best of intentions may not see you on your bike. That is not going to change even if we do increase driver’s liability. However, any cyclist on the road should be taking steps to make themselves safer on every ride. It is a good idea whether you are riding your bike or driving your car. Make yourself safe!