Friday, October 2, 2009

Is your life worth 20 seconds?

Bikers often complain that cars won't wait for 20 seconds in order to pass safely, endangering cyclists by passing too close, cutting people off, right hooking etc.   

However, I notice that a lot of people  will ride right up next to a big truck at a stoplight, without much care for whether it's about to turn right.  After surviving my first right hook with only bruises, I've made it a policy not to pull up next to a big vehicle,  or really any vehicle, unless I can be certain I can get ahead of them before the light changes.  I'd rather wait patiently behind them for a few more seconds than to chance them starting to move and turn across my path as I try to squeeze around.   I understand that the safest place to be is in front of all the vehicles (like in a bike box),  but I also understand from personal experience that the most dangerous place is to be 3/4 back in the blind spot,  and if there's a chance I won't make it to the front of the queue before it starts to move, I'd much rather just wait behind, in normal traffic.  

This is especially true with big delivery trucks, busses and construction vehicles, where not only is the mass (and danger to an unprotected bicyclist) greater, but the reaction time is slower and the blind spots bigger.

I know that the Portland OR water department did a public service outreach to cyclists, inviting them to climb up in a big rig and see how big the blind spots really are.  I think that it would be illuminating, and that a lot of people would think twice about biking up into those blind spots if they had a real sense of what it's really like up in that cab.
For me personally,  I'll wait the extra 20 seconds and just hang out in the lane behind, thanks.  My life is worth a little delay.


  1. A quote from a recent BikeSnobNYC post seems appropriate here:

    Cycling's enemy is not the car; it is the idiot. And idiots travel by foot, car, and bicycle.

    On a positive note: Having just returned to Boston, I was cycling to various errands last night, including to the Union Square you so love. I stopped on a red light just before that overpass hill on Washington St, behind a huge, deadly-looking truck. I was standing to his right, but way in the back, out of the blind spot. He saw me in his side mirror, gave me a thumbs up, and waved me through to pass him - then shouted "nice bike!" as I cycled past the cab area when the light turned green. I did not look in the least bit fetching last night, so I think he was just a nice guy. It happens.

  2. What great quote!

    I always try to make eye contact with the drivers of big trucks when I am in front of them at a light too- Turn around with a big smile, make sure they see me. I think that really big truck drivers (like dump trucks) are normally actually some of the best drivers- they don't crowd, they don't go too fast, the don't race past you to the next stop light. I think that they're acutely aware of just how big their vehicle is and are trying to be careful.
    It just gives me the heebie jeebies to see someone threading the needle between parked cars and a big delivery truck when the light is about to turn green and everything is about to start moving.

  3. I agree with your point about pulling up to large vehicles at the corner. I use traffic lights and stop signs as an opportunity to practice patience and just wait in line with the other vehicles. I had a casual discussion with a Louisville bike advocate who maintain the L'ville PD spend too much time worrying about cyclist running lights and not stopping at stop signs when cyclists can use their own judgement perfectly safely. I nodded and patiently smiled but assessed him to be an idiot. Having worked in a Louisville Metro Council office I have taken calls from drivers who felt that PD was wasting their time by ticketing them when they ran stop signs in their neighborhood since they were capable to exercising good judgement about what is safe or dangerous. Right . . . no, the Councilman won't be asking Chief White to void your ticket! The same should apply to cyclists. Just follow the rules of the road and we'll all be a lot safer.