Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Very interesting article (updated)

I enjoy Felix Salmon, even though I don't always agree with him.
He wrote an interesting post about biking, which while somewhat specific to NYC (where salmon are truly an epidemic, instead of the occasional nuisance they are here), is a worthwhile read
While many of the commentators (and I as well) disagree with him about lane splitting-AKA filtering,  the thing that is interesting to me is the idea of bikes using a pedestrian mindset, and therefore drivers not being able to process bikes as a third category.

After a day to think about it, and leisure to re-read it more thoroughly, I agree with the entire article until it gets to the "update" and the comments.  Although the comments are much more intelligent than your average bike story,  I think that Felix is wrong about insisting that bikes must keep to the far right and not "impede traffic".  NY State law as quoted in the comments is actually quite progressive in that is specifically addresses a lane too narrow to safely share as a reason not to ride to the far right, but still he asserts that it's the duty of the cyclist to stay right.
If you're a regular here, you know how I feel about "filtering",  but I have to say based on my very brief Manhattan cycling experience- lanes on the big avenues are wider than in Boston, so it's safer to filter, and it's safer to "lanesplit" and allow cars to pass in the same lane, so it might be a context sensitive debate.


  1. Yeah, that was a good post he wrote -- salmoning is the worst part of NYC bicycling and I think he's right to locate its origins in pedestrian culture and specifically in our jaywalking culture. Nothing will change here until at least some traffic laws are enforced. They really never are. I think the chaos on the streets keeps many people from cycling. I also know tons of people who ride a bike in my neighborhood (Williamsburg) and never go over the bridge because Manhattan traffic enforcement is non-existent.

    I did not feel comfortable on my bike until I got rid of the pedestrian mindset. But I do think that mindset comes from a very healthy fear of auto traffic as something big and often out-of-control. Without the protective shield that a car affords, it's easy to feel more like you're walking -- hence pedestrian mindset. Though I'd rather have the cycling culture of Northern Europe and its attendant logic and safety, I've found behaving like a vehicle the only way to feel safe in NYC. And I do feel safe.

  2. I don't know what the rule is in New York, but in Mass. it's legal to pass on the right. Yes, there's a risk of getting doored if you're not careful. I do it sometimes, but not at speed; I slow down quite a bit. Whether it's a good idea is debatable, but drivers can't claim that you weren't supposed to be there. It's allowed.

  3. for clarification, Moopheus, passing on the right is allowed. Lane splitting by riding the dashed line between two lanes of vehicular traffic is not.

    I am afraid to say that I do the latter more than I should (mostly for the sake of avoiding right hooks in intersections that are known for having significant amount of right turning traffic) and had been chastised about it by a fellow from Massbike on one of my morning commutes.

  4. One of the best recent analyses I've read. Thanks for flagging it. It also explains some of the facilities mania - even ones that endanger cyclists.

  5. Okay--you are correct. That is a different thing. I misunderstood what was being referred to. Riding between lanes just squeezes you between moving cars--something to avoid.

    And I have to say, I hate salmoning more than anything! Well, anything on a bike, anyway.

  6. I've always been amazed at the enmity raised among cyclists by the issue of cyclist as pedestrian vs. cyclist sharing the road with cars. It comes down to principle vs. practicality. Although the particulars vary from place to place, yes, as cyclists we have the right to share the road with cars. Zealots will insist that cyclists must ride as though we were cars. They are right in their assertion that if more cyclists did so, eventually automobile drivers would be forced to acknowledge those rights. But in the mean time, too often to do so is impractical. So as a cyclist, where does my duty lie? Must I don the hat of the evangelist every time I hop on the saddle, even at the risk of my life?

    I have been riding in L.A. for forty years, and the sum of my experience has led me to this - to ride safely in my environment, I must be a chameleon. I know that I am invisible to motorists and pedestrians, day-glo vests and blinking lights notwithstanding. That's not about to change any time soon. So my riding style must change with prevailing conditions. Here's an example. Riding through the nearby business district on a Sunday morning, there are very few cars. Because they are so few, they tend to be going very fast. Usually twice as fast as I'm riding. You'll find me on the sidewalk then. There are practically no pedestrians on the sidewalk at that hour, and the chance of someone walking out of a business onto the sidewalk is slim to none (I'll temporarily detour into the street when passing a coffee house or doughnut shop, of course.) By mid-morning, on the same stretch of road there is enough traffic that the speed of cars is moderate, because they have to be careful of one another. I'll be riding to the right of the right lane. Taking up a whole lane is isn't going to make me any friends. Riding on the now crowded sidewalk is problematic. Weighing the risk of sidewalk vs. street, I choose the street. Finally, take the same stretch of road at rush hour. Drivers are hurried and fatigued, shoppers are pulling into and out of parking spaces. If they put down the cell phone long enough to look backwards to see a car coming, they probably won't see me. So I'll be up on the sidewalk in spite of the pedestrians. But I'll be traveling much closer to pedestrian speed, picking my way through them in a very non-threatening way. Or better yet I'll be on a parallel side street. In principle I could be sharing the main road with cars, but it's hardly practical. As a practical cyclist I am always re-evaluating the situation and am flexible with my route, balancing speed and safety.

    I agree with those who disapprove of salmoning. It's inappropriate. But in my neck of the woods it is equally stupid to sit in the middle of an intersection in the left turn lane waiting to make a turn. While I wouldn't deserve to be hit in that circumstance, I'd be asking for it. Cycling evangelists hate me. They believe that by not insisting on the right of way I am forestalling what they believe will be the eventual acceptance by drivers of cyclists as equals. Like I said, I've been riding these streets for forty years, and in that time their dream of cycling equality hasn't progressed one whit toward reality. And I still need to get where I'm going.