Monday, September 22, 2014

Trying to avoid the right hook

It happened twice today - two people didn't notice me riding beside them.  They passed me and turned right.  The first driver didn't even have her blinkers on.  But I could tell she was turning into the grocery store parking lot 50 feet down the road.  I think caution is the better part of valor when I'm riding.  So I proceeded very cautiously, slowed down, and let her take the turn.  Great.  It was my right to use the bike lane but I don't do battle with any size vehicle and this one was a medium size SUV and would have won handily.  I had the right to proceed but that doesn't mean that I had to use my right, especially if it meant a crash with me on the losing end.

The second time happened less than a half mile down the street.  This time the driver of a Mini was signaling to take a right turn just after passing me and then slowing down for traffic.  He might not have seen me and started his turn.  By then I had slowed to a crawl and shouted 'HEADS UP' and he turned to look at me and stopped.  I sure would have stopped if he didn't.  Again, I had the right of way according to Massachusetts law but that doesn't mean that I choose to exercise that right at risk of life and limb, for a second time in half a mile.

My wife describes me as being pretty cautious when driving and that carries over and is more evident when I ride.  That caution has been amplified as I hear of more and more collisions between cars and bicyclists.  I don't know if drivers are worse these days with smart phones taking up too much of drivers' attention.  As a cyclist, I get a good view of drivers as I pass cars waiting in traffic and I see a lot of drivers with smart phones in their hands.  I'd like to tell them all that they really should put their phones down.  Maybe the texting law is too limited.  I like the New York law, which I just noticed this weekend.  You can't use a handheld device while driving, period.  But what is happening here isn't necessarily distracted drivers on their phones (the Mini driver didn't have one in his hand).  It might be drivers who simply don't pay attention to bicycles and manage to not seem them.  Or it could be that one time when that driver didn't pay attention to their passenger side view mirror.  Who knows?  In one sense, it doesn't matter.  The message to me is that I always need to assume that I'm invisible or worse - that I'm a target.  I see an intersection and the light is mine and I look both ways to see if someone isn't paying attention to that light before I proceed into that intersection.  And I'm always slow.  I can't tell you how many people pass me on their Hubway bikes but I don't care.  All I want to do is get home.

So how do you deal with cars on your commute?  Do I sound too cautious or do you think I should just drive my car?


  1. Greetings from Chicago. Do you use a front light when riding through town? I generally do now, and keep it on blinking or strobe (depending on which light it is). I think it helps drivers notice me as I ride alongside them.

    1. I do use lights in the city, both front and rear. I now run generator lighting on both my commuter and my road bike and keep lights on for safety during the day. I'm not a fan of super bright strobe lights, especially at night, since they tend to blind other road users. I have an older Nite Rider 600 lumen light that makes me sick in strobe mode at night. I have Light and Urban 350 lumen light that has a visible yet much less distracting strobe/blinking function. I agree that you have to do something to make drivers notice you.