Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Observations from the saddle

I'm an equal-opportunity old fart cyclist, so I'm happy to to snark away in every direction. But I'm not only interested in what can happen on the road, but why.

For instance, why do cyclists ride the wrong way on one-way streets or, more generally, against traffic? One reason--which is sometimes valid--is that at times it may the only reasonable way for a cyclist to get from A to B. As I told a friend recently, I would make an exception for doing that on (for instance) Boston's Charles Street at almost any busy hour: that's just crazee. Another is that some cyclists identify more with pedestrians than with the vehicular world. And why is that?

Until the mid-1950s, when I first got on two wheels, safety instruction told cyclists to ride against traffic. Ideas like that, once implanted, don't die without aggressive promotion. if one were to poll wrong-way cyclists on this point, I think they'd react with innocent surprise when told they should be riding with traffic and that they are subject to the same laws as other vehicles. Recently, when I was riding home, there were three adult cyclists on one street. I was riding to the right, with traffic. A second was on my side of the street, riding against traffic, and a third was on the other side of the street, riding against traffic. This is frustrating but not grounds for homicide.

Another pet peeve of mine is Authority insisting that cyclists use a right-hand turn signal that dates back to horse and buggy days: literally. Although drivers are supposed to learn it, no one is road-tested on it, and I bet 98% of new drivers forget their hand signals five minutes after they pass the exam. As a cyclist, if I want someone to know I'm turning right, I point right: crystal clear.

The next complaint might be subtitled "lord save us from our loving friends." This too arises from ignorance. When I reach any sort of intersection, and stop, I expect to act like any other vehicle and wait my turn. At intersections, especially those between bike paths and roads or streets, this opportunity is the exception, not the rule. Sooner, not later, some helpful person will stop to allow the idiot cyclist to cross. Helpful Henry/Hetty is oblivious: the cyclist may have mechanical preoccupations and not be ready to cross, but may wind up feeling pressured to cross. HH/H does not notice and does not care that cars in the opposite lane show no inclination to stop for anybody. Above all, HH/H is totally unaware of what is going on behind him/her. In today's last confrontation, an HH/H stopped--and impatiently motioned me across, since a cyclist is clearly not bright enough to draw such conclusions. There was just one car behind this HH/H; at this moment both lanes were otherwise clear.

My earlier encounter with another HH/H shows the uglier side of this habit. I was patiently--sort of--waiting for my chance at a bike path/street intersection, when HH/H arrived. I primed to cross; but experienced cyclists develop the sense of motion of a cat. I detected motion to my left, and pulled up just in time to avoid one of the banes of Massachusetts roads, the imbecile who passes any stopped car on the right at full speed. But who's responsible here? The imbecile, or Helpful Hetty/Henry who has stopped contrary to the traffic laws and thus set up the situation?

The really scary thing is how often I've seen similar situations play out when all the vehicles involved were motor vehicles. If people want to be helpful drivers, they should observe traffic laws and behave predictably. But then, it's Massachusetts: what am I thinking?

Count me as one of those cyclists who regards bike paths with caution. I don't want a system that forces cyclists off the roads. I want a system that augments roads and helps everyone learn the art of sharing. But if we're going to have them, PLEASE don't let highway engineers design them. Most of the failures of the pitifully small "Salem Bike Path*" result from an infestation of highway engineers in its formative stages. (I write not only as a user, but as someone who was present at the creation and watched these clowns at work.) Characteristically, Salem's bike path connects with Salem, and sort of with Marblehead, if you're OK with being expected to be a pedestrian to reach the Marblehead path, and with the four zero-tolerance traffic barriers in the first 100 meters of the junction. Obviously they expected space aliens to drop Harleys between each set of barriers.

It can be done right. There is a new bike trail in Danvers, MA. It's surfaced in stone dust, not asphalt: cheaper and greener. It's planned: planned to connect with an adjoining trail in Topsfield, which will connect with Georgetown, and other trails which will connect with New Hampshire.

In Danvers, in contrast to Salem, they have signals, real flashing yellow signals, at least at the intersection I observed. That is how to do it: treat cyclists as equals, not as idiot children. If they had highway engineers involved in that project, they must have undergone a Maoist-style re-education course. I hope to try this route as soon as possible.

*Note that the article is a year old, and nothing further has happened to the Salem Trail. Meanwhile the route still has less than a mile off-road, and the remaining right-of-way is disappearing under encroachment.

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Blogger malevolent andrea said...

Uncle, what's your stance on bicyclists riding on sidewalks? (And I don't mean 7 year olds.) This is a huge problem in my neck of the woods. While I can sympathize with not wanting to ride one's bike on 107, what with the way people drive, I don't enjoy having to step off the curb into it either because there's someone on a bike bearing down on me.

10:05 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

Mostly...mostly,mind you, I'm agin it. Along 107 is a good example of "yer doin it rong." I will take to the sidewalk westbound in Riley Plaza for the last sprint to the crossing, chiefly because I usually have no other place to shoulders. The 107 business shows that ambivalence, again, about what a cyclist is, on all sides. Cyclists trained to think of themselves as vehicle operators won't hop onto a sidewalk because it's less scary than staying on the road. They will stay on the road and assert their rights to their two feet on the right side. Hell, I think 107 has nice shoulders! Too many hills, but lots of bike room.
Except in extremis, I suppose cyclists who want to use a sidewalk should get off and be a pedestrian. I will police myself accordingly at the plaza.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

Oh, and we all know we can count the pedestrians on Riley Plaza on the fingers of one hand.

11:44 pm  
Blogger massmarrier said...

Nice. I add my favorite and most efficient hand signal. When I want to claim a lane, I quickly extend the arm on the side with traffic, at 45 degrees down. That's slow or stop, you bozo, in vehicle speak. It works every time.

I'm never for trusting drivers to be insightful. I tell them with my hands exactly what I want and where I'm headed, as you do. No surpises

6:02 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

I like that too; faster and more obvious than the hand down at your side, which looks like you're about to scratch your leg.

8:50 pm  
Blogger massmarrier said...

I've recently (before my enfeeblement) been on some led bike tours where the scouts insisted that we use the traditional right-turn hand signal to indicate slowing or stopping. If the lame drivers didn't get the ones in the manual, who the hell thinks they'll understand a made-up semaphore?

You're spot on that drivers need to see the obvious. Maybe we cyclists need mics and loudspeakers.

11:10 pm  

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