Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cleaning up our own house

I've been holding off on writing about this, since I fear I will bring some hypocritical bad karma down on myself or something. But, I think it's got to be said.

As some of you know, I've recently changed jobs and am now working on the border of Atherton/Menlo Park. In previous years, I've been commuting a bit off the beaten path - riding from north Sunnyvale to Cupertino. I would run into other bicycle commuters here and there, but nothing like my current situation.

If I am doing a workout, I may take the longer route to work via the outskirts of Mountain View and Foothill Boulevard. However, at least 4 times a week, I am using the much more popular Bryant Street bicycle boulevard and either Middlefield through Mountain View or the new Mountain View bicycle boulevard. This has got to be one of the most traveled bicycle corridors in the state. During my commutes, I've experienced a fair bit of dangerous, bad behavior from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. However, as the weather has improved and the days longer, I've noticed a huge uptick in close calls with other cyclists during my ride. I started to take mental statistics about the behavior of my own people - the cyclists. Well, let's just say - it ain't pretty. None of us are going to be nominated for sainthood or anything. In fact, if our good deeds around cycling are weighed against the bad, I fear we may be found lacking.

In the last 4 weeks, I have only observed *one* other cyclist (other than Rick and I) come to a complete stop (either trackstand or foot down) at a stop sign along the route. One of literally hundreds. Seriously. Just because it's a bike boulevard and we get preference does not mean we can disregard the law.

So, now we come to Friday night. Friday night on my ride home, I was nearly hit 4 times by cyclists who took my right of way and disobeyed the law at traffic control devices. Believe me, I don't think I'm perfect in this regard. I have made mistakes in judgment that have put myself and others in danger, too. The difference is that I'm really trying to be aware and work on my cycling citizenry. So, 4 out of about 10 cyclists I encountered endangered me. An additional 2 were also riding recklessly - one talking on a cell phone while riding on the sidewalk, and one riding on the wrong side of the road. Another one was observed riding in commute traffic with iPod buds in both ears. Seriously. So, ~70% of the cyclists I encountered were a danger to themselves, pedestrians and other cyclists. In the meantime, I encountered several hundred automobiles - 2 of which took my right of way, and only one of which endangered me in the process.

The car who endangered me dove into the bike lane to right-pass a left-turning car just as I was approaching on the right - one of the known dangers of passing other traffic on the right in a bike lane, and why I sometimes choose to merge into a long line of cars. However, in this circumstance I was approaching an intersection where I wanted to go straight through and cars approaching from the other direction have to yield their left turns and often don't. So, sometimes it's safer for me to approach that intersection in the bike lane where the sight lines are better - rather than behind large vehicles.

Close call #1:
I was riding East on Bryant street, just having come across the bike bridge from Menlo Park. A cyclist traveling perpendicular to me on Palo Alto Ave. ran the one-way stop control as she turned left on to Bryant nearly tagging me as I went straight through. She did not even slow down or observe. Cyclist appeared to be in her early 20s on a nice, hybrid bike, wearing a helmet, riding in jeans and a Stanford sweatshirt. She had reasonable bike handling skills.

Close call #2:
A whole 1-2 blocks later, I am continuing east on Bryant approaching either Hawthorne or Everett. Both streets have a two-way stop sign with Bryant having no stops and the right of way. A cyclist approaching on my left slowed at the stop sign and "observed", but obviously not observing enough to "see" and then proceeded to blow the stop sign. I had to tag my brakes pretty hard not to t-bone him. I was riding "in the lane" so as to create decent site lines. He just did not look carefully enough. He was a middle aged male cyclist in full cycling gear on a nice touring-style bike.

Close call #3:
I am at the light at Carlson waiting to turn left (northbound) on E Charleston. The light turns green. There is a pedestrian in the crosswalk to my left with a baby carriage coming the opposite direction. I ease into the intersection and wait for her to clear. As I start to make my turn, a cyclist coming northbound on E Charleston from my right side runs the red light. I have to turn extra sharp to avoid being broadsided by him as he comes around my right side. Middle-aged, male cyclist on a fully equipped touring bike. It appears he saw me, deemed I was not a threat and would avoid him, and came through anyway.

Close call #4:
I was on Central Ave. (Mountain View bike boulevard) waiting to cross straight through over Moffett. In the opposite direction are lined up a car and a cyclist. I was pretty sure the car was fixing to take the right of way from me. He was signaling a left turn, revving the engine and already had the wheels turned a bit. The cyclist was a mystery. Sure enough, when the light changed, the car peeled out. The cyclist behind him continued into the intersection without signaling. As I was about 2/3 of the way across headed straight through, the cyclist starts turning left into me. We both apply brakes and have a little standoff. It felt a bit like a slow match sprint. Finally, I stepped on it and gunned the rest of the way through the intersection. Cyclist was a late 20s - early 30s male on a well-equipped hybrid bike with one iPod earbud in while riding.

Anyway, I'm just hoping maybe some of us can do a little soul searching in this area and see if we can improve our cycling behavior - both for PR and for the safety of other cyclists and pedestrians we share the road with. All of us know we face many threats when on the road and need to continue to advocate for better behavior/education/prosecution of motorists that threaten us. But, do we really need to be a threat to each other? Can't we do better?


CyclistRick said...

Perhaps a few enforcement actions in key locations will teach both cyclists and drivers that stop means stop. A $300-400 ticket plus fees, etc. can be incentive to do better.

I think the same is true of the cell phone laws. A recent Roadshow column in the Merc had a person complaining about the $140 or so they had to pay for a 2nd cellphone violation. On paper the 1st is $25, 2nd is $50, but they add a bunch of assessments and fees, all of which just went up. Get whacked with a couple of $140 charges then the phone conversation is not so important. And it is worth it to me to stop for both safety and to avoid the $300+ ticket with assessments. I think more people are motivated by convenience and money, not safety, so make it less convenient (talk to the officer) and costly and they will start to obey.

LAUREN said...

oh dear.

i see a lot of it too. from everyone. but it seems more visible from on the bike.