Yesterday, Cyclelicious posted about a "suicide wave" he experienced given by a motorist as Richard waited to make a left hand turn on a 4-lane road. If you're unfamiliar with this terminology, it's the idea that a person in a car stops the traffic behind him/her and waves the cyclist to cross in front of their stopped vehicle. The problem with this seemingly nice gesture being that when traffic is coming up behind the stopped car, those approaching may opt instead to go around and the cyclist ends up as road splatter. Not exactly what anyone wants.
The post was interesting timing for me as I've had a great deal of this going on lately. Perhaps it's the warmer temperatures and more motorists realizing that more than the usual number of bicycles are out on the roads, or perhaps some motorists are making a concerted effort to not appear discourteous. Regardless, it can be challenging to deal with these types of situations.
My most recent moment was about a week ago. Sam and I were pedaling back home from goodness knows where and we were approaching a stop sign. The traffic perpendicular to us had no stop signs or signals and so we waited for traffic to clear before crossing.
Right after this stop sign is a short hill (not exactly anyone's favorite on a bike - to lose momentum completely and then have to climb), but I've made my peace with it as I climb it regularly throughout the week.
It seemed to be taking an inordinately long time, so I turned to look back in the direction of the truck, only to see that the driver had stopped in the road and was waving me across. I smiled, but waved at him to continue forward. He still sat waiting, insisting that I cross in front of him, but I remained in place and continued to wave him on.
I understand that the driver was probably aware that my riding partner had already crossed, leaving me alone on the opposite side and was simply attempting to be courteous to allow me to get across, but I find this to be an incredibly dangerous thing to do as a cyclist -- to accept a motorists "wave" to cross the road.
One problem with accepting this wave is in fact the reasoning mentioned at the start. Another motorist might just as easily decide that they aren't going to stop (because they do have the right of way) and as I make my way across, there is potentially a dangerous situation for all involved. Additionally, in this particular instance, there is traffic coming from two other directions (the parallel traffic to the stopped truck traveling in the opposite direction, and those stopping on the other side of the road making a left hand turn).
I have yet to figure out the best way to deal with these situations. I appreciate motorists who attempt to stop traffic (especially in very busy areas) to allow me to cross on my bike, but at the same time, I know better than to do this because it has the possibility of ending very badly. I often wish I had the means to communicate with the driver to explain that while I appreciate the motive, it is really putting me in a horrible situation. Often, if s/he would just continue on as they should, things would go far more smoothly.
Interestingly enough, I had another incident at this same point of travel a few weeks prior. I was approaching the stop sign, preparing to stop, as a motorist coming on the perpendicular road was preparing to make a left hand turn in front of me.
|The building to the left of the picture (and usually the items sitting outside) block the view of the road from behind the stop sign at this intersection.|
On this occasion, as I slowed and prepared to put my foot down, the vehicle turning in front of me shouted out his window, "That IS a stop sign! You don't get to just roll through."
I had no intention of running the stop sign, and I was clearly slowing down, so yelling this in my direction did nothing, except perhaps make the driver feel as though he was somehow superior? I did stop - I just didn't stop where he would've liked. Of course, had he not been severely cutting the corner, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.
What I realize is that generally what I wish from others on the roads is to be treated as traffic. There's no need for a motorist to stop when s/he has the right of way. Generally, traffic and road patterns are well-studied and roads are set up to be as functional as possible. I appreciate the motorists who are trying to be kind and courteous, but they are often putting me in greater danger trying to be nice than they would if they just continued as they should.
Even with that, I also understand that bicycles cannot always function as motorists do. Sometimes, I need to stop in a different location than the posted signs. There are also rare instances when it's actually safer for me not to stop than it is to continue forward momentum. These are fewer and much more far between, but those rare circumstances do arise. While traffic flow is often highly studied, many roads are not set up for regular cycling traffic and what works in a car or truck does not necessarily always work while on a bicycle.
For example, as a motorist, I would never cut in front of all the other cars at a red light to try and be in front; but on my bicycle, I often find it far more dangerous to wait behind other traffic than to place myself at the front, next to the first stopped vehicle. This allows traffic from the opposite direction to see me more easily so they don't attempt to make their left turn behind the last car and end up hitting me (which has actually nearly happened in the last week as well when I waited behind all of the traffic).
So, I'm feeling my summer time riding armor being put on a piece at a time. I'm attempting to find new strategies for dealing with awkward road situations... and I'm kind of wishing that every time a driver's license is up for renewal, part of that test would require a person to take a ride on a bike in their city. I think we'd all have a lot more patience with each other if we knew what it was like to be in each others shoes.
Have you noticed any changes in your city now that the weather has warmed up? What strategies do you implement when dealing with motorists who are attempting to be courteous, but are actually putting you in potential danger? Are there times when you wish that the rules of the road were written differently for those on a bicycle versus driving a motorized vehicle?