Monday, May 17, 2010

Right of Way

Traffic feeds us driving quizzes all the time.

On Friday I had to whap the dog on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper (figuratively speaking) when the usual pushy idiot in a car was forcing himself past George and me at the intersection of Elm Street and Route 16. We had arrived long before said idiot and were hovering to watch for a good gap in traffic. With typical moto-centric conceit, the driver assumed that cars belong in front of bikes whenever and wherever the encounter takes place. I was doing a track stand in the center of the right lane, so motor-boy went into the left lane, where anyone leaving Route 16 would hit him head on. The resulting collision would be the cyclist's fault for obstructing traffic, "forcing" motorists to do illegal and dangerous things to pass the "obstacle."

I spotted a gap. George and I shot into it. We were a quarter of a mile down the road before the pushy motorist was actually able to pull out. So who would have held up whom?

Unfortunately I tweaked my back with my aggressive sprint from a track-standing start. I had to deal with the muscle spasm for the next couple of days.

The next test came yesterday when the cellist and I took a fitness and pleasure cruise that included a couple of sections of Route 25. That highway has a lane-width shoulder. It attracts some fast drivers because it is mostly flat with long straight or gently curving stretches. I do not take the lane because the motorists have enough trouble avoiding each other, let alone smartening up enough to spot a cyclist. Coming west, preparing to turn left onto Green Mountain Road, I only pull left and turn left when NO ONE is around. In any other circumstance I ride past the turn and double back when I get a gap, because people crossing from Route 153 or Green Mountain Road are likely to disregard a cyclist maneuvering at that particular junction. When I want to cross from 153 to Green Mountain Road I will often go right on 25 to clear the intersection and, again, double back when I get a gap.

With only themselves to deal with at that intersection, motorists are just as likely to kill or maim each other. It has been the scene of many accidents.

Coming to 153 yesterday, I was going to lead us through the intersection because there was a lot of cross traffic. Plan B would be to drop a right into 153, loop back clear of the intersection, and then either cross to Green Mountain Road (if clear) or go right and loop back again. It seems roundabout and needlessly complex to the purists of bicycle right of way, but it flows better, so I prefer it.

The situation suddenly got more complicated when a regiment of sporty, quasi-racing-configured motorcycles rushed up on us from behind and flowed past us in that faintly harassing way they have. Do you really need to be that close to my handlebars? Am I supposed to be impressed, perhaps feel a subservient sense of camaraderie and honor that you chose to almost clip me? This phalanx flowed past endlessly as the intersection grew nearer by the pedal stroke. A decision would be required soon.

I briefly considered the options and almost chose to turn right with the motorcyclists. However, the way they were slamming the door at the apex of the turn I could not be sure the line would be safe.

I couldn't take the lane because the continuous flow of closely-spaced bikes walled us off from it.

Cross traffic waiting was frozen by the spectacle of the thundering herd. I decided to go straight through the intersection, cutting off whatever remaining motorcycles I had to when I claimed the lane.

This maneuver elicited an angry honk from the last cycle in line. I gave him the Big Annoyed Shrug, universal symbol of "WTF, Dude? Wait your ^%#^%$ turn!" The cellist actually flipped him off, but he had cut closer to her as she followed me.

We cleared the intersection, waited for all motorists to do whatever made them happy and then looped back to turn onto Green Mountain Road. The sound of any motorcycle coming up behind us made us wonder for a time whether the aggrieved rider might be coming back to discuss the finer points of traffic safety, but that group fortunately had better things to do, as did we.

Had I claimed the lane on 25 well before the crossroads, the aggressive motorcyclists might well have behaved even more like cavalry charging through infantry. I'm sure we push-bikers were supposed to stop dead before the intersection while the people with real vehicles did exactly what they wanted, when they wanted, with their road. By pedaling we give some people the impression that our schedule and destination do not matter. As inferiors in horsepower, acceleration and top speed we must defer at all times and in all ways.

I'm afraid I disagree.


Steve A said...

I'm afraid I agree - with you. OTOH, as the adult in the equation, the cyclist sometimes does the forelock touch.

Ham said...

"By pedaling we give some people the impression that our schedule and destination do not matter" How true. I was sore tempted yesterday - when a Big Expensive Car pushed past unnecessarily, very fast and very close - to discuss the finer points of this when I inevitably caught them up. I would have pointed out that I was, in fact, going to arrive before them and at a guaranteed time and all their driving style was likely to achieve was a validation of their intelligence quotient, a higher bill for fuel and the background research needed to write a critique entitled "Traffic Lights and Jams of London, the Finer Points". I would have left out the bit about the stress causing their early demise, as I didn't see the problem with that. I didn't, but it was close.

cafiend said...

Coincidentally, yesterday a 49-year-old cyclist was clipped by a car driven by a 26-year-old who was making a turn. The TV news did not describe the accident in detail, but it sounds from the description like a right hook.

The good news is that it was reported as something the driver did wrong, and he "may" receive a ticket. One hopes he F#*&#ing WILL receive a ticket.

The rider was treated for injuries. Severity was not reported, but that would seem to indicate they were not maiming or life threatening.