Monday, August 15, 2016

Visibility liability: look-away lighting

On the park and ride commute on Saturday, I was riding on one of the causeways of the Cotton Valley Trail. It's dead straight, dead flat, contained between the rails, and highly popular for the morning exercise of dog walkers, joggers, strollers, and the elderly.

Up ahead, coming slowly toward me, I saw an elderly woman using a walker. We've passed before. She lives around here. She's actually a really good sport about accommodating riders. Depending on the distance between us and options for pulling off, she or I might stop. She moves v-e-r-y slowly, as you might expect.

Beyond Walker Woman my eyes were assaulted by a strobe so bright, with a flashing rate so rapid, it was like being tasered in the retinas. The rider with this light was as far behind Walker Woman as I was in front of her. We were both riding slowly. Walker Woman made the call to pull aside at a bench. I made my way carefully to her and onward toward Taser Strobe Guy. When I reached him, I remarked on how annoying his light was, but I had no time to linger and elaborate. I was on my way to work.

I wanted to ask why he felt he needed such an aggressive and hostile light on a path where he would encounter no motor vehicle traffic. I also question in general the effectiveness of a light so nasty that you want to avoid looking at it and whatever it is attached to.

A study of lighting on snow removal vehicles determined that flashing lights make it harder for an approaching vehicle to judge distance from the vehicle with the flashing light. I've also observed that the fiercely aggressive, bright flashers on emergency vehicles make it very hard to see where to go when passing through an emergency scene, even at a crawling speed. I use my flashing lights very sparingly now, and use steady mode for cruising. To be noticed and dismissed is about like not being noticed at all. A bicyclist should assume they have not been seen and plan accordingly.

If the strobe is a conscious act of aggression, I can understand it even if I condemn it. We all get frustrated at times. Some of us are frustrated at all times. But something that is of dubious value in traffic is of no value whatsoever on a separated path where you are only pissing off fellow non-motorized users.

In an added twist, Taser Strobe Guy came into the shop a couple of hours later to have us check out his rear derailleur. I did not check the bike in, but I did do the repair. I also did not preside when he picked the bike up. He had a scornful attitude toward the skill needed to adjust his shifting. I did overhear that. Maybe he overcompensates for a mechanical inferiority complex by insulting the people on whom he relies to keep his machine working. There's another poor strategy to go with his aggressive overuse of strobes.


Anonymous said...

Missed a chance to FIX his lights!

cafiend said...

Thought about swiping the batteries, but that wouldn't really address the underlying problem.

Steve A said...

When the CPSC tested bike lights, they also found no better recognition estimate with a blinking light over even a reflector, while the flashing light was noticed earlier. It's why I now use BOTH a steady AND a flashing rear light nowadays. The steady light has the added advantage of also being a "compliant" reflector which will work even if the battery dies. It's on page 15 of the report at

cafiend said...

For actual dusk and darkness, I have two blinkies on the bum bag I wear for commuting, and the steady tail light powered by the generator. The fixed tail light is also a compliant reflector. The headlight contains one as well.