Better Red than Dead

I’d rather be alive than dead right. Sometimes the law is on your side but you’re still dead. So we’re going to talk about the law but also about staying alive. I know some stupid bicyclists and I know some old bicyclists. I don’t know any old stupid bicyclists.

Generally speaking, you are safer on a bike if you operate it more like a car than a toy. You are generally safer if you operate in a predictable manner. We’ll go into some examples of those.

In Wisconsin, a motor vehicle passing a bike is required to allow at least three feet of space. In many states (including Wisconsin), a bike is required to stay as far to the right as practicable. This does not mean “as possible.” You don’t want to ride in the “door zone”.
DSC_1226Riding in the door zone either means you get hit if someone opens their door or you end up swerving in and out of traffic. In the picture you can see that only the very far left edge of the bike lane (if that) is a safe place to ride. Safer in this instance is in the traffic lane. Alternatively, you can ride while looking through the rear window of every car to see if someone is in it and might suddenly open a door. That was easier to do before the advent of tinted glass. (And you still need to watch everywhere else.) Bike lanes, to be safe, need to be outside of the door zone. Bob Mionske, writing in VeloNews, goes into this in more depth.

What does operating like a motor vehicle look like? If you’re going to make a left turn, signal your intention, change into the left lane, and make your left turn from the left lane. A left turn from the right lane is not expected. If you’re going straight and traffic is turning right, don’t ride to the far right of traffic, get into their lane. That way they don’t turn right into you.

Sometimes we forget where roads come from. Paved roads arrived primarily through the work of the “Safe Roads Movement” of the League of American Wheelmen in the 1890s. (The organization is still around but is now the League of American Bicyclists or Bike League. Wisconsin has long been known for its great system of secondary roads – why? Because family dairy farms were on those roads and the milk trucks had to get to them to make pickups in any weather. Now that the dairy industry is consolidating into fewer and larger farms, Wisconsin’s secondary roads are deteriorating.

Bike path or road? Most bike paths are actually “multi-use paths” or “shared-use paths“. They are intended for bikes, walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, sometimes horses, strollers…If you are riding closer to the speed of walkers you are probably safer on a multi-use path. If you are riding closer to the speed of a motor vehicle, you are probably safer on the road. The walkers are safer with you on the road, too.

Be visible and make noise. I wear bright clothing. I have a bell on my bike. I find it is most useful on shared-use paths. Calling out “on your left” doesn’t work very well. Hearing the word “left” makes many people swerve to their left. The sound of a bell seems friendlier than yelling and people can usually place the sound. If it’s coming from their left, they move right. See above re: speed. If you’re on a shared-use path and there are walkers, ride more slowly than you would on a street or empty path.

With cars, a bell is seldom loud enough and it doesn’t carry a sense of urgency. When a car is running a stop sign into my path, I loudly yell, “STOP!” That seems to have a better effect. Plus I don’t have to get my thumb to the bell and I can use my hands to avoid the car (by steering and/or braking).

Communication carries other benefits. When I stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, they often thank me. When in an ambiguous situation I often wave drivers through. They usually smile and wave back. Those smiles feel good. I can only hope that those interactions have some influence on those drivers the next time they are thinking “those damn bikers!” instead of “that @sshole!” (See last week’s post.)

By ambiguous situation, I mean things like: when two vehicles arrive at a stop sign simultaneously (at right angles to each other), the law requires you to yield to the vehicle on your right. Otherwise, whoever got there first has the right of way. If it is not clear who got there first, a gesture clarifies intent. The right of way is something to be yielded, not something to be demanded. Notice there are no “assert right of way” signs, but there are “yield right of way” signs.

I thought I was going to put a bunch of diagrams of potentially dangerous situations in here. Others have done that. One example is: https://bicyclesafe.com.

Spring comes to Wisconsin.

What else can you do? We (my family) are members of AAA, ostensibly for the emergency road service. But that also means we are contributing to an advocacy group for motor vehicles. I decided to at least equal that donation with donations for bicycle advocacy. The Bike League is a good place to start. Most states have an organization. In Wisconsin, it’s The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Some places also have local advocacy organizations. Spend at least as much to advocate for your rights as a bicyclist as you spend for your rights as a motorist.

Totally unrelated: Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Tammy Wynette. I saw her perform in the Sun Prairie High School gym, wondering how she had fallen so far so fast. My friend Jeanette loved to sing Tammy’s “I don’t wanna play house“, but I have to admit that my favorite is below:

Better Safe than Sorry?

Relations between people on bikes and people in cars are frequently strained, even though most adults who ride bikes also drive cars. What is that about, and what can we do?

Maynard Hershon is a writer about bicycles and motorcycles. Back in the 80s he wrote an essay for the California Bicyclist which changed the way I ride. I haven’t been able to relocate that essay, but I’ll put my own spin on what I remember of/learned from that essay and what I’ve learned in the intervening years.

When someone in a car cuts you off when you’re driving, you think, “What an @sshole!” When a bicyclist rolls through a stop sign when you’re driving, you think, “Those d@mn bikers!” What does that mean about us? First, we notice aberrations, not the norm. We don’t pay any attention to people doing what is expected of them. We pay attention when they don’t do that. Like the kid in class who never raises his/her hand is never noticed, but the kid who acts up get attention. So we don’t really notice all the cars that don’t cut us off and all the bikes that stop at stop signs. (And here someone is thinking, “no bikes stop at stop signs.”)

But there is something else going on here. We live in a car-centric society. Without consciously realizing it, we consider the driver of a car to be an individual, because driving cars is what we do. We consider the operator of a bicycle to be representative of a class, because that’s what they do. I can speed in my car, and I’m just an individual @sshole, but if I roll through a red light on a bike, I’m one of them, and they never stop at red lights.

But, guess what? Someone has studied this. Dave Schlabowski , former manager of the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program in Milwaukee, has wrtten extensively on the topic. He notes that “people riding bikes are more law-abiding than people driving cars.” Dave has revisited this topic and found a high incidence of speeding by motorists. How many people actually drive at or below 25 mph in a 25 mph zone? Not many. He cites another study (which I can’t find right now) that indicated that people tend to break laws that are convenient for them to break and where the consequences are minimal. Thus speed limit laws seem to be the least followed by motorists who break the law, and stop signals are the least obeyed by bicyclists who break the law. In Idaho, the law allows bicyclists to treat stops signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

Version 2
Spring is coming late this year. This is all that’s blooming in my yard so far. Something was needed to break up all this text. Good thing I got the photo when I did. This crocus is now buried under 4 inches of snow.

Back to Maynard: the essence of his essay was that, if we are going to be seen as representing a class when we ride bikes, we should represent ourselves the way we want to be seen. Before I read that essay, I rolled through stop signs and went through red lights when there was no traffic. I didn’t know about the “Idaho stop” at that time. Now I make it a point to stop and, especially, to signal my intention and then stop and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. I’ve been known to move a bit to the left to make it harder for a motorist to blow by me and through the crosswalk. I’m still amazed by how many pedestrians are surprised to see a vehicle obey the law and yield the right of way to them.

My daughter makes a joke that no one seems to get. “Question: What do you call it when you kill someone?” Answer: Murder. Question: What do you call it when you kill a bicyclist with your car? Answer: An accident.” It isn’t funny, but it does appear that if you want to kill someone, that’s the best way to get away with it. The Des Moines Register studied 22 fatal car-bike crashes. The most common penalty (the mode, in statistical parlance) for drivers found at fault was $250. The joke actually stems from the article below.

Daniel Duane, in the New York Times, found that “studies performed in Arizona, Minnesota and Hawaii suggest that drivers are at fault in more than half of cycling fatalities. And there is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, ‘Oh, well, accidents happen.’ If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, ‘Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,’ that will most likely be good enough.” (NYT 11/9/2013)

What does this mean to me? Whenever possible, I make eye contact with drivers. I figure it is harder to kill someone who is human and not just an obstacle. I try to communicate with other road users. I try to use clear hand signals (and no, the one consisting of an extended middle finger doesn’t count) and talk to people. I wear bright clothing. That way, if you hit me, I figure you were aiming, not that you couldn’t see me. I try to remember that you’re not an @sshole, but you weren’t paying attention. I was once wearing day-glo pink when a texting driver almost ran me down. I yelled to get her attention. She said, “I didn’t see you.” I (not so calmly) pointed out that I was wearing bright pink and of course she couldn’t see me while looking at her phone.

In honor of our unseasonably cool weather:

Next time: a look at some specifics of bike safety.

And finally, on the way home from a meeting Wednesday night, I heard a loon on the lake – the first I’ve heard this year. Our lake in on their annual commuting route to and from the north woods. For those who have never heard one (and those who want to hear it again), here is a Common Loon (from Peter JH, recorded near Ely, MN):

Change of Plans!

A new plan has arisen, so a special post comes today. I’ve decided to leave my bike home.

Linder (JLinder)
Ben Linder (John Linder photo)

Instead I will be riding a multi-speed unicycle, in honor of Ben Linder‘s (1959-1987) epic ride down the west coast of the US. Ben was an engineer from Portland Oregon, educated at the University of Washington.

Upon graduation he went to Nicaragua. He worked initially in Managua, commuting to work via unicycle and performing with a local circus. He subsequently moved to the El Cuá, where he worked to build a hydroelectric dam on a small stream to electrify a rural community. It was while working on this project that he was assassinated by US government-funded terrorists.

While I never  met Ben, I worked with his Matagalpa roommate and visited his grave. Ben was both a dedicated engineer working to make the world a better place, and a clown performing as a juggling unicyclist. He was murdered 30 years ago this month.

I need to get some miles in on the unicycle to train. I don’t plan to juggle coast-to-coast – I want to see the scenery.

April 1, 2018

P.S. Whitecaps on the lake mean no ice from shore-to-shore; 25 mph wind means surf’s up! Grab your board cuz there’s nothing like surfing 32 degree (F) water!

Shakedown Cruise

On October 30, 2017 I took the bike for a shakedown cruise after some parts changes. The photo below is the bike as I intend to ride it across the country.

shakedown
Photo by Tim Morton

I’ve swapped out the wheels, mounting the custom wheels from Yellow Jersey.  I’ve switched to a Terry saddle. Georgena Terry became famous for designing the first saddle made to fit a woman’s body. She was successful enough that she designed and made a lot of other products, including saddles made for men and designed for long-term comfort. I’m hoping she’s right. For the geekier of you, it is a “Fly Carbon” model. She also built bicycle frames proportioned for women.

I switched to more conventional water bottle cages – what came with the bike were plastic studs onto which a special bottle mounts directly, with no cage, saving a few grams. I wanted to be able to use my bigger bottles, so switched those. Along with the new wheels were a new cogset and chain, so I wanted to make sure everything shifted smoothly before putting the bike away for the winter. The sleet visible on the roadside and on my jacket was just a bonus.

The picture is from a Half-fast fall ride. For several years now, a group of 4-6 of us meet for breakfast at the Blue Spoon Cafe in Prairie du Sac, take a roundabout route to Baraboo (across the Merrimac Ferry, through Devil’s Lake State Park or up Devil’s Delight Road) for lunch at the Little Village Cafe. After lunch we take a different route back to the Blue Spoon for hors d’oeuvre (not to be confused with hors categorie).

One more picture, just because I haven’t figured out where to put it. This little frog was on my brake hood one morning in Door County on a camping trip. My first attempt at a photo with a cell phone and not a “real” camera, so it appears the focal point was the brake lever, not the frog. Sorry.frog