Dear Drivers: Stop Being Nice to Cyclists

Note: Today is Day 17 of my 30 day blog challenge. If you want to get my random thoughts about random stuff in your inbox, you can subscribe at the bottom of any post or mash the RSS button if that’s how you roll. 

The other day I was on my way downtown, via Greeley Avenue, a 45 MPH expressway which also happens to have a bike lane. At the bottom of the hill, people in cars do one of two things:

  1. Continue in the right line to the on ramp for the I5 freeway
  2. Continue in the left lane to Interstate Avenue

At the entrance to the freeway, people riding bicycles do one thing: Cross the right line and continue in the Greeley bike lane to Interstate Ave.

Yes, I know it sounds insane to cross a lane of traffic where the speed limit is 45 mph, which means that the actual speed is probably 45 – 60 mph. But you can get used to anything, and I know from having made the trip downtown daily during my school and office job years, that Greeley is much faster than the alternative route. Even at the busiest time of day, there will eventually be a break in traffic that is large enough to safely cross.

Greeley Bike Lane Crossing
If everyone just does what they’re supposed to do, this doesn’t have to be scary.

In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have to stop, I just check behind me and the timing is such that I can continue riding without pause. But sometimes I have to stop and wait. Sometimes it’s a fairly long wait. That’s OK. I choose to take this crazy route and I am happy to be patient in order to arrive alive at my destination.

But some drivers see me there by the side of the busy busy road, and their hearts go all soft, and they take it into their heads that they’re going to stop for me so I can cross. You know, to be nice.

And then I have to frantically wave them on, shouting the whole time.

Don't Stop Here
Do not stop in front of 45mph traffic while merging onto a freeway.

Why do I do that?

Because it’s a freaking freeway entrance and the people behind them are not expecting a stopped vehicle. That kind of ‘nice’ is a good way to get everyone killed. Let us count the ways in which disaster could occur:

  1. Rear end crash from someone texting and driving or just not paying attention.
  2. Rear in crash in which the cyclist in question has taken up the drivers offer, and is thereby injured or killed when the chain reaction occurs.
  3. Cyclist takes the offer and is taken out by an impatient driver behind the ‘nice’ person who decides to go around them but still get on the freeway.

I’m sure there are more.

Sadly, for all the reasons listed above, you can’t really explain all this in the moment.

After the first time it happened, I adopted a new strategy where I never glance behind me as I’m approaching the crossing. Some drivers view that as impatience. Also, if I’m not looking at them, hopefully they will determine that I wouldn’t see their nice gesture and they won’t try it. I use my ears only, until I don’t hear anyone, and then I look and cross if it’s clear.

Unfortunately, this is not a full proof strategy. I have had drivers come to a complete stop and honk at me to get my attention, at which point I have to go back to the crazy waving and yelling.

A few times, it has been UPS drivers that pull this stunt. There’s a large wave of UPS trucks that come from the Swan Island facility between 8am and 9am. When that happened, I tweeted my frustration and someone from UPS actually got in touch and facilitated a follow up call.

Here’s the thing. Everyone should just follow the rules of the road and do what they are expected to do. Want to stop for a cyclist at a marked crosswalk? Go for it. I consider that an optional move, but at least it’s a place where it’s normal behavior to be stopped for someone crossing.

Want to stop for a cyclist in a residential area when they have the stop sign? Bad move. Yes, it’s great that you understand how important conservation of momentum is to a cyclist, but it just creates confusion in the long run and encourages cyclist to blow through stop signs even when cars are present, which can lead to trouble.

Pass it on, so I don’t have to hurt some poor driver’s feelings when I yell at them for trying to be nice.

 

 

 

 

23 Comments


  1. Oh dear god, YES. The “courtesy stop” must dies.

    I’ve also had someone stop, wave me through the intersection, then gun it & try to hit me. WTF.

    Reply

  2. When drivers try and yield right of way, I’ve been known to say “I’m a big boy. I can wait my turn” while I stay in a track stand waiting for them to continue on their path.

    Reply

  3. I’ve been thinking about your post about overly nice motorists who endanger cyclists with their courtesy. I was thinking about writing a comment but this seems overly long for that and I think that post’s comment thread is effectively dead anyway. So for what it’s worth here are a few thoughts on cycling safety from Madison.

    I’ve been thinking about this one since reading your post, and I think I have a somewhat different view. On the one hand there’s no doubt that you’re right about the safety hazards presented by the overly courteous motorist. Just yesterday I was standing on the median while crossing a four lane road. As I checked oncoming traffic a driver in the near lane, we’ll call him Car A, decided to respect the crosswalk and pedestrian right of way. And the driver in the car behind decided that this was a good chance to pass Car A. So there was suddenly the previously empty last lane to cross had a car bearing down on it. Yikes!

    But on the other hand I appreciate that overly courteous drivers at least see cyclists, and value our lives. I don’t think I’m overreaching to say all regular cyclists have experienced plenty of motorists making dangerous passes, unsignaled turns, and recklessly crowding us. Given the amount of times that motorists either don’t see me, or don’t seem to recognize that I am balanced on two inch wide pieces of rubber, with a pound of plastic and foam as my only protection, I appreciate that overly courteous motorists see that I’m there.

    I tend to think there’s a middle ground where motorists can modify behavior and increase rather than decrease cycling safety. There’s a spot here in Madison much like the road situation you describe in your post, though the speed limit it 35, not 45, but you’ve still got to cross an on ramp from the bike lane tom continue straigyht. I really appreciate it when motorists slow perceptibly which preserves a hole in traffic that I can easily ride through to continue on my way. It’s not the dangerous full stop you describe, but it is a way that a driver can modify their ordinary traffic behavior.

    Reply

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