Today is Halloween so I wrote up 13 scary cycling scenarios for you. Some of them are infrastructure related, others are law related and yet others are behaviour related. I hope it doesn’t scare you away from cycling.
Storm sewers are usually placed within about 60 cm of the curb. This is also where cyclists ride. Some storm sewers have a design so that it makes no difference how they are placed, but others still have a pattern that allows for bike wheels to get stuck, causing serious falls. Warn your municipality that this has to change. In case of a law suit, a victim can make a stronger case that the city didn’t act. But you don’t want an accident to happen in the first place.
Potholes are no one’s friend. The city can barely keep up with filling them and if they are filled, it is often so poorly done (a shovelful of coarse material that disappears quickly) that the potholes appear again in the same place the following spring. If it is a more serious issue, a few square meters are cut out and refilled. The situation gets worse when it rains and you think your are cycling through a puddle and there appears to be a 3 inch pothole in there. There are known cases of broken wrists.
Can you not simply swerve around it? Yes you can, but there might be traffic behind you and your sudden change might come unexpected for traffic behind you (be it a driver or another cyclist). So if you see a puddle, start moving to the left gradually; I even indicate sometimes to warn traffic behind me I am going to move to the left.
Right turning vehicles
Right turning vehicles are OK. But not if they pass you and then turn right, cutting you off. It happens regularly. Experienced cyclists know to listen to traffic behind them. If I hear a car slowing down, I am prepared it will pass me and turn right, right in front of me. Even when you cycle on a separate cycling facility, don’t expect that motorized traffic will always see you.
Some drivers either don’t know there is a lane (and signs are ignored), don’t look over their shoulder or simply underestimate your speed. Also don’t forget there might be out-of-towners who never saw a bike lane in their lives. Even if you cycle at an average speed of about 20kph, you cover the length of a car in a second. I always keep an eye on traffic on my left, even on Laurier bike lane (with about 450,000 bike rides a year)
Nothing worries me more than a driver opening the door in places with considerableand tight traffic. Looking over your shoulder before opening a door is easy to forget if you live in a country with low bike participation, large parking lots and many private driveways. Even I noticed I sometimes forget to look over my shoulder when exiting a car. If I cycle in a busy street with parked cars, I stay away at least 60-90 cm. If drivers behind me get upset because I take the lane, that is too bad, I don’t really care if a drivist is 10 seconds late for an appointment. Someone may get mad at me (very rarely) but I never react (anymore).
Crappy bike racks
As a driver, you can be sure there is great parking at your destination: shopping malls, theatres, city halls all have abundant parking. Car parking spots are very expensive for society. The road bed under a parking spot is built for fully loaded 18 wheelers; parking at malls is built for the maximum capacity at Christmas but causes huge water run offs. Bike parking is rarely well organised or taken seriously: a crappy rack at the back, a few post and rings on a main street, or racks at the waste corner in the far end of the mall, between rotting banana peels, the cardboard compressor, the used frying oil and salt saturated snow piles.
Stop signs at the bottom of a hill
You’ve climbed up that hill with great effort knowing that the reward will be a wonderful descent. Just when you start to enjoy that downhill ride, you notice that stop sign at the bottom of the hill. It is tempting to run right through it, but you also know it is the wrong thing to do. In suburbia many stop signs are totally unnecessary though. They are often put in without much thought. Sometimes they are placed because residents ask for it; city staff recommends against them and they go in anyway because the councillor is somewhat pressured into it. Cyclists ignore them as there is no traffic in sight and subsequently get a bad rep for “always breaking the law” . Yield signs would be a much better solution. Infrastructure that makes speeding difficult is even better. Anyway, I happily keep ignoring most stop signs in my hood as motorized traffic is few and far between. I always stop for pedestrians and pets though.
Walk your bike signs
The HTA (Highway Traffic Act) in Ontario considers bicycles as vehicles. Therefore you have to walk you bike on pedestrian infrastructure such as sidewalks and cross walks, unless there is an exemption such as at a few blocks on Bay, southbound from Wellington. A few years ago, Ontario introduced cross rides, a ‘cross walk for cyclists’. This opens a new can of worms, because signalized intersections now need more signals. Because cyclists are not supposed to cycle on ped infrastructure the city solves the problem of a lack of cross rides by putting up a sign up with a walk your bike image. Getting off your bike and push if for 50 meters doesn’t make sense. It appears though that white signs with a green border have only an advisory function. 101% of the cyclists ignore the walk your bike signs, that includes all the families cycling in the weekend.
Cycling past road kill
Animals do their thing. Blissfully unaware of the dangers of the road, they wander, forage or need to find water. Seeing bloody guts of a porcupine, a fox being hit, a deer on the road side or a duck sitting next to its dead female partner on Hunt Club makes you realise how destructive motorized traffic can be. We have been somewhat conditioned to road kill, but somewhere in a cedar hedge, three baby squirrels are waiting for their mother in vain.
Comments (read: mud slinging) in the newspaper section
With adding comment sections, newspapers gave the most uninformed citizens a voice. Personally I think it helped drag down the quality of a newspaper rapidly as rarely does a comment add anything to a discussion. Don’t forget to play Bike Complaint Bingo when you read them.
Cars in bike lanes
There have been numerous daily reports of cars and trucks in bike lanes. Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes it is so obvious that it is impossible to believe that it was unintentional. Pointing it out is what we usually do. What drives us crazy, is when drivers don’t care, and don’t bother correcting the situation. “Just go around me”/”It is only 2 minutes”/”I am not from here.”
Regularly, cyclists and pedestrians have to weave through motorised traffic, because drivers drive through red only to discover that they can’t actually cross the intersection. The only place left is in the middle of the intersection, blocking pedestrians and cyclist traffic.
Poor road markings
Sharrows are invented to create some kind of cycling awareness, but if the road paint is of poor quality it has little effect. Plus, many drivers have no idea what they mean. On another note, markings over markings over markings hurt my eyes. Either paint the new ones a bit further away or use the same template on the exact same place.
Disappearing bike lanes
You are happily riding in a bike lane or on a raised bike lane or a MUP and all of a sudden the path ends. Often that is because a road surface was redone and you arrive at the end of a project. To convince the “interested in cycling but concerned about safety” residents, cities need to make sure infrastructure is connected. What is the point of a great network if 5% is on a horrible arterial. It also gives naysayers a reason to complain: ”We build all this stuff with tax payers money and no one uses it”. A network needs to be complete. It is better to have a small complete network than a large one with missing links in dangerous conflict zones.
Post in bike lanes and MUP’s
Do I need to say more…..
Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at a certain point and having to back track because the path is closed and no one bothered to put the sign at a point where you can make an alternative choice.
The one that scares me the most though if someone calls me an ‘avid’ cyclist. What is it with ‘avid’?
So there you go. Lots of scares.
Watch out for the kids (and their parents) tonight and don’t forget to use your lights.