Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All in the Wrong

Sometimes - maybe because I read too many comments on news articles - I make a mistake (miss the yellow light and wind up accidentally running the red; wind up in the wrong lane; go at the wrong time at a stop sign) and I imagine the drivers around me thinking the sorts of things I see in the comments: "cyclists are out of control," "they're a danger to themselves and others," "why are these crazy cyclists allowed on the roads when they just disregard the rules," etc., etc., etc.

It drives me nuts to think that, because most of the time I'm pretty obsessively conscious of sharing the road. And because I hate reinforcing anyone's misguided stereotypes.

So what happened was this: I was heading to a friend's. I was tired, and shaking off the last of a cold, and maybe a little less alert than I could have been. I wound up at an intersection where I needed to turn left. You might know the intersection - at Bank and Kitchener.

So I pulled up at the red light, facing Bank Street. Across from me was the entrance to the parking lots of the LCBO (right) and Home Depot (left). But it gets a traffic light because people can continue straight through from Kitchener into the parking lots. There's a left turn lane on Kitchener, which I was in. But when the light turned green there was a car facing me, with turning signal on indicating the driver was turning left. I was also turning left. But I guess I have been in too many situations where a car facing me, when we're both turning left, has been visibly freaked out by not knowing what I'm going to do, so I hesitated before heading into the left turn, not able to figure out why the other car wasn't moving. Then saw the driver was waiting for a pedestrian to cross the road.

Then a car behind me honked, and pulled out to pass me, on the right side, although he'd been behind me in the left turn lane. So I turned to try and figure out which way he was going to go - worried that he was going to try and make the left turn around me, and possibly into me - and he pulled out, turning right onto Bank across the through/right turn lane, while a delivery truck behind him took the opportunity to pull past me on the other side and turn left, pausing long enough to yell something out the door of his truck that sounded to me like "... mumble something going straight something something cut off..."

Helpful, buddy.

I shouted, "He's turning! I was waiting! I'm turning left!" but by then he had driven off, having illegally passed me and cut me off for the turn, and the other driver having illegally passed me and cut across a lane to turn right.

I realize that in fact, if the car facing me was turning left, then what I was supposed to do was just continue with my turn. But since I didn't know what he was going to think of a bike heading into the intersection toward him, and because I was a little fuzzy-headed with a cold, and I momentarily forgot what my right of way was, I hesitated. Then the drivers behind me honked, fumed, and each did their own version of 'the wrong thing' to get around me - which they would not have done had I been in a car, hesitating in the left turn lane.

And I'm now bothered by the fact that I may have been taken for a 'stupid cyclist who doesn't know the rules.' Yup, I had a momentary brain fart. Sure, we were all wrong. But the end result of the whole incident was that my moment of insecurity was made infinitely more dangerous by the reactions of the drivers around me.

It's things like this that make me hate left turns with a burning firey passion.


  1. Please don't beat yourself up over this. This is a difficult intersection and your (lack of) action are kinda ov understandable. More importantly, this confusion happens to drivers of cars all the time. Why is it more significant when it is a cyclist.
    nobody was hurt and the poor reactions of the other drivers were mild, have a drink/bath/workout/bike ride, what ever you relax with and forgive yorself and put this incident out of your mind.

  2. Get an air horn; I cannot stress this enough. I have much more confidence crossing intersections now that I can stop a car with the push of a button.

    Drivers often say "I didn't see the cyclist" but they rarely say "I didn't hear the air horn". People react quickly when they hear a horn and most of the time their reaction is to step on the brakes.

    Another similar dangerous situation is going straight at an intersection when cars on the opposite side are making a left turn: they look for other cars before turning left but often miss the cyclist coming right at them, despite his flashy reflective vest. The horn has put a stop to that.

    If you do not want an air horn on your bike, you can always yell, though this solution is not for everybody.

  3. They were not thinking you were a stupid cyclist who doesn't know the rules, or, if they did, they would have thought that bicycles should be on the sidewalk or something stupid like that.

    You were waiting until it was safe to proceed through the intersection; nothing wrong about that. If anything, the asshat who turned right justified your hesitation because you'd be pavement decoration if the guy in the left turn lane across from you did the same thing while you continued your turn.

    An airhorn is good, and I have one in the package to put on my third bike. What I've found, however, is that I just as often don't use it when my safety is genuinely threatened (as opposed to when I honk because they could have hit me if I'd been a less attentive cyclist). Sometimes I honk to get them to stop (i.e. if they turn out from the curb while I'm passing), sometimes I bellow at the top of my lungs (if they're headed blindly toward me), and sometimes I'm too focused/afraid to make any noise (because I'm too busy squirming out of their way while they pass me from behind waaay too close).

    - RG>

  4. I too often replay things like this over and over in my head, usually when I think I've made a mistake but as the other comments indicate nobody was hurt or crashed so no big deal. Add it to the experience pile and learn from it.

  5. You really seem to dwell on near death experiences. Please do not freak yourself out - especially at these complicated intersections. I find that at busy intersections, I just get off the bike and become a pedestrian - and I just walk to the left curb and cross at the cross walk and hop on the bike at other side - and this is usually faster that making a left turn by bike because you avoid all oncoming traffic... I do this when I'm on Fifth and turning left onto Bronson during rush hour...

  6. Hey - Laurier Bike Lane Mashup west of Lyon is being bulldozed in... Now I see why it is costing so much - they are actually resurfasing the whole of Laurier in the process. Could this experiment be just an excuse to get Laurier repaved?

  7. Anonymous April 28: Laurier was scheduled to be resurfaced anyway, and that would have gone ahead whether or not the bike lane did.

    - RG>

  8. Hey ReadGrouchy - do you actually know this to be true than paving is not part of the 1.5 million being spent on bike path? 1.5 million for 50 gallons of road paint, concrete curbs and 350 new road signs seems much...

    Sorry I am grouchy but I ride my bike all year round downtown and I know for sure that these bike lanes will NOT be cleared during the winter - just like they weren't cleared on Lyon or Percy... In fact, the city sees the bike lanes as snow dumps and actually put up signage that tells bikers exactly that.

  9. Ya, like the others said, don't fret over it. It's almost impossible to be the "Super Human Cyclist" who never screws up.
    Stand at any intersection for 15 minutes and you will see an endless stream of stupidity shown by drivers. Holding yourself to a higher standard is excellent as it keeps you safe, and you played it safe here. You just have carry on and mark it down to experience.
    What I usually do is signal and pull forward slightly into the intersection. This shows the drivers that you are trying to move, but you are being held up for some reason. It also keeps idiots from trying to 'left turn' pass you on your left.(If they try passing you on the right, they risk colliding with oncoming left turning vehicles.)

    As for the morons who did pass you, they will be sent to the "Re-education Camp"...(I wish!)

    Keep ridin'and smilin'!