Saturday, April 4, 2015

Right turns are the greyest areas

On the limited evidence, I'm going to guess that last night's collision on Maitland was a right hook. I'm guessing that because it's reported as "a turn at low speed" and from where the bike wound up in the picture:

The cyclist is in the hospital, last I heard, in serious condition.

Right turns. At night, in the rain . . . they're treacherous.

In an interview I just did for radio, I would up saying that you're way safer in front of a car than beside it. The host sounded surprised about that. But this is a classic example. If the bike is already beside the car, the rider may not see the turning signal come on (I know I sometimes don't) and can't know the driver intends to turn. At that point, it's up to the driver to check that the turn is clear - and it's pretty easy for a driver just to check a visual angle taking in the corner ahead of them, but not necessarily behind or beside. With the cyclist riding, say, in line with the passenger side door, the driver might not have seen him, blocked by the window frames or just a little behind the range of the driver's visual sweep.

The driver probably passed the cyclist, though, before turning, and should have taken note of him. Moment of absentmindedness? Dark clothing? No signal from the driver - or the cyclist not seeing the signal? I don't know any of that stuff.

Right turns are another case where the rules fail, where the grey areas get messy. Vehicles aren't supposed to pass on the right, yet a cyclist going straight will necessarily be to the right of a driver turning. Are you "passing" on the right if the car to your left brakes in preparation for a turn while you're beside it? Not really. But it still puts you in an unexpected position relative to the other vehicle.

Technically, I suppose, at all intersections the cyclist would be safest to take the lane before going through the intersection - but imagine all the weaving in and out that would result, as the cyclist moves back to the right for a block to let faster traffic pass, then takes the lane again at each intersection. It would drive the people in cars crazy, not to mention being pretty nervewracking for the constantly lane-changing cyclist trying to find gaps in the traffic to squeeze in between cars. Nope.

I didn't want to land automatically on "the onus is on the person in the car" but . . . the onus is on the person in the car. To see the cyclist in the first place as you pass (here, some responsibility is on the cyclist to have lights or be otherwise visible), to judge when you will each wind up at the intersection, to signal enough in advance that the cyclist knows what you're doing, and let the cyclist go ahead if you're beside him, or move over in front of him so you can make the turn before he winds up between you and the curb. And to thoroughly shoulder check (when 99 times out of 100 you will probably not discover you were about to clip a bike).

As far as I can tell, the HTA tells you how to signal, and not to change lanes in mid-turn, but there is nothing explicitly covering the fact that a cyclist occupies, essentially, a "virtual" lane on the outside of the road which doesn't quite mesh with the rules of the other lanes. (I've got similar gripes about how to handle four-way stops when there's a bike lane. Who has right of way, between a cyclist going straight and a car turning right, both coming in from the same direction at a four-way stop?)

Grey areas. In my radio interview, I was talking about separate rules for cyclists. What I really think is the problem is these grey areas: places where the rules don't take cyclists into account. I didn't mention how a left-turning cyclist has to move to the outside lane, while a left-turning car has to move to the inside lane (I have had drivers try to overtake me on the right, mid-turn, as I went through a left turn - it's terrifying). And I didn't mention that invisible, virtual outside "lane."

Sorry, no answers here. Having bikes and cars on the same roads keeps pointing out these glitches. The more bikes we have on the road the more obvious they become. It's a matter of when and how we start deciding to make fixes that make sense.


  1. This is a very good overview of some of the challenges we face in getting more viable cycling infrastructure and traffic rules for cyclists in an environment where thinking is still so dominated by thoughts of automobiles. It was also great to hear you on CBC radio yesterday morning, where you did an outstanding job.

  2. The SUN had a brief statement about the 'accident'. But that was enough for dozens of people to denigrate, laugh at, ridicule, lavish hate on all cyclists and even directly on this poor guy. I was shocked that we cyclists are thought of so badly, and that it is acceptable to talk like that about us.

    I really just want to cycle in my city and go about my business in the city i live and work in. I am really not trying to bother anyone.

    But if i get hit someday by someone, I don't know what will be worse, the fact I am hurt, or the fact I will be called a stupid ignorant, spandex wearing, law breaking, idiotic, cheap looser.

    Please read the comments section to see what the world thinks of us.

    1. I've read the comments section - far too often. The hate people will unleash there is just horrifying. I have to believe, though, that it's changing. . .