Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Infra can't fix inattentional blindness

I was on my way to the office yesterday when I was nearly right hooked at an intersection designed to avoid right hooks. And I hate to say that it might partly have been the infrastructure put there to prevent just that from happening that contributed in this case. . . but mostly I'm going to put the blame on inattentional blindness

Dynes and Fisher, with the protected intersection
under construction
I was riding along Dynes Road, which has a painted bike lane. Coming up to the intersection with Fisher Avenue, I was passed by a big dark-grey F-150. I saw that the right turn signal was on, so I made a call. At Dynes and Fisher there's a "Dutch-style" intersection, where the bike lane leaves the street to cross beside the pedestrian crossing. This puts you away from the turning cars and their blind spots, and up ahead of the stop line for motor traffic so they can see you as they turn. 

I decided to use the cycle track. The pickup was behind another car which was signaling a left turn: I figured if I used the cycle track, I'd be on my way through the intersection before the pickup got there and I would be more visible to the driver. 

So this is how that played out. 


I'm going to assume that he didn't see me as he passed me, he didn't see me as I then passed him, and he still didn't see me when he started his turn.

As the light turned green, I kicked my pedal into position and fumbled a little getting rolling. I'm actually glad of that: if I'd been faster off the mark I could have been right in the truck's path. I started across and he was suddenly there in my field of vision, far faster than I'd thought he'd have moved. I hit the brakes and yelled. He turned his head and looked at me blankly. He drove off down Fisher. A couple of other drivers froze for a couple of seconds while I got myself together. Then I kept going.

And here's the tough part, where I have to say, grudgingly, that the vehicular cyclists could take this as an argument for their "side." I generally believe in separated biking space, and I think intersections like this are safer in general. But I also think that in this one case, I probably would have been better off taking the lane behind the truck (who had passed me with a right signal on) and gone through the intersection behind him. In this case, the separated infrastructure actually did do what the vehicular cyclists argue it always does: it gave me a sense of false confidence because it moved me physically further away from the big truck; it took me far enough away from the driver that he could continue not to see me; it kept me out of his awareness until it was nearly too late. 

But, I think I can argue that that was one case out of however many interactions happen at this intersection. And I can also say: that driver didn't see me because, cocooned in his extended cab, higher up than all the other traffic, cushioned on his shocks, he didn't feel he needed to look. He passed me and if he'd been looking for cyclists, he'd have been aware of where I was on the road. He'd have seen me pull up to the crossing over there, at about 2 o'clock from where he was sitting at the red. 

So yeah, VCs - separated infrastructure does have a weak point, where it intersects with motor infrastructure, and it doesn't counteract drivers being checked out and inattentive. I'm still not coming over to the dark side, though. I still think this intersection is better than it was before they put in the cycletracks, and I still blame the driver, for not paying attention and shirking the responsibility that comes with driving an 18-foot-long, 4,500-pound monstrosity.