Category Archives: Real Commuting

Courtesies. Positivities. Mammaries.

My friend, Christina called me out in an FB post yesterday:

I get a lot of unsolicited remarks when I ride my bike. Like, a lot. They range from comments along the lines of “you appear to be a female mammal endowed with the apparatus to suckle an infant” to suggestions such as “that isn’t how one signals a left, you ignoramus.” I’ve been struggling for a while with how to respond to these, but today [carfreepvd] turned me on to a lovely blog with the wonderful recommendation that simply being polite and smiling is the way to roll. Thanks, [carfreepvd]! I’m a lot happier about this now. But if I develop a heart problem in twenty years because of unexpressed anger, it’s your fault, okay?

First off, I am not responsible for the possible ill health effects incurred as a direct or indirect result of reading this blog. Please consult your doctor before beginning any blog-reading regimen. Secondly, I can only attempt to relate to the leers and rude, unsolicited comments that are made to the ladies who bike. Most of the bike blogs I read are written by ladies, and it seems to be a topic that comes up every once in a while. Christina was referencing this post on Let’s Go Ride a Bike, and I think that Lovely Bicycle! covered the topic well. Lovely Bike has been biking in Vienna recently, where she feels that she is the recipient of less leering than when she bikes in Boston. My experiences with the European leer are a little different.

I often walk or bike in the company of an exceptionally hot lady and I have noticed that she gets a few stares while she’s on the bike. But nowhere did I see more men stare at Spouse than on the sidewalks of Paris. I attempted to block these Gallic leers using the star-spangled laser beams of my steely-eyed glare. It was futile. The Frenchman enjoys leering, and little can be done to stop him. I can only imagine what would have happened if we had been brave enough to ride the Velib.

I’m glad to hear that Christina is going to try the positivity route. But one does need a little rage relief every once in a while. I recommend yelling at parked cars when you are biking down a traffic-free street (I know those are rare in Christina’s part of the world.) Just yell all of the things you would yell at the Masshole who gave you the helpful tip on proper turn signal procedure. When thinking about the motorists who endanger my life, I prefer the power phrase “ah ya fuckin blind oar ah ya ritahdid!?” Be sure to affect a New England accent of some type – it neutralizes any political correctness issues. Don’t use the adverb “wickid.” It’s considered uncouth.

After experiencing the white-hot, all-purifying fury of righteousness that came from screaming my head off at a driver who honked, passed to close and gestured at me; I felt like an alcoholic who had hit bottom. I’ve admitted that I have a problem, and I’m working to have a more relaxed attitude when motorists are rude to me. Still, I have the occasional relapse.

Friday morning, I was on my regular route, when some dirty hippy on an old Motebecane “shoaled” at the stop light. I said, “Dude, that was totally unnecessary.” But I said it inside my head! Not bad, hey?

I'm the blue line, the hippy is the green line. The thinner, dotted green line represents the hippy's path as he approached the intersection and then executed the shoal manuevre.

We both started up when the light turned green, the hippy and I rolling along at a fairly leisurely pace. He was probably only going 2 MPH slower than I usually go on this stretch of Canal Street.  No big deal, I decided to stay at a respectful distance and occasionally roll my eyes in his general direction. There was no need to get in a commuter race. On this stretch of Canal Street, I often glance behind me to see what the cars are up to, but this time I was distracted by the hippy’s insistance on riding in the door zone. I was riding well outside of the door zone, about 1/3 of the way across the right-hand lane (note that there are 3 lanes on this stretch of Canal.

I wasn't following the hippy as close as this illustration would indicate. It would just take me too long to go back and re-edit the dang thing.

Then it happened. A minivan passed me way to close. I stuck out my hand to see exactly how close and I was easily able to touch the side of the car.

Oh snap, it was ON! I checked my six and put the hammer down, blasting the hippy’s dreadlocks with my pressure wave. After the minivan passed, I noticed that he had South Carolina license plates, but a Boston Celtics window decal. I saw the driver stick his left hand out the window, but he used all 5 fingers. Hmmm, that was a little confusing. I’m used to seeing just one finger extended from a vehicle with a Celtics decal. As I passed the speed limit, I resolved that I was not going to be confrontational, just educational. Perhaps as an out of stater, he’s not aware that he is required by Rhode Island law to pass me at a safe distance (hazily defined, as mentioned in a previous post).

The next light was red! “Ha-HA! I shall catch him and properly educate this scofflaw!” I thought to myself. But no, he blew through that light not noticing the “No turn on red” sign (or the traffic). Perhaps he was afraid of my wrath. His casual disregard for the law was no match for the traffic lights of downtown Providence – I caught up to him a couple blocks later. I practiced my speech in my head, steely eyes at the ready. As I approached, his window was rolled down and he hit me with a pre-emptive strike! A strike of contrition!

“I’m really sorry about that, I know I passed you too close, I realized I was doing it too late, are you okay?”

Whoa! What the -?

“I’m okay, you didn’t hit me or anything, you were just a little close.”

“I’m so sorry. I should know better.”

I broke out in a smile.

“No problem, I appreciate you apologizing. Have a good one.”

“All right, you too.”

The earlier hand gesture had apparently been an “apology wave.”

I turned left and headed to my office. He went on his way.

My faith in humanity, and even motorists, was renewed.

Later in the day, I desperately needed some iced coffee. I headed to the nearest coffee joint for some cool, caffeinated refreshment. Although I will take any excuse to go for a ride of any length, for this trip, I decided walk. This required crossing the street at a well-marked crosswalk.

There’s zebra stripes for the crosswalk, pedestrian crossing signs on both sides of the street, even a “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” sign! Still, in both directions I was nearly run down by cars who refused to stop for me while I was attempting to cross. I wasn’t standing timidly on the curb, I was in the middle of the road. Both of the offenders had Rhode Island tags. My faith in Rhode Island drivers was returned to its normal state.

Honk Report: Washington St. & North Main

A RIPTA Bus driver honked at me today as I was biking home at around 7PM. I’ll get to the play-by-play details in a moment. First, let’s all do a google image search for “RIPTA BUS.”  For me, the second result in the image search was this:

RIPTA Bus

The photo is from a post 2 years ago on the Providence Bicycle Coalition blog. (Their monthly meeting was this past Monday, and I missed it yet again – sorry guys.) Drawing conclusions from google search is an example of some grade-A lazy journalism. But I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger, so… that’s kind of like being a lazy journalist. Anyhow, this image is kind of interesting, in light of today’s “event.”

I work downtown, very close to Kennedy Plaza which is the main bus hub for Rhode Island. I bike near buses every day, in fact, just throwing out a number here, I’d say I’m passed by (or pass) 2-5 buses every day that I’m on my bike. Including weekend rides and such, I must have close to a thousand encounters with buses in a year of cycling in Rhode Island. The vast majority of these encounters are without incident. However, not today.

When you bike the same route every day, you figure out how the lights are timed, and what lanes work the best. As I exit Kennedy Plaza and head east on Washington, I stay in the right hand lane of the two lanes. I ride in the right-hand wheel track of this lane. This way, when I’m stopped at the light, drivers wanting to turn right can pass me on the right and drivers wanting to go straight can pass me on my left. This is what I did on my way home from work tonight.

After crossing Memorial Blvd., Washington becomes 3 lanes wide. I continued straight in the middle lane, as illustrated below.

Like the little bike icon? I should probably make a better one.

I’m in the middle lane of a three lane street. That’s right I’m riding my bike in the middle of the street! Am I crazy? No. Do I have some sort of death wish? No. Am I a rude, arrogant cyclist bent on obstructing traffic by hogging the middle lane? No. (Do I have a persecution complex? Maybe). This is the safest way for me to ride on this block because I’m about to turn left at the next intersection, Washington & North Main. The light at Washington & Main is always red by the time I approach it, so I am not slowing anyone down by riding in the middle of the street. At Washington & N. Main, the left hand lane is left turn only, the middle lane is left or straight and the right lane is straight only. I ride in the middle lane of Washington because it allows me to turn left and then immediately be in the right hand lane in order to allow drivers to pass me again. As illustrated below.

Executing a left turn.

Hmm, what’s that looming behind me? It’s a RIPTA Bus. Today, I waited for the green light, signaled a left turn, and as I went into the intersection, the bus driver honked at me and I could hear him yell out his open window. He started to pass me on the right (um, illegal, right?) and I asked, “What did you say?” He responded, “Get out of the road!”

Ah, “get out of the road.” Few phrases uttered by a passing motorist inspire as much hatred as that one. You, dear reader, do not need to be reminded of the fact that I have the right to be in the road, so I’ll leave out the full list of justifications for it.

I’ve learned from my previous road rage incidents that it’s best to keep my cool. I responded, “I can be in the road.” The bus driver, “You were in the middle of the road!” Me: “I was turning left!” Bus Driver: “You were in my way.” He then continued on, passing me on the right.

Here’s a bad illustration of where the conversation took place (upper right):

Look how close that bus is to my bike!

If you regularly drive a car, it’s likely that you come close to a collision dozens of times a year. However, you are wrapped in a glass and steel cage the design of which has been refined over the years to provide you with a high degree of safety. If someone honks at you and yells, you are protected by soundproofing that diminishes the volume, and a radio that drowns out the noise. On a bike, you’re completely exposed. Let’s just say that getting honked at or almost getting hit while cycling feels a lot more personal.

Cyclists can go on and on about our close calls with stupid motorists who almost kill us. The thing is, we’re pretty much powerless to do anything about it. In an urban setting, we can usually catch up to an offender at the next light. But then what can we do? Ding their fenders with our U-lock? That may appeal to our inner Batman, but it’s just not a good idea. Yell and swear at them? That’s just more aggravation for the cyclist. Politely tell them the errors they made and how it almost cost us a head injury? Some motorists may respond to that, but we’re just as likely to get the finger as we are to get, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was that close.”

There’s one important difference between the car driver who yells at me and a bus driver who harasses me while I’m operating my vehicle in a safe and legal way: the bus driver has a an easily identifiable number printed above his head and several other places on the bus. He also has an employer I can call to complain. Will this get me anywhere? I don’t know. If the complaint actually makes its way to the driver, it will probably just make him hate cyclists more, but who cares, it needs to be done. I’ll give RIPTA a call tomorrow and we’ll see where this goes.

Postscript 1: I was able to catch up to the bus about 1/2 mile down the road (traveling by bus isn’t nearly as fast in an urban environment as traveling by bike). I gave him a happy wave. I used all five fingers.

Postscript 2 (warning, boring legal stuff): Rhode Island cycling law is kind of weird about left turns, check this out from Section 31-19-15: “A person riding a bicycle intending to turn left shall, unless he or she complies with the provisions of § 31-16-2, approach the turn in a position as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. The turn shall be made at a position as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway along which the bicyclist intends to proceed after turning.

(b) If the turn is made at a location where traffic movement is controlled by a police officer or by a traffic-control signal, the bicyclist may not proceed after crossing the intersecting roadway until a signal to proceed is given to traffic moving in the appropriate direction on the roadway along which the bicyclist intends to proceed. At all other locations, after turning and before crossing the roadway he or she is leaving, the bicyclist must yield the right-of-way to all traffic approaching on that roadway.”

I think they mean something like the box turn in this illustration:

From the commuteorlando blog (maybe)

I can see how a novice cyclist may want to do something like this at a big intersection as depicted, but this adds an additional traffic light cycle to you time, plus it just puts you right in front of a line of cars that didn’t expect a bike to roll over and into the front of “their” lane. But it’s the law right? Well, how about that part that says, “…unless he or she complies with the provisions of § 31-16-2…” What does that mean? Here’s what it says with regard to turning from a one-way to a one-way, “…the driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at an intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle, and, after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection, as nearly as practicable, in the left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction upon the roadway being entered.” Well, if I’d followed that, I would have been in the far left lane and then I would have needed to make my way back to the right after executing the turn. If everyone followed that part of the law at an intersection like this, then no one would be able to turn left from the middle lane which is marked “left turn or straight.” The law doesn’t even mention a three lane situation like the one in question.

When I get old, it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to be the guy who writes angry letters to the government. Oh well, I’ll need something to keep me busy.