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:
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.
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.
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):
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:
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.