Hunting the Shmoo

Screencasts and blog posts on workflow, productivity, tools, Mozilla and whatever else tickles my fancy.

Cycling in the City

So here in Toronto another cyclist was killed today. I’m a little bit frustrated with the state of cycling in Toronto in general. On one hand you have people like Mr. Ford who think that cyclists are always to blame and should be run off the road, and on the other you have cyclists who actually do run reds and wear black in the middle of the night giving the rest of us a bad name. I decided I need to write down my thoughts if for no other reason than to calm down. In an ideal world, cyclists would all respect the rules of the road and cars would always be alert for cyclists around them. However this will never happen so it is up to you, the cyclist, to ride cautiously.

You have more to Lose

Many cyclists get in the mindset that because they follow the same rules of the road that cars do, they will receive the same treatment that cars get. For example, the other day I saw a cyclist who was along the side of the road coming up to an intersection. There was a car at a red light turning right. The cyclist started to ride through the intersection assuming the car would wait for him to pass. After all it is the law. However the car didn’t see him and pulled out into the lane, forcing the cyclist to slam on his brakes.

The point I’m trying to make, is that if you hit or get hit by a car, you’re going to lose. And while in a perfect world the above scenario would never happen, the reality is that you are insignificant and invisible to many drivers. With this in mind, I have some tips for riding in the city. I’m not going to touch on the obvious like have lights both in front and back, get a bell, don’t run reds/stop signs, signal etc.

Never Pass a Car turning Right on the Right

Ever. Just don’t do it, you have more to lose than they do. One time a driver turning right was trying to wave me on, but I just sat there until they finally threw up their hands and went. This may seem obvious, but I see it happen all the time. If you don’t want to wait for them to turn, check over your shoulder, signal, merge into traffic and pass them on the left. Even if the car isn’t signalling be wary as they could still unexpectedly turn.

Never “Become a Pedestrian”

When turning left at an intersection never come up the right side of the lane and suddenly turn left, cutting across the cars waiting at the light, and cross at the pedestrian crosswalk (even if the walk sign is on). Cars turning from the other direction don’t expect this and could possibly hit you. There could also be cars in your direction turning right. Either way, what you should do is check over your shoulder, signal, merge into the left hand lane and turn like a car would (and signal like a car would). If you are uncomfortable doing this, get off your bike and walk across the intersection like a pedestrian.

Don’t Ride the Curb

Often when cyclists feel uncomfortable they ride as close to the curb as possible to leave as big of a space for cars to pass as possible. This is actually dangerous. First, if you end up rubbing your tire against the curb, or there is a bump in the road and you swerve into the curb, there is a chance you could fall over and into traffic. Second, it encourages cars to disregard you. Basically they’ll see a big space to pass you and won’t slow down or drive any more cautiously. If you ride a little away from the curb, they’ll hesitate and will proceed more cautiously. Another trick I like to do is to look over my shoulder even when I’m not turning. This will make the cars behind me nervous and they’ll slow down. If you ever feel like cars are passing you too closely for comfort, merge into traffic and take the whole lane. When the street widens again, you can move back.

Don’t get Squeezed at the Light

When going straight and at a red light, I like to position myself about 3/4 of the way to the left edge of the lane. What this does is prevent cars who are also going straight from getting beside you while giving cars turning right enough space to still do so. This way you don’t have cars trying to turn right in front of you as the light changes, and you don’t have cars on your left squeezing you against the curb at the far side of the intersection.

There are countless other ways to bike safely, but just use your common sense, drive with your hands on your brakes and when in doubt always yield. Maybe one day, cars and bikes can co-exist peacefully on the same roads, but until then be smart about cycling.