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Motorists please be considerate to the cyclist

March 16, 2011

One of the things you have to accept when you live in a town or city is that the roads are very rarely anything but busy during daylight hours, especially the main roads.

This is abundantly clear each morning and evening as I cycle to and from my local train station. Along the way I have to navigate 2 sets of traffic lights, a busy mini roundabout and a right turn across a main road. It’s the later that is the largest cause of frustration with fellow road users.

I see many types of road user in the short distance that I cycle. Mostly they are nothing to worry about; the ones that do cause concern are extremely rare, but it only takes one incident to utterly wreck a persons life and several close calls over the years is several close calls too many.

Selfish motorists.

My gripe is that every single one of the close calls has been down to a motorist not paying due attention to conditions on a town road, or simply being too selfish to give space to the exposed cyclist. The result of the latter is that on some of those occasions the action by the motorist has been deliberate, at no risk to themselves, but chuffing scary for me.

Overtaking me when I am clearly indicating my intention to turn right into a side road is the favourite. The speed differential between a slowing cyclist and an accelerating car is massive.

Thanks to the space makers

I must emphasise that, by far, the vast majority of road users I encounter do not give any cause for concern and some even go out of their way to create space. Drivers of large vehicles such as trucks and busses are especially good at this. I imagine this is due to the extra driver training they have to go through, and it shows in their actions on the roads.

However, this post is not about thanking the good drivers. Though maybe one of those should follow at some point.

There’s a time and a place.

Having been a car owner for many years and been an enthusiastic hot hatch driver in my younger years; I am fully aware that driving can get tedious and boring when having to obey seemingly restrictive rules all the time. I certainly agree that there are places where speed limits are disproportionally low. The key thing is, town roads are not those places; children walk to school along those roads, commuter’s cycle to the train station or work along those roads. Parents walk their children to the park along those roads.

If a motorist wants to ‘press on’ on an out of town road I am more than happy for them to do so. Town roads are a very different matter and there are far more different types of road user to consider and this includes those using the pavements.

All road users are important

Its not uncommon to hear about motorists getting upset over cyclists being on the road. There seems to be a feeling among some motorists that bicycles do not belong on the roads. While I have heard about motorist taking this feeling to the extreme, I have not had the misfortune of having a motorist shout at me the way I have heard some verbally abuse cyclists.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a motorist takes such a backwards attitude. The roads are there for all to use and town roads should be especially friendly towards cyclists. I don’t mean cycle lanes on all roads, that’s just not practical, the roads are there for all to share and all who use them should behave accordingly. They are not the preserve of the motorist majority.

Be aware of your fellow road users.

It may seem obvious, but some motorists appear to not have any observation skills at all and trundle along in their own world oblivious to what’s going on around them. These rank top of the dangerous, alongside the selfish ones who wilfully discount the needs of other motorists in preference for their own gains.

Its bad enough when one of the above causes an accident with another motorist. Its far worse when the casualty is on two wheels.

Paying extra attention when driving in towns is essential and speed should be low enough that anything event can be responded to safely. The nature of town roads is that there is a greater variety of road user and therefore a greater variety of potential hazards and incidents.

Common dangers motorists pose to cyclists include:

  • Not giving enough space when passing.
  • Cutting across in front of cyclists when turning.
  • Overtaking a cyclist who is indicating an intention to turn right.
  • Passing a cyclist when there are oncoming cars / parked cars, see also not giving enough space.
  • Moving into the cyclists’ space when creating space for other road users.
  • Crossing a cycle lane without checking for on-coming cyclists.
  • Not leaving space for cyclists when stopped at junctions / traffic lights
  • Not indicating.

Suggestions for motorists.

I’m not suggesting for a second that cyclists are perfect, I see enough bad cycling to know they are far from that. My plea here is for motorists to be aware of the cyclist and to consider them as they would other road users. Cyclists are not a slow moving chicane that should be treated with scorn.

So for the drivers who need reminding, here is my lists of suggestions to bear in mind when encountering cyclists on the road.

Allow for The Wobble

Cyclists wobble, it’s the nature of being on two wheels at low speed. Hang back and give them space that allows for this natural deviation from a straight line. If you follow a cyclist too closely you will make them nervous and only increase the likelihood of a wobble.

Especially be aware of when a wobble may happen. If they are indication a change of direction, then they will only have one hand on the handle bars, so expect a wobble. If they are looking over their shoulder at traffic conditions behind, expect a wobble.

If there are potholes in the road ahead, or manhole covers and any other form surface change or obstruction they will likely want to avoid it. Not exactly a wobble, more an intentional swerve, but you should still be aware that it could happen and watch for it. Its about looking for indicators that the cyclist may deviate from the straight ahead and not being taken by surprise.

Overtake as if they were a car

It may be tempting to zoom right past a cyclist and carry on your way, this is very disconcerting for a cyclist. Imagine the its you in the saddle and car passes you with just two feet of clear air at twice, or even three, times your speed. The surprise can be enough to cause a wobble or fall, the air blast can do the same in extreme situations.

Before passing a cyclist there are several points to consider:

  • Is there anything ahead that will cause a wobble as you pass? See above.
  • Are there parked cars on either side of the road?
  • Is there an approaching car that you also need to consider?
  • How about an approaching cyclist?

When passing a cyclist, you really need to be on the other side of the road, as though you are overtaking another car. This gives the cyclist plenty of room to avoid any obstacles without fear of colliding with you.

If there is anything coming the other way, be it car or cyclist, then wait before overtaking. The number of times I have had cars pass me, while I am passing parked cars and a car is coming the other way is far too high, its only sheer selfish laziness that stops a driver from lifting their foot and slowing down a little to make life safer for someone else. When the extra traffic is gone, then its safe to overtake.

Be aware of cyclist heavy roads

Roads to stations and parks are the most likely ones to have more cyclists on, station roads at key commuter times and park ones at weekends. Being aware of these roads and when they will likely have cyclists on them is the first step in watching for cyclists and avoiding putting them in unnecessary danger.

Is there a cycle lane?

Again, being aware of the likelihood of there being cyclists is the first step in avoiding potential problems. The presence of a cycle lane probably increases the chances of you encountering a cyclist.

So consider the conditions of the cycle lane;

  • Is the cycle lane separate from the road?
  • Is the cycle lane a painted section on the same road surface as yours?
  • Does the cycle lane end shortly, forcing any cyclists into the same lane as you?
  • What is the condition of the lane? Are there any obstacles or surface features that could cause a problem for the cyclist or require the cyclist to leave the lane? Where would they go?
  • Is there any obstacle in your lane that could cause you or any other motorist to venture into the cycle lane? What can you do to avoid that?
  • Will you have to make a turn that means crossing the cycle lane?

Consider the weather

Not obvious when sat in the warmth of your car, but the weather has a huge impact on the stability of the cyclist and how they respond to even the smallest of obstacles. Warm sunny days are generally not a problem, but as soon as you introduce anything changes that, cyclists behave more erratically.

Low light: Cycling in the poor morning and evening light (or even at night) makes it much harder to see the bumps and undulations in the road that cyclists prefer to avoid. Normal clothes can suddenly make it harder to see a cyclist, even at dusk and twilight. Combine the two and you don’t need much imagination. Reduce the light and the cyclist has to rely on their lights to be seen and the street lights to see the road ahead. You’d be amazed at the number of drivers who apparently don’t spot a cyclists lights.

Rain: Even in light drizzle a cyclist job become much harder. The first thing to be aware of is that roads are dirty and greasy. It doesn’t seem so from a heavy car with wide tyres, but get on a bicycle and you very quickly realise how little moisture is required to reduce grip very significantly. Wet roads mean a cyclist will be far more likely to avoid a drain cover and any undulations in the road. Cyclists will more than likely want to be further away from the curb in wet conditions, because all the crud and grease flows away from the middle of the road and accumulates at the edges. Cycling close to the curb in those conditions is deeply unpleasant. Take pity on them and let them have the extra space.

Heavier rain just makes it all even worse, now you have flowing water causing spray from everything that moves. Rain running down the face reduces visibility and its also probably uncomfortably cold. Don’t make it worse for them.

Also consider that slowing down in the wet is much trickier. You’ll not notice anything in your safe and heavy car, but a cyclist in the wet requires a much longer slowing down period, but because the water reduces the brakes efficiency and because they don’t want to slow down too fast in case they upset their own balance. Cornering is also adversely affected; leaning into a corner is not viable anymore in case the tyres slip on the slippery greasy road surface so cyclists now have to slow down lots for all corners, even the ones they’d normally take at full speed in the dry.

Consider the season

Even if it’s a fine day, the time of year can be a problem. Autumn means falling leaves, and mulched leaves on the road are also a slippery danger for cyclists.

Winter brings frosty mornings so a fine sunny day could still mean slippery roads all day long, especially where there is shade.

Does the cyclist have room?

Maybe the cyclist will be passing you. On busy town roads its not unusual for a cyclist to make quicker progress that a motorist. When you are stopped, is there room for a cyclist to get past or around you without making themselves an obstacle? If you are at the front of the queue at the lights, its possible that a cyclist will come up alongside you and be away before you are. Let them go, there is no need to jealously defend your road space.

If there is some form of traffic jam or gridlock at a junction that cyclists also use, leave a gap so that they can safely negotiate their way around. Blocking it up so tight that even a cyclist can’t get through only makes the whole situation worse. Let them through because then they’ll not be in your way or anyone else’s when the traffic moves again. Everyone gains.

Summary

This has been far longer than I expected, so I’ll quickly summarise.

Consider the needs of cyclists (and other types of road user) and drive according to those needs. That makes their life easier and reduces everyone’s stress levels, including yours. Driving considerately and making good observations makes you a better driver and the roads safer for those around you.

All roads users are of equal importance so there is no need or justification in getting irate over the existence of another type of road user. Not every road user is perfect; by being considerate you reduce the opportunities for yourself and others to make mistakes because allowances have been made and accounted for.

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From → comment, Motoring

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