Turn Signals, Filtering, "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time", et. al.
Wanted to start a thread for all those words of wisdom for voices of experience to share. “Filter rarely”, “don’t trust turn signals” etc. I don’t like waiting to hear awesome advice until it’s posted on a thread about a cyclist recently injured or killed.
When I first started biking, my uncle told me “go on group rides, ask for advice, and listen to their stories”. I’ve since heard people who I try like hell to learn from say “I don’t give advice on group rides, [insert reason: don’t want to be preachy, pedantic, inappropriate, unasked is unappreciated, etc.]” Well, if a ride’s not the place, then surely this is?
So while I won’t pretend to be a veteran or even mildly not-bad cyclist, I’ll share a story that will hopefully help. Please do the same?
Turn signal story: I personally almost got squished this weekend due to my trying to go around a confused motorist signalling a left turn, they changed their minds, gunning it forward (I hope) without looking (otherwise it was an intentional attempt to stay infront/on top of me). They did it twice before finally turning. They were obviously lost. I have adequate brakes and managed to avoid getting squished, but it could have easily gone very wrong very fast. Moral? Like edmonds said over on the other thread: don’t trust turn signals. I normally don’t, that’s probably why I somehow hesitated and didn’t get squished, but now I’ll be extra careful.
Ok, now YOUR turn
Two that come to mind are:
1) Be as visible as possible but ride as if you’re invisible. In other words wear light reflective clothing and use lights in the dark but don’t expect that every motorist will see you. I look for positive feedback that motorists have seen me before moving into a conflict point. Better to use the brakes and scrub speed if there’s any doubt. About once every 2-3 years this level of caution prevents me from tangling with a car.
2) Stay out of the door zone when riding to the left of parallel parked cars. Most motorists are careful when opening their doors but there are a few who just fling the door open without checking. I’d get nailed at least once a year if I rode in the door zone. Even if you have to take the whole lane to stay out of the door zone this is safer than risking being doored.
As cyclists we must truly ride defensively since we’re the most vulnerable.
I’ve been experimenting with using the left tip of my handlebars as a marker for sharing/taking the lane.
If there’s a door zone or if it seems smartest to “take the lane,” I position the left tip of my handlebars in the middle of the lane.
In my mind this keeps me visible & out of the door zone while also representing my willingness to be passed when there is enough clearance in the lane to my left. I’m close enough to the middle where a car can’t just squeak by without crossing the lane line.
I don’t have any stats to back the safety of this, but it has helped my confidence a lot to have a plan for how to take the lane and hopefully minimize the perception that I’m not willing to “share the road” with cars.
No one in Pittsburgh uses a turn signal. I very rarely filter. Even when I am riding with the flow of traffic, I nearly get turned into several times a week. I was at morewood and bayard today. Lady in a car was stopped at the red light in front of me. She appeared to be going straight, since she did not hve on her turn signal. I was going to go up beside her and make a right on red, but good thing I didnt. The light changed green and the lady put her turn signal on as she was turning right.
I find it not uncommon for numerous drivers to neglect signaling until they are actively turning. I have heard this referred to as not giving information to the enemy.
I do filter at stoplights, but usually only up to the rear of the front car, as one never knows what their intent is. I prefer to filter on the left in 2 lane traffic, and try to avoid doing it on the right in any event.
For what it’s worth my rationalization is that if there were 50 bicycles single file on the right side of the lane waiting until the light turned red, every single car on the road would filter to the front.
This is going to sound ridiculously elementary, but I see lots of people not doing it – Head check – swivel your head around and check what’s behind you. If you are uncomfortable turning around while moving, practice on quiet streets. Use your ears in conjuction with this, hear something, take a quick look to judge speed and distance, and quickly sweep back to the front. Keep your eyes sweeping around constantly in as wide a field as possible, don’t lock onto anything, because something will be coming from somewhere else.
Re: Head check. Urban Velo had some advice in a passed issue that has been helpful for me. Perhaps Brad knows what I am talking about and can post a link.
My advice, Don’t pass a bus on the right.
You can potentially hit a passenger get on or off, or the bus can squeeze you into the curb/parked cars when pulling over to pick up passengers.
Yeah I find myself turning my head left to look for a car’s signal if i hear one coming up beside me as we pass through an intersection.
pseudacris – I LOVE the left handlebar / middle of the lane thing. I have been thinking about that all evening, as I have this little tingly feeling when I pass cars in traffic that I’m in the door zone, and how to balance that. Your idea will hopefully both eliminate that tingly dread AND keep me safer, as that’s farther left than I usually travel in those situations.
re: swivel head – +10 if you wear glasses or switch between glasses and contacts. When I have contacts in (peripheral vision is clear) vs. glasses (zero peripheral vision)… I tend to always act like I have no peripheral vision unless I’m startled (and have contacts in). As a result, I swivel a lot farther than I need to… I don’t know if this is good or bad. I don’t like habits that are not intentional, so I think I’ll just keep an eye on it for now. Anybody else notice glasses/contacts differences?
Here’s my 2cents- Stay out of the gutter.
I see a lot of newer cyclist ride down the street doing a pretty good job of staying out of the door zone, but as soon as there is a break in the parked cars they veer too far over along toward the curb. It’s ok to move to the right a little, but don’t move over so far that you are no longer in the drivers sight line behind you.
Here’s the scenario: there is a steady line of traffic behind you as you approach a break in the parked cars. Being a nice cyclist you move over as far as you can to let the cars behind you pass. So maybe three or four cars pass you as you pedal forward toward the next set of parked cars. As you pedal forward you now have to merge left back into the travel lane in order to avoid the parked cars – but the driver in the fifth car back has no idea that there is a cyclist up ahead since all of the cars in front of her have just driven straight through without moving to the left at all. To the fifth driver it looks like a cyclist coming out of a driveway to them.
So similar to pseudacris, I try to line my bike up so that I’m riding where the left side of the parked car would be if there were a parked car there. This gives the drivers behind me plenty of space to pass, but keeps me in their line of site.
I see a lot of newer cyclist ride down the street doing a pretty good job of staying out of the door zone, but as soon as there is a break in the parked cars…
Ugh! You may as well be talking about me.
I noticed on Sunday’s ride that even when I was out in rural areas where taking the lane was the best/only option, I had to fight my instincts to even stay left of the white line…. grrrr!
I know better, I really do… at least intellectually. But somehow I keep ending up too far to the right.
Too many horror stories from my Mom and the nuns about bad cyclists coming to terrible ends when I was young, I guess.
I once had a Tibetan monk say to me: ‘American’s think practice makes perfect. No, no no. *Perfect* practice makes perfect.’
Guess I need to work on that perfect part…
Making eye contact is always a good idea. It’s not a guarantee that they won’t run you over anyway, but it’s a start.
Due to tinted windows, cell phones, loud radios, etc. this isn’t always possible but good practice when you can do it.
When in doubt, I steer toward the rear of the car. If someone cuts me off or veers in front of me (Pittsburgh Left) I try to avoid the front end. I attempt to occupy the space that the car has just previously occupied. I figure it is less likely the car will re-occupy the space it has just left.
I used to get too far to the right to let others pass, but I ended up in too many scary situations when I needed to get back in the lane. Now I just stay as far right as the lane allows, and drivers can pass me when there’s an opening. I feel safer, they can see what I’m doing, and as far as I can tell it’s the right thing to do. The shoulder/gutter can be a dangerous place for a bike anyway with all the broken glass, trash and what-not.
weaving in and out of parked cars drives me nuts. If I find myself pulling over to let cars pass, I’ll drift towards the parked car and wait for a gap in traffic to move back left into the moving lane. I figure it’s just like I’m driving – gotta yield to what’s moving, whether they see me or not.
“perfect practice makes perfect”… all my music teachers said the same thing – FIRST: get it right. THEN: repeat until you can’t do it wrong. (then repeat some more for good measure). If you practice mistakes, you’ll just get really good at making them.
#1 rule, stay out of the door zone. Those gaps in parked cars business drives me crazy.
I try to make eye contact as much as possible. Also try to look behind when you hear a car coming, to let them know you know they’re there.
This one from a driving perspective. Don’t make me pass you more than once in a short distance, that’s just rude.
FWIW, another tip from motorcycle class is not to rely on “eye contact”. There are too many false positives where the other person doesn’t actually see you.
salty – like when you’re walking down the hallway, and you see someone waving at you, and you sort of recognize them, so you do a little wave, and they run up to you, then past you to the person right behind you? yeah. Sometimes even the person notices “random mistaken greeting” and gives the “no, not you” look, but that’s rare, usually it’s just unobserved mortification (why isn’t that less embarassing?).
THAT’s why don’t trust eye contact. Drivers looking THROUGH you and gesturing to the driver behind you can look the same as a driver looking AT you and gesturing to you.
I try to work in the “who, me?” look over the shoulder when drivers wave me on just to make sure the car behind me isn’t waving them into my path, but I often forget.
On the one hand, we have to communicate with other travelers on the road. On the other hand we can’t trust their signals. Is there even a fine line, or is it situational based blur? Have people notice patterns (other than cell phones)?
If I had to come up with a unifying theory, I would say, cyclists need to learn to absorb as much information as possible from the environment, and constantly mentally assemble it into a bubble of awareness that you are moving through. You can’t rely on any individual piece of information, a turn signal, a wave, the sound of a car coming up from behind, seeing the side of a head in a car instead of the face, a car with an out-of-state plate, but you have to assemble pieces into a scenario of possibilities.
Awesome classic story from auto racing, but I’ll tell it anyway: Juan Manuel Fangio, greatest driver in history, 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, “braking as he exited a tunnel instead of maintaining speed for an upcoming straightaway, Fangio, unlike many other drivers, avoided a serious accident that had occurred around the next corner. Why had he braked? After much thought, Fangio figured out what had happened. Spectators invariably watched the race cars roar out of the tunnel, alerted by the echoing thunder of their engines. On the second lap, however, they were looking the other way, watching the accident scene. Fangio had fleetingly observed a change in the color of the area of the stands in his peripheral vision. A normally light section from people’s faces had become dark from the hair on the back of their heads. Fangio, concentrating on his driving, only noticed this change at a below-consciousness level…but nonetheless, automatically braked. Intuition helped him avoid the accident and win the race.”
Long post, sorry, but I love that story. The point, be aware, use all available information to your advantage.
One of the most basic things that I look for are cars coming into an intersection 90 degrees from your direction. If they seem to be racing up to the stop sign and not on a trajectory to make a stop then I brake to prevent crossing into the conflict point. Not only do some drivers roll through the STOP but many of these hurried motorists don’t allow enough time to check for oncoming traffic and can easily miss seeing a cyclist.
Sometimes I see this startled “Whoah! Where did you come from?” look on their face just before they would have gunned through the intersection. It must be surprising to find a cyclist just a few feet from your front bumper when they thought the road was clear. Hopefully it becomes a learning opportunity.
@edmonds59 — +1 on your unified theory.
There are almost no hard, fast rules that we never break, other than perhaps staying alive so we can still be with our loved ones and be able to ride another day. There is only a framework of analysis that we build up out of exeprience. We then use that framework to read/analyze/interpret the stream of information that we sense from moment to moment as we ride.
I suppose you could look at it in terms of chaos theroy as a chaotic structure. On a larger scale there is the overall structure or framework of our experience. Within that framework on a smaller scale all the variables of moment to moment possibilities combine into a real life situation for us to ride in and understand.
Please don’t think I am dissing on anyone’s individual practical suggestions you put up here. I’m not. You all have pointed out some ideas I hadn’t thought about but want to consider. Edmonds and I just decided to move from specifics to the general. I guess I’m kind of a sucker for grand unified theories, too.
If you have a car, drive your bike route. That way you’ll know what the drivers see, when various lights turn, etc. I know — drivers are not always attentive and don’t always share the road. At the same time, Pittsburgh is full of crazy turns and poor sight lines. It’s useful to see your route from another perspective. There may be a point where you can improve your visibility.
Example: A few months ago I was driving on Wilkins in Squirrel Hill (near Beeler, I think). I had a green light, but I wasn’t going very fast. A cyclist was coming toward me from the opposite direction. Suddenly, he took a sharp left and cut across the road right in front of my car. I bet the car near him (heading in his direction) had a red light, and he assumed I did, too.
Just this morning I was passing cars on the right on Liberty when suddenly a dude driving a caddie lurched forward into a parking spot while I was beginning to pass him. He did use his turn signal at the last second and I have no idea if he saw me or not. Be careful!
First, let me say (as I have before) I agree with edmonds 100% (and Mary, BTW). But I think it creates an interesting tension as far as advocacy goes: we want to convince people that cycling is a safe and acceptable method of transportation, but at the same, we know that in many situations, you need to have the awareness and reaction time of a race car driver. Now, it can be said that as a driver, you should have the same awareness and reactions, but obviously that isn’t the case for everyone behind the wheel.
I’m not suggesting we don’t tell people cycling is safe, or that they shouldn’t do it until they have nerves of steel–I’m just pointing out an interesting dichotomy.
Mary – I like the “drive your route” idea. Usually, when I drive a route, I’m trying to figure out what it would be like to bike it – what are the hills like, what are the sight lines, where would I stop on hills to ahem enjoy the scenery, whether the cars are scary or not. I never drive it trying to figure out what a driver would see if I were in front of them (well, maybe the sight lines check counts, but not intentionally).
cdavey – it’s the framework that creates the “unified theory” that most interests me – there will undoubtedly be exceptions to every rule, but to find them one has to know the rules.
It’s like as a kid, we’re told always hold hands crossing the road, look LRL, only cross at intersections. As adults, unless you’re in Japan, all those rules get broken all the time because we’ve learned what’s safe and how to break them safely or for safety (jaywalk in Japan and you WILL feel more awkward than an IT geek in a fashion show).
So I’m looking for descriptions of experienced cyclists’ framework, and the stories behind them, if any. And yinz are awesomely providing, thank you
(edmonds – that race car/tunnel story is awesome)
Thx, ej, was concerned that I may have been being overly bloviatory.
like edmonds and a few others have suggested, there is a whole bevy of “rules” that we follow that we don’t even know about, if we’ve been doing it long enough.
example 1: i got left-crossed about 5 years ago, and broadsided a van at about 15-20 mph. the bike was ok, and i only separated my shoulder, but i decided i never wanted that to happen again. one aspect i found in my analysis was that i didn’t know what traffic behind me or behind the van was like, so i didn’t feel safe swerving to avoid the crash (better the devil you know). since then, i feel like i’ve been able to predict with about 70% accuracy when a car was going to turn in front of me. and i made sure that 30% of the time i was wrong was when i was ready for them to go and they didn’t. i have no idea what rules i use to assess this, but i think it’s mostly just constant attention and constant appraisal of the environment. maybe the wheels turn just a little bit, or the driver is looking in that direction already, i don’t know, but it works whatever it is.
example b: it recently occurred to me that i rarely look at a car before it passes me, while i hear it coming up. but as soon as it goes by, i turn and look behind me. it seemed strange that i should unconsciously care more about that when i had no reason to believe it was dangerous, yet i knew the car was right there and never looked. then i figured out it’s because i can’t hear the cars behind the one that’s passing, so i need to actually see if there are any more.
things like the one above happen all the time. little things that i do without thinking and only figure out why after i notice them.
so, to sum up, my best advice is: be careful, be vigilant, be confident, and get out there and ride! ride! ride!
hmm… HV, so “watch the wheels, driver’s head, and driver’s hands – not just the car”. and the listening/looking thing (can’t figure out how to sum up better than you did).
Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! All your knowledge are belong to me!!! er.. the board. whatever.
In 10,000 crossings of the SUNY Geneseo campus on the unicycle in all types of weather, not once did I touch anyone. Only VERY rarely did I have close calls. I attribute this to knowing how to read feet. Looking at feet, I knew which direction someone was headed, whether I was approaching from front or rear.
Tying this to what HV said a couple of posts ago, I do this so automatically, I don’t even think about it. I’m sure this translates in some way to navigating on two wheels at twice to four times unicycle speed, but I cannot articulate how.
@edmonds59 – I didn’t think you were bloviating at all. Like ejwme, I thought it was a really good example of what we are talking about in this thread. However, I am probably going to be guilty of bloviating with this post. It’s just that you folks make me think about all sorts of things that I otherwise wouldn’t think about.
@ejwme – “It’s like as a kid, we’re told always hold hands crossing the road, look LRL, only cross at intersections. As adults, unless you’re in Japan, all those rules get broken all the time because we’ve learned what’s safe and how to break them safely or for safety … “
I might have misunderstood what you were looking for in reference to an overall structure. But I gave it some thought and came up with this.
I think it starts with the survival instinct I mentioned in my earlier post. When we ride, we are doing something that involves a certain amount of risk. Wherever we are riding, we do want to survive the ride to continue to be among our friends and family and be able to ride another day.
But an issue comes up right away. We humans are the ones who create the chaos in the structure. This is because:
A. Our ability to act allows us to bring into being situations and circumstances that didn’t exist before. Your riding your bike down 5th Ave in the same place at the same time as I am driving there so we have to interact with each other is an example.
B. Our limited ability to perceive and understand the consequences of our actions – think unintended consequences. “I never meant for this to happen…”
C. Our ability for any two of us to look at the same thing and come up with two totally different interpretations of what it means.
Recognizing that the world works better for us when it has some predictability, our solution has been to invent agreed-upon general rules of conduct — etiquette, rule of law, rules of the road.
Up to this point, this is all common sense that we never have to think about. But now we’re getting far enough down inside the structure that we have to do something consciously. We have to learn those particular general rules of conduct — in this case rules of the road.
Then we have to drill down one step further in this structure and learn how to apply these general rules to each one of our specific individual experiences. That’s when we each learn what rules work or don’t work for us, how and when to break them safely, and the individual solutions we work out for us that we are posting on this thread.
End of bloviation.
One thing I do a lot is look at other vehicles’ wheels. If a parked car has its wheels parallel to the curb, it’s not going to lurch out into your path. If they’re angled out into a travel lane… watch out. Same for buses and cars passing on the left. I once avoided a right hook by seeing the car’s front wheels slow down somewhat and turn to the right.
Turn signals often lie. Wheel angles rarely do.
As regards filtering, I often move forward through traffic stopped at a red light, usually at no more than a walking pace, and generally ready to stop if a door swings open. If there’s no space big enough to squeeze through while riding, sometimes I put a foot down to make sure I don’t bump up against anything, or sometimes I’ll just wait in line. I often also observe the advice (above) about waiting behind the first car (not in front of it).
It might not be so useful on other routes, but I’ve memorized some traffic light patterns of intersections I’m at frequently. I know there’s a protected left turn on Ellsworth outbound at Negley, so given two otherwise equal routes, I’ll usually take Negley rather than Aiken. A lot of traffic lights also work on a 32/22 second timer, with the more heavily-trafficked street getting the longer green light. Ellsworth Avenue through Morewood Avenue, for instance, gets 22 seconds usually, and then Morewood is green for 32 seconds. (These are at my mental counting pace; calibrate to fit your own internal metronome.) Finally, when there’s an all-walk phase or another irregular traffic pattern, those are good to know. Fifth at Craig (walk, Craig, Fifth [reversed from a few months back]), Forbes at Craig (walk, Craig, Forbes), Forbes at Morewood. Looking at the signal for cross traffic, as well as the pedestrian lights (flashing hand equals power up or wait at the red light) is often useful.
I try to act pretty assertively, and feel like I’m taken seriously on the road, with a minimum of hassle from motorists. Ride like you know you belong there.
When I’m with a friend, especially one who’s not as aggressive a rider as I am, I will tell him or her that if there’s ever a conflict between following me and doing something that feels unsafe (making a left turn across traffic, making a sharp turn, whatever), it’s far better to lose track of me (or make a wrong turn and have to double back, etc.) rather than do something unsafe, making them nervous (which may provoke a real crash rather than just a stressful traffic situation).
Here’s a question for the hive-mind’s wisdom. If I’m at an intersection, and signaled to turn (left or right, doesn’t matter) and I then change my mind (remembering, perhaps, a better routing or additional errand), is there a way to “cancel” a hand signal? Ordinarily I point for a few seconds and then put my hand down or on the handlebars, so merely stopping the turn signal is at least ambiguous as to continuing without turning. I guess to turn the other way, signal to the other side, but what about replacing a turn with a straight through? I have sometimes gestured and pointed ahead, but that seems un-standardized. I could just think my routes through better, but especially if I’m just on a ride to ride with no destination, it’s easy to think “hey, I want to go down that way instead.”
A few years ago, I got my bike off an outbound bus at Forbes and Murray, and hit the Walk button. When I saw the light on Murray turn red, with all cars stopped, I knew that a four-way walk was next, so I started riding diagonally across the intersection onto Murray.
What I didn’t know was that the Walk button I pushed had broken in the last day or so, and traffic on Forbes got a green light at the same time as I started across. A motorist’s quick reflexes saved me from a nasty accident.
One lesson I got is that while memorizing traffic light patterns is useful, don’t let your safety depend on that knowledge. Just because you know how it worked yesterday, that doesn’t mean it’ll work that way today.
For correcting a wrong signal, I’ve used slapping the side of my helmet (“doh!”), then pointing ahead with my right hand. But maybe any unintelligible signal is enough to convey “confused signaling, be careful around this guy”.
On that last one, if stopped at a light with someone behind me, I will also drag the bicycle a few inches left or right, whichever direction I’ve newly chosen to go, and re-signal.
I usually hold my hand in any direction I’m signalling, through the majority of the turn (unless it’s uphill, still haven’t mastered the turning hill start one handed).
When I change my mind, it’s a PITA but I typically complete the direction I’d indicated then pull a U or get out of traffic to correct on foot. Usually if I screw up a turn I 1) don’t catch it in time, 2) am so confused a pause to reorient is necessary or 3) am just meandering and thus not in a hurry at all (very often all three). Thus avoiding the whole re-signaling issue altogether. I tend to do the same in a car while driving, though.
I use the crosswalk cycle at Edgewood Ave and Maple and yesterday when I turned up Maple an Edgewood police officer was in his car at the light. He didn’t mind or notice.
Thing I learned the hard way: While filtering up to a light with traffic completely stopped on my left I managed to get doored when a vehicle in the traffic lane decided to unload a passenger.
Fortunately I wasn’t going very fast (probably <5 MPH due to large number of cars around even though they were stopped). That doesn’t help much though when an SUV opens their door directly into your thigh.
So now I filter less often and only with a WIDE berth. And during my morning commute I actively assume 90% of drivers haven’t had enough coffee and the other 10% are actively trying to kill me. That may be unfair and not quite true, but it does wonders for my alertness.
i meant to say something about filtering. when i first started out (e.g. the first few years of commuting to work on bike), i used to do it all the time. granted, my commute was pretty much straight up and down liberty/aiken, and it may have made some sense. and i figured i wasn’t really slowing anyone down much, but i could potentially be saving myself some time (i.e. the time it takes to get to the front from where i was stopped).
i learned quickly, as i’m sure most do, that filtering just isn’t safe if cars are moving. i would go up the right side, and if a car could move enough to pull out in front of me, i assumed it would and waited to pass, unless other circumstances i can’t enumerate made it obvious to me that it was safe.
now, though, i only do it very rarely. it just sort of evolved that way. i guess the two main reasons are a) i wish to assert myself as part of traffic, and there are few things that do that quite as convincingly to automobile traffic as being a bike waiting in line at a light, and ii) if i’m not going to gain significant time, i’d rather not force cars to pass me that already did or otherwise didn’t have to.
now, there are exceptions, of course. i often find myself pushing to the front if i’m heading outbound on ellsworth and turning left on negley, and traffic is backed way up, or if it will take me several light cycles to get through an intersection. but like others, i started thinking about it as a motorist, and i knew which behavior i strongly preferred.
what has the experience of others who’ve been at it a long time been?
(jeez! sorry for my verbosity!)
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