Observations from a bike commuter

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I am relatively new to cycling. I’ve had my old, heavy steel framed bike for a little over a year and it has definitely had a positive impact on my life. Daily commutes to and from work are the main mile earners for my bike, but I do occasionally go on longer trips to Sausalito and Tiburon.

I’m a safe biker and a defensive biker. I understand that cars are steel boxes of pain and death. I stop at stop signs if there are cars stopped or approaching. I stop at ALL red lights and wait*. I wear a helmet. I use the proper hand signals for turning especially if there is traffic.

On average, I am almost hit by a car at least twice a day. I’ve had friends actually hit. I’ve been bumped into. I’ve almost taken out someone’s windshield. I’m convinced that drivers here feel that after they pass the driving test that certain laws don’t apply to them any longer.

The biggest issue to me?

Turn signals.

I can’t stress this enough. USE YOUR TURN SIGNALS. They are there for a reason. You have to use them when you learn to drive. You live in a city. There are 0 reasons why you shouldn’t use them. I know, it is very hard to comprehend, but no one is a mind reader here. Cyclists. Pedestrians. Other drivers. We don’t know that you’re turning left unless you tell us. We don’t know that you’re going to try and parallel park unless you tell us. How do you let us know? You use a turn signal. These following rules for using a turn signal are taken from the California Driver Handbook:

  • During the last 100 feet before reaching the turning point (left or right turn). Caution!—Even though you signal, do not automatically assume that the space you want to occupy is clear.

  • Before every lane change. Check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, and check your blind spot before changing lanes.

  • At least five seconds before you change lanes on a freeway.

  • Before pulling next to the curb or away from the curb.

  • When you change directions.

  • Even when you do not see other vehicles. A vehicle you do not see may suddenly appear and hit you.

I try to be a good cyclist. I’ll go on the right side of a car if its turning left. I’ll go on the left side of a car if its turning right. If it’s going straight, I might be on either side of you depending on where the bike lane is or if I’m turning left. If I’m turning left, I’ll let you know that I’m turning left to by using my left turn hand signal. Trust me, its more dangerous for me to give a turn signal than it is for you, you don’t have to take your hand off the wheel.

I’ve almost been hit by drivers that I THINK are going straight, but actually turn right into me. And then they blame me. It’s not my fault that I didn’t read your mind and know which direction you are turning. No one can. The other day I was biking on the right side of the road along the slow lane on Octavia. This women drives up next to me and then proceeds to kind of smoosh me between cars. Apparently she was trying to park or pull over or something. She didn’t see me. She decided that wasn’t where she wanted to pull over, so she pulled up a little farther ahead. And then again, decides to start pulling over to the side. I had no idea what she was doing. She then almost cuts me off AND smashes me between her and parked cars while I’m unable to do anything and almost flip over the front of her car. When I finally am able to separate myself from the situation and bike on the other side of her car, she doesn’t even notice me. She is on her phone.

Just 15 minutes prior to that, I’m almost hit by a truck that goes through a stop sign.

That brings me to the second biggest issue. Stop signs.

From the handbook:

An eight-sided red STOP sign means you must make a full “STOP” whenever you see this sign. Stop at the white limit line (a wide white line painted on the street) or before entering the crosswalk. If a limit line or crosswalk is not painted on the street, stop before entering the intersection. Check traffic in all directions before proceeding.

This wasn’t the first time I had almost been hit by a car that rolled through a stop sign. Earlier that week, I had almost been hit by a double decker tour bus and then a sports car. The tour bus at least made a show to slow down. The sports car? No, he just bolted through the stop sign almost hitting both me and the other driver taking their turn. He smiled at both of us. These instances weren’t at night, either. They were in mid-day. The truck was the last to arrive at the stop sign on the morning commute. He almost hit 3 bikers and another car. He honked at us.

It’s sad when you hear about fatal accidents involving bikers and drivers. Drivers blame the bikers, bikers blame the drivers.

Who is the real problem? Both. It hasn’t just been drivers that I see break laws or drive recklessly. Bikers do the same. Red lights DO apply to you. Stop signs DO apply to you. Turn signals DO apply to you.

There can be more to this rant, but for now, I’m just going to leave these here. 

The bottom line is really that drivers should use turn signals and actually stop at stop signs. Bikers? Do the same. It could save a life.

*Cyclists: You CAN get a ticket for this. It’s expensive. I’ve watched it happen. I suggest stopping next time. It is the law, after all. Don’t be a dick.


2 thoughts on “Observations from a bike commuter

    shitbike said:
    November 5, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Lots if good info in here! Don’t ever assume a car is doing what you think it’s going to do, you will always end up in the wrong side of any misunderstanding. Hopefully more of these posts get around and drivers shape up so we can ride without fearing for our lives.

      paperballpotluck responded:
      November 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

      It is so frustrating! I hope so too. Some bikers don’t help either like the one that almost hit me crossing the street on foot because he ran a red light and was almost hit by a driver. He gave the driver and me a dirty look.

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