Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Cyclist Commuter Unhidden

Unhidden under this sky at this light

Conditions were clear, if hazy, hot, with confused winds switching directions, first in my face, then from behind, then headwind again on the Friday evening commute. This light at this intersection that I sometimes cross straight through from a side street across the 5+1 lanes of 44th Street in Phoenix takes a while to change, and when it does, it seems to only flicker to green and then back to red for a long wait again, so you want to get across in one. Heading in this direction it's a single lane each way, while across the way, headed toward me in this shot, the street widens, with bike lanes, two-way traffic, and relevant to this post, a left turn lane, a route I take sometimes. On Friday evening, just as I took this picture, which I had plenty of time to do, since I actually took five or six variations at a leisurely pace, I was second in line waiting for the light, behind a pickup. While taking the photos, I noticed the cars lining up waiting for the light on the other side, and I thought, hmmm, this is one of those situations where this truck in the number one position is going to cruise through his left turn, while I want to go straight, and I wonder if the cars turning left will see me. I felt hidden.

I played out the brain film of the light turning green, me riding into the intersection behind the truck, and the Rushy von Rushersons hitting the gas to get through the quick green arrow not seeing me, swerve, quick turn, avoidance maneuver, back around to wait for another light. No thanks. I could have just sat at the stop line after he turned, not ventured into the intersection at all, just waited to see what the left turners would do, and I have taken that approach. It's fine, although sometimes will result in waiting for another green. This time, I thought, UNHIDE YOURSELF JRA. BE SEEN. So, still sitting at the red waiting for the green (told you this was a long light), after putting my camera away, I leeeeeeaaannnneeed out to the left, out past the driver's side of the pickup, and tried to make eye contact with the drivers across the way waiting to turn left. I admit, I did it in an exaggerated, possibly humorous manner, figuring the more obvious, the better. 

And do you know what happened? Pickup man cruised through his left, and the people across the way waiting to turn left very obviously knew I was there and waited for me to go straight across. Which is also nice because there's a right turn lane coming in from the right at the same time, and very often drivers approaching the red believe that a right turn lane means that the red light doesn't apply to them*, so it pays to keep an eye that direction while crossing this intersection, too. I'm not saying the left turners crept out slowly and barely allowed me to cross the busy intersection, I'm saying they recognized that a cyclist was behind the pickup in front of them, and they barely moved forward until they saw that I cleared the intersection, and then they turned left very smoothly behind me. Once the light changed this all happened very rapidly, in just a few seconds, almost at the speed of a practiced, choreographed dance step, you know what I mean? Too fast for all of us to carefully plan it out, just a natural flow where everyone knew what to do to keep things moving smoothly, yet safely.  

I'm suggesting that if you're a cyclist in a situation where you might be hidden from a motorist, unhide yourself. Pop up. Jump up and down a little bit. Leeeeaaaannnn out to the left (all of these provided it is safe to do so of course) and let them know you're there. This does not guarantee success or easy passage, of course not. But it does give drivers more of a chance to be civil about it, which they very often do. And in the off chance, and for me it really is the off chance, a rare occurrence, that they appear to allow their civility to be overrun by the Rushy von Rusherson tendency, then I throw one of my Sad Monkey awards in their general direction, and ride on. I got happy places to be. And happy bikes to get to them on.

*I admit that a certain cyclist commuter blogger sometimes also likes to whip through this particular right hand turn straight into the bike lane in as sharp and fast and lean-rific a turn as possible somewhat regardless of the color the light happens to be at that moment, provided no traffic and no pedestrians are present, probably not any more in full compliance with the right turn on red statute than motorists who do the same. Caveat viator.



  1. You made it easy for your motorists to be courteous partners on the road - and so they were. It makes me wonder if those Arizona drivers might be nearly as nice as our Texas ones! Good to hear they "Drive Friendly" round your parts, too.

  2. Haha make 'em laugh and they might not hate you so much :) I like this idea! And maybe they'll remember that funny cyclist that brightened up their sad car day.

  3. Steve the ratio of "drive friendly" to its opposite is very favorable here in my experience. I'll continue to try to appeal to the happier side and not its opposite when I ride.

    veesee, people are mood-reflectors, and motorists are people too. I like happy to reflect back at me, and it does! On the opposite side, I power up my generosity and tolerance, and try to ride happy because I want to be in control of my emotional responses even in response to overtly aggressive drivers. This does not seem to be generally a popular mode among cyclists, however, but it's still my goal to make progress in this area by resisting anger and aggression consistently and visibly.


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