Thursday, June 24, 2010

Taking Pictures in Traffic

Duck: Oleander!

I started off thinking I was going to write about riding where I'm comfortable. Sometimes, lately, I ride in this position, where I took the photo, about 1/3 into the right lane on this six lane, 45 mph street. It took a while for me to get comfortable with the idea of doing that. This street is shown on the local bike map as a bike route, though, so eventually I decided it needs to be ridden as such. The alternative is to go into sidewalk mode, like this guy just in front of me did. Up ahead, where that yellow/black striped sign is, the roadway narrows a bit as it rises over the canal, and I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with the cars rushing up behind me right at that choke point. No exactly because I feel choked myself, but more because the lane right here in photo-position is wide enough, barely, for a car with a driver who isn't sure what the heck to do with a bicycle in front of him to squeeze by without remarkable badness. (Trucks, however, no, and there are lots of trucks here). But, when you cross the canal, it really is too narrow to squeeze by. So, in vehicle mode on a bicycle, you need to assert yourself in the lane before the narrowing, and be comfortable with doing that, to let other vehicles know you aren't going to be squoze out against the high curb and ejected over the side of the bridge into the canal. 

It sounds a lot worse, or rather thinks a lot worse when you think about it, then it actually is in practice: I've done it a couple of dozen times now, and have never been crowded or even honked at. On the other side of the bridge the bike route takes a sharp right, so any delay or impatience motorists may feel is quite momentary. But I also understand a cyclist looking up the road and choosing to take the sidewalk here. It's a matter of what you are comfortable with. 

It struck me that it's also a matter of what motorists are comfortable with, which probably has a lot to do with what they are used to seeing "normally" when driving. In my extremely informal and unscientific sample, there are only a handful of cyclists per hour that stay on the street through here. They do exist, but possibly not enough that it's a common sight that motorists see enough to be comfortable with. While I have had no problems so far, and my confidence with doing it is increasing, I still have an unshakable niggling concern that, in the middle of the bridge, on my bicycle, in the street, I may turn out to be an unexpected object in an unexpected location at a really unexpected moment for someone driving a two ton hunk of steel on wheels going 45 mph. Someone who isn't really comfortable with encountering cyclists on a busy, fast street, simply because they see us so rarely. That may be the case, but there's only one way to change that comfort level, and that's by being consistent in my cycling through this particular area. 

In addition to having to duck the hyper-poisonous oleanders like the guy above, there are enough pedestrians walking on this sidewalk in the morning to press the issue--it is quite impossible on a bicycle to cross the narrow sidewalk on the bridge when pedestrians are also crossing. A cyclist belongs in the street in that situation, no doubt. I realized after I took the photo above that no motorist going 45 mph on a busy street on his or her commute is going to be comfortable with a cyclist taking a photo of another cyclist riding on the sidewalk. A momentary lapse of empathy, OK? Won't do it again, I promise. I'm comfortable with that. Get up. Go ride.


  1. Actually, there is a third alternative - the line of sweetness. If you are as far left as the RH tire track, any motorist with even a pretence of having a lick of common sense will make a full lane change to pass you. That being the case, the line of sweetness helps them realize that earlier, and also gives anyone that's going to shoot out of one of those driveways a better shot at seeing you.

    IMHO, the line of sweetness is the RH edge of the LH tire track. It is DIRECTLY in front of the driver's line of sight for following cars and is usually smooth pavement as well.

    The line of sweetness also avoids most oleander problems, but it is an even worse place to take photos from...

  2. Hey Steve, this "Take the Lane" post on the AZ Bike law blog along with your comment gives me plenty to think about when approaching this situation. I think I need a "GIMME THREE FEET" sign velcroed to the back of my rack.

  3. I can't remember the last time I got passed that closely. The line of sweetness rules!

  4. JRA: I have a slightly different philosophy when it comes to riding on roads like the one in your picture. That road is a major arterial, and I stay OFF of arterials, major OR minor, between the hours of 7 AM and 7 PM.

    I will also try to stay off of major and minor collectors during that same time period: there is just too much traffic, and people drive way over the speed limit anyway, and change lanes when they are right on top of somebody and will mow you down.

    I will ride a mile out of my way to avoid riding on one of these roads during the Deadly Hours. If I do not have a choice, and I must ride on one of them, and it doesn't have a bike path, I will go to Sidewalk Mode like the guy in your picture. Since I am usually on my 'bent, with the top of my head a foot or better lower than your typical DF bike rider, oleanders and other low hanging foliage are usually not a problem. (Chalk up ANOTHER advantage of recumbents!)

  5. BluesCat - Cars going 45 mph are a strong deterrent to me riding on a larger street, too. There just isn't much time for them to react and figure out the right thing to do when a bicycle shows up in front of them, IF they even know the right thing to do, and/or IF they even happen to feel like doing it. But to link up Campbell and Lafayette bike routes, you have to get through this zone somehow, and the canal limits the possibilities by dead-ending a lot of the smaller streets. This sidewalk has pedestrians pretty regularly like I mentioned. I'm not so deterred from using the street that I would be willing to walk my bike on the sidewalk instead. Oh and crossing at the canal itself is a nasty game of Frogger. Maybe I could use a trebuchet to launch myself+bike from Kachina Park over to Lafayette Park and bypass the whole deal...

  6. Yeah, boy, you are spot on about the hassles of a Campbell/Lafayette route. Between the canal, 44th Street, and Indian School Road, it's quite a challenge. What I would do is follow Campbell east past 44th, and work my way down through the neighborhood to 47th St and Indian School, then through Arcadia Plaza to 48th and take that up north to Lafayette.

    It requires backtracking west, Wrong Way Sidewalk Riding for about 300 feet, and negotiating a parking lot, but it sure beats the heck out of taking the right-hand lane of a 45 mph street where the cagers are going at LEAST 50 mph!


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