Monday 19 May 2014

How to reduce conflict with motorists and pedestrians

Summary: The media has a neverending stream of stories about conflicts between cyclists and motorists or pedestrians. Yet some cyclists have personal anecdotes of each incident, while others somehow manage to blissfully escape almost all of these confrontations. This post explains how to maximise your chances of achieving cycling zen - relaxing rides with pleasant interactions with other road users.

Cycling Oxford
CC by 2.0: Flickr - Tejvan Pettinger

Related Posts:
> See the "behaviour and culture" category of this blog.

1. Enjoy the ride and you won't care about it taking a little longer
- Most conflict relates to road users wanting the right of way, to get in front or to go faster because they want to save time. The big advantage cyclists have over motorists is that urban cycling can easily be a very enjoyable way to get around cities. While driving when you're stuck in traffic is frustrating and stressful and always will be.

- Enlightened cyclists who've made their trips comfortable, efficient and enjoyable can afford to give way, let motorist's overtake, be patient and demonstrate courtesy. Ultimately, it only costs them a few more minutes of an enjoyable experience. Motorists are not so fortunate - every extra second prolonging their trips is apparently additional misery.

2. Let the motorists go around; you'll probably just pass them again at the next traffic jam
- Some motorists get frustrated when they temporarily can't get past cyclists yet they seem to be fine with travelling at a crawl for much longer behind dozens of cars. If you have the opportunity to let an impatient motorist pass safely you should do so. It means less stress for you and you'll probably just pass them again when they get to the next intersection or traffic jam.

- Letting motorists get past has an additional advantage in that it removes all excuses for why they aren't travelling around cities at the "car speeds" they saw in the ads which persuaded them to buy their expensive vehicles. Hughie below exemplifies this irrational view that if it wasn't for cyclists, motorists would be zipping around our cities at the speed limit.

The Age: Culture wars on the roads

- On my work commute, I ride on a popular cycling route that has bike lanes. A few "Hughies" blow past me at 60km/hr during a couple of 200-300m sections. Then I pass them all again when they're banked up 15 - 90 cars deep at the major intersections. I make the next green light, they never do. There are times, such as when passing other cyclists in the bike lane, that I could hold up a "Hughie" for a few seconds but I generally wait for them to speed past before I pull out to overtake.

- Below you can see one such "Hughie" passing a cyclist on the morning commute. Cars have a brief stretch of 200m where they can get up to "car speeds" of 50-60km/hr. I ride this route every work day and even though I could take the lane for this stretch to prevent any chance of unsafe passes I rarely bother as motorists usually pass with sufficient clearance.

St Georges Rd opposite the Fitzroy North Bowls Club

Yet just 50m down the road the cyclist is passing the motorist again who is now stopped. This will be the last time this motorist sees this cyclist.

St Georges Rd opposite the Fitzroy North Bowls Club

The red light wasn't the reason the cyclist caught up and passed. Below you can see the traffic light is now green and our "Hughie" is at a dead stop behind a line of cars reaching all the way back from the next main intersection (Alexander Pde). Other cyclists have now caught up and passed him.

St Georges Rd just south of the Fitzroy North Bowls Club

- So this "Hughie" enjoyed 3-5 seconds of "car speeds" passing a cyclist before being stuck in another car-only traffic jam that extends over 400m. This traffic jam would be 60-75 cars long (in just one lane) and take this motorist at least 4 green lights to get through. Meanwhile the cyclists ride unobstructed all the way to the intersection and proceed through at the next green light. This situation during peak hour is quite typical. In a famous video, Tim Golby proved that he passed 589 cars on his cycling commute to work. See: Cyclist passes 589 cars on way to work

- So, if safe, let the "Hughies" pass and enjoy their moments where there are no cars in the way. Most motorists are smart enough to recognise cyclists aren't really holding them up. The conflict comes with those who aren't and the best strategy is to just let them proceed to the next traffic jam with no scapegoats for how they got held up.

- Finally, it's not peak hour all the time and sometimes cars really can be held up unnecessarily by cyclists - for example by sports cyclists training on higher-speed roads. It is only polite to proactively let cars pass on such roads and not to ride significant distances on roads without bike lanes if there are alternative routes that don't cause this conflict. If riding for more than 500m on a road where cars cannot easily pass then you should aim to be riding within 10-15km/hr of the speed cars would be travelling.

3. Learn about and use the cycling priority routes and stay off motorist priority routes
- While it may be legal to cycle on almost all roads it is safest, quickest and most enjoyable to ride cycling "priority routes" - the routes which are designed to be transport routes for cyclists and which you'll find most cyclists using. If you don't know an area well, check Google Maps, do some research and ride where other cyclists are riding.

- The few cyclists who ignore suitable, nearby alternatives and ride on roads which are really best suited to motorists can cause conflict to arise. There is generally little space to pass cyclists safely on such roads and motorists are also unused to sharing these roads with cyclists. During off-peak periods, the potential traffic speeds can also be much higher than cyclists can maintain.

- For example, Nicholson St is not suited to cycling as there is no bike lane, it has a lot of motorist traffic and there are much superior bike priority routes right alongside (Canning St, Brunswick St, Rathdowne St). See the cycling priority routes on the Melbourne Map linked from this blog.

- A few cyclists do ride on Nicholson St (see below image), either because they don't know about the superior alternatives or because they feel it's the most direct route and there's no reason not to take it. However, if cyclists are to get more bicycle priority routes and bicycle boulevards (like Canning St), then it's necessary to cede some roads wholly to motorists. The future of conflict-free transport is separation and prioritisation. I've never needed to ride on Nicholson St (south of Brunswick Rd) in 5 years of riding in the inner north so it certainly is possible to let each mode have its fair share of priority space.

28 Nicholson St

4. Filter sensibly and wait when cars are moving or too close
- It's legal to filter to the left of cars except when they're turning left and indicating a turn left. Filtering works fine when cars are stationary. But when cars are moving the filtering position is uncomfortable for both the driver and cyclist and can easily lead to conflict, accidental contact and inconvenience.

- Cyclists should only filter when cars are stationary and they are confident the position they will end up in is visible to the driver alongside and those behind. If the space is too tight to ride alongside then they also need to be able to merge courteously and safely into the lane with the car. If this isn't possible then cyclists should join the lane further back or wait for the cars in front to proceed first from the intersection.

- Below a long line of cyclists are lined up down the left at an intersection in an orderly and patient way. Intersections with lots of waiting cyclists often degenerate into free-for-alls where cyclists filter down the middle and cut through diagonally to get to the front of the intersection. This should be avoided. Cyclists rarely miss making it through an intersection due to having to wait for too many other cyclists and there will be plenty of chances to pass further down the road.

St Georges Rd at Holden St

5. Give way to left turning vehicles whenever the overall benefits outweigh the inconvenience
- Cyclists are required by Australian Road Rule 141 to give way to left turning vehicles though the regulation doesn't make it clear exactly how this works with cars turning across formal bike lanes.
"The rider of a bicycle must not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal."
Australian Road Rule 141
- However, when riding in marked bike lanes (formal or not) or bike awareness zones (e.g. green paint) it is common for cyclists to proceed straight through and the turning vehicles to wait till the cyclists have gone past. This works fine when there are just a few cyclists already waiting at the intersection and the first one or two are ahead of the first turning car. It's more efficient for the cyclists to clear the intersection and then the cars to turn.

174-178 St Georges Rd

- When there are many cyclists or the cyclists are strung out (not tightly bunched) or moving cyclists join onto the end of the ones who were waiting at the intersection, problems can arise with the first motorist turning having to wait an extended time at a green signal if every cyclist opportunistically tries to follow the leaders through on the left.

- In situations where a cyclist can easily assess that they can safely wait behind and let the turning vehicles go first, it is the polite thing to do. This courtesy and respect is welcomed by motorists as it can significantly aid traffic flow in situations where a large number of cars are waiting on the first turning vehicle to go.

6. Use cycle lanes and tracks whenever feasible even if not perfect or a little slower
- Cities investing heavily in improved cycling infrastructure like separated cycle tracks or new bike lanes need to have them build a critical mass of usage for this investment to maintain sufficient popular support. Unless the bike tracks are badly flawed or unsafe, cyclists should use them instead of the lanes used by cars.

- In cities like Sydney, which have major cycling infrastructure programs, the most populist newspapers and radio stations whip up anger about policies supporting urban cycling by pointing to underutilised new cycling infrastructure. These click bait stories resonate with the motorist majority and drive much of the antipathy towards sharing the roads with cyclists. See: Sydney's cyclists ignore their $76 million cycleway network

- Of course, some cycle tracks and lanes are less safe, efficient and appealing than they need to be and cyclists may be justified in not using them until they are improved:
"The cycleways are a joke. On Bourke St, we have to give way at every T-intersection," one commuter cyclist said. Truckies have nowhere to park when delivering so they stop in the cycleway."
Sydney's cyclists ignore their $76 million cycleway network
7. Don't lean on vehicles, grab on for a "skitch" or hit them
- Deliberately touching other vehicles (such as leaning on them at the traffic lights) is not only disrespectful but also dangerous. The vehicle's driver (car, bus, taxi, etc.) generally does notice and will typically become anxious, alarmed or angry and this conflict is entirely unnecessary.

- Even if you justify it as a risk you are happy to take with your life it doesn't mean there is no impact on the wellbeing of others - both the driver and other cyclists that driver will encounter in future. See what bus drivers say and feel about cyclists based on such experiences: Sabotage Times: Confessions of a London bus driver - The bus vs cyclist war

Sabotage Times: Confessions of a London bus driver

- Grabbing onto any vehicle (including a tram) to get pulled on or accelerate is also disrespectful, dangerous and illegal. It also just engenders conflict.
"A bike rider may not hold onto to another moving vehicle while riding the bicycle."
Australian Road Rule 254
- Hitting vehicles - such as the wing mirrors or side of the car - even if it is a reaction to dangerous driving is not advisable. It risks escalating the behaviour of aggressive drivers. And for drivers who've accidentally done the wrong thing (like cut you off or drive too close) there is no productive learning experience. If you can politely talk to the driver about your issue, do that instead.

8. Learn and comply with the road rules
- Mutual respect is founded on equal treatment and consideration among other things and the road rules apply to all road users. If you don't know the road rules that apply to cyclists then you can't reliably comply with them even if you're not inclined to break them. See: Amy Gillett Foundation: Cycling rules in Australian States.

- There are circumstances where road rules can be broken without potential risk or inconvenience to others (e.g. crossing a red light at a pedestrian crossing early or late when there are no pedestrians left to cross) but there are usually other road users around to observe this behaviour. Unless there are no other road users around, you should comply fully with road rules as over time this normalises cyclists as fully legitimate road users in the mind's of motorists.
> CityLab: Cyclists Aren't 'Special,' and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules
> NY Times: Cyclists, Drivers, and the Rules of the Road

- There are a few road rules or specific circumstances where strict compliance is currently not justifiable and changes are needed. I fully support breaking the rules in these circumstances but only where it is safe to do so and there is no risk or inconvenience to others.
> Riding on off-road paths without a helmet.
> Crossing a road at pedestrian/cyclist lights which take minutes to change (when no traffic is around).
See: Bicycle Dutch: Red light protest in Utrecht

Further Info:
NY Times
> City Room: Spokes articles category
Cyclists, Drivers, and the Rules of the Road
If Kant Were a New York CyclistA Bicyclist Runs Into Ethics and the Law
Spokes | The Cyclist-Pedestrian Wars
In Urban Cycling, a Gender Gap Persists
Caught Between Sidewalk and Street

The Age: Culture wars on the roads

BikeWise TV: Inner city squeeze

Vicroads: Sharing the road

Amy Gillett Foundation: Cycling rules in Australian States
> Amy Gillett Foundation: Victoria Cycling Specific Road Rules
Amy Gillett Foundation: Sharing roads and paths (pdf)

Sabotage Times: Confessions of a London bus driver - The bus vs cyclist war

Bicycle Dutch
Red light protest in Utrecht (YouTube)