Why We Bike in the Same Direction as Traffic––
Everybody knows that bikes ride in the same direction as traffic. (everybody knows that, right?) So I was surprised by a conversation I had with a softball buddy this summer. “I feel safer riding against traffic”, he said. “I like to see what’s coming at me”.
“Well” I told him, “the stats are not on your side. Plus, it infuriates everyone in your path, and you’ll get a ticket too” I said.
We agreed to disagree.
I went home and started visualizing all the things that can go wrong when you violate a traffic principle as fundamental as this. The list of hazards just kept coming. The conversation with my wrong-way friend, I’ll call him Wrong-Way Ray, lead to this next series. Ray! This one’s for you!
It was impossible to put ALL of the hazards of wrong-way-riding into one diagram, but here are 3 big ones that come to mind. Take a good look at the situations shown here and do the analysis . . . what do you predict will happen next?
Three cyclists riding against the flow. Let’s look at each in the next frames.
The red car wants to pull out of the parking garage and enter the flow of traffic. His right-turn signal is on.
It’s a one-way street so he knows where he has to look for traffic–he’s looking left!
I’m no mind reader, but as the driver looks to his left at the approaching cars, it’s clear what he’s thinking, “If I NAIL it, I can cut in ahead of the taxi!” Our cyclist, approaching from the blind side, squeezed between traffic and parked cars is suddenly in a tight spot! Can you predict the next frame?
Well, that was easy to predict. Easy for us, but not for the driver. Predictability and Visibility improve when you ride where drivers are looking for traffic. (OMG, you’re going to hear that a lot on this site)
Ok, next – Cyclist #2 . .
It’s hard for Cyclist #2 to ignore the garbage truck coming directly at him in the center of the lane. The bike’s speed plus the speed of the truck are added together reducing the time they have to negotiate this situation. Cyclist #2’s motivation will be to hug the parked cars and hope there’s room to squeeze through.
The cyclist is not the only one looking at the garbage truck. So is the occupant of the silver car who’s decided that now’s his chance to get out of his parked car. But he has to move quickly! He looks back one last time and makes his move!
Ouch! Yes, the Door Zone remains a problem even though you’re theoretically in the driver’s line of sight. Opening the door in the path of a cyclist is against NYC regs. But so is riding against traffic. Two mistakes add up to one collision. Your best defense against this situation is to not be in this situation!
By now, you should be starting to see a pattern in this Wrong-Way series. I have one more to show you . . .
You should be able to write your own narrative here, but let me call your attention to the purple car and his turn signal.
The drama builds . . .
I said earlier that there were endless hazards that came to mind; Pedestrians rushing across, strollers and hand-trucks being pushed out from blind spots, cars turning INTO driveways, or suddenly pulling to the side for any number of reasons. They all check for traffic coming from one way, but not from your way.
Riding WITH the flow is safer, legal, courteous and intelligent. It reduces the speed of cars relative to your bike, puts you where drivers are looking for traffic, and communicates that you are a roadworthy entity. This appearance of “roadworthy-ness” is an important part of the Virtuous Bicycle formula for reduced-stress riding. We’ll talk more about it as we go along.