Bikes Merge with Traffic

Safety in Numbers?

Does having more riders on the road mean things are safer?  Probably, once you reach critical mass.  But there’s a difficult middle stage, where more cyclists make it more dangerous.  Like now in Seattle.

I’ve never been shy about why I believe it’s safest – at least in American cities – to be a vehicular cyclist and to be minimally troubled by obeying traffic rules.  The trouble is, many other riders adopt a more tentative riding style.  That’s fine for bike trails or quiet residential streets, but experienced riders know that approach doesn’t cut it for urban riding in a city lacking meaningful cycling infrastructure.

So the other morning, I pulled up on 12th  at the Madison intersection, heading south.  Two riders were ahead of me in the bike lane, stopped before the crosswalk.  The bike lane on 12th is borderline usable, but it doesn’t have a bike box at the intersection, let alone any special signaling.  A very large construction truck was in the lane, signaling to turn right.

This is a situation that demands pulling in front of the crosswalk, in front of the truck.  Or maybe, if there’s room,  joining car traffic in the regular lane behind the truck.  Basically, anywhere is better than sitting in the bike lane in the truck driver’s blind spot as he attempts to turn right.

One guess where the other two riders were.

So my choice is to rudely force my way around them, or defer to the dangerous riding decision they’ve made for me.

That’s just one example.  I want to ride politely, but I’m more interested in making it to wherever I’m going in one piece.  I’m sure with better bike infrastructure – and a lot more riders – this would largely be a non-issue.  It would rarely be necessary to ride aggressively or vehicularly.

But as bike commuting grows slowly on our pothole-riddled streets, there’s a tension between those of us who ride as the conditions demand today, and those who ride as we aspire for them to be.

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