One of the most maddening things a motorist can do is cut me off as I approach a controlled intersection (stop sign or traffic signal). It drives me bonkers mad, and I’ve been known to whip up alongside the drivers’ side window of motofascists after being cut off and attempt to educate them on how ridiculous it is to be so cravenly stupid.
On the surface it’s just rude. It’s cutting in line, and that’s an elementary school skill that it seems our society is forgetting.
I’m not sure why people can’t see that squeezing ahead of another traveler for the perception of selfish benefit is blatantly rude. The act basically says to the cyclist: “I’m marginalizing you because you’re not in a car.” If the same motorist approached the same intersection behind another motorist they wouldn’t pass the other car.
Secondarily, I believe the move to be an unnecessary tactic. Bikes approaching a stop sign or other controlled intersection will most likely be travelling faster than a car within the “deceleration zone” within a hundred feet or so of the intersection. A bike doesn’t need as far to stop at the same speed as a car. That’s simple physics.
The car only gains a tactical advantage so they can speed out of the intersection ahead of the cyclists as opposed to behind them. The move exhibits impatience and a misunderstanding of traffic safety.
When this very thing happened to me recently I finally realized the fundamental, and incontrovertible, effect this has on the car and bike relationship as both approach a controlled intersection. It puts the cyclist in extreme danger of being struck by the motorist.
I’m going to try and describe a complex and fluid situation. Please bear with me.
A cyclist is travelling 20+ mph on a two lane country road with a 35 mph speed limit. 200 feet from a four way stop the cyclist perceives that a motorist is beginning to overtake them. The cyclist has two options: situation one, move as far right as possible to allow the motorist to overtake and slip in ahead of them at the intersection; or, situation two, take the lane and attempt to prohibit the motorist from passing within the last few car-lengths (deceleration zone) to control the situation.
Situation one puts the cyclist in extreme danger within the deceleration zone. This is more dangerous where there are obstructed views within the sightlines along roadways and where the intersection controls only the road that the cyclist is approaching from (not the cross road).
Here’s why the situation is more dangerous for the cyclist: as the motorist moves into the left lane and beside the cyclist there is the possibility that another vehicle could turn into the oncoming lane. Suddenly the motorist’s divided attention forces a choice. The motorist must choose between a head on collision with another motor vehicle or swerving either right or left to avoid the collision.
You tell me which way you think the motorist would swerve in a split second decision. I’m gonna put my money on the motorist swerving to the right and into the cyclist, or at the very least into the path of the cyclist. I might be wrong. And some motorists might be cognizant enough to avoid hitting either the second car or the bike. I don’t think this would be the most common reaction. I’m not sorry for doubting that most motorists have Jedi-like reflexes.
Even if there is no second car, the maneuver sets the motorist up all wrong to pass through the intersection by aligning the car off center, angled incorrectly, or even completely in the left lane (I’ve seen it happen!). This is dangerous, blocks traffic, and is astutely stupid.
Situation two is distinctly safer for the cyclist and penalizes the motorist only a few seconds.
Even if the cyclist is turning left and the motorist is turning right—and therefore the motorist’s wait time is increased—the benefit of passing (situation one) is perceived only, because if the same traveler (cyclist) were in a car instead of on a bike the original motorist would have no option but to wait. After the cyclist clears the intersection two situations arise: either the motorist will follow the cyclist and perhaps still need to pass, at which time the cyclist could safely move right and the motorist could pass, or perhaps the cyclist will choose on direction and the motorist another, therefore totally eliminating the need for the motorist to try and get by the cyclist AT ALL. Both of these situations are safer and preferable to having a motorist try to gun past the cyclist and jump line.
I think it would be beneficial to do a study on comparable approach and deceleration speeds of cyclists and motorists and establish a standard of a safe passing area prior to a deceleration zone. I think this should be codified so that municipalities could adopt situation two as the only legal way for a motor vehicle operator to pass a bicyclist within certain proximity to an intersection.
I may do that.