This is the second installment in my Car Free Stories series. Check out the first here. Recently I got a bell for my bike and what a transformative experience it’s been! Before, when people were in front of me on a sidewalk, I yelled (respectfully), “excuse me! excuse me!”. Nine times out of ten this wouldn’t work and I’d just have to slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass the seemingly deaf pedestrian. Now that I have a bell, I’ll ring it once and the astute ones will hear it and get out of the way. I always smile when this happens because it’s so rare. Usually I have to ring it a few times and the pedestrian will finally look up from his musings and reluctantly look back. By that time, my wheel is almost touching his butt when he realizes he should step out of the way. My bell, I’ve noticed though, is a lot more effective then my yell.
For better or for worse I’m a sidewalk biker and I always get a kick out of the driver who blocks the intersection at side streets, which is pretty much every driver under the hot sun here in Phoenix. For example the other day I was riding home, on the sidewalk of Thomas Road, heading east, and as I approached the intersection of a side street, a big van was blocking access to the ramp on the other side of it. As I approached, the driver made an extra effort to make his turn and never once made eye contact with me, as if the whole time it was his plan to turn before I needed to cross the street. This happens a lot, where people pretend not to see me to cover up their distracted driving. Other times, the kinder, gentler drivers, the ones who aren’t in such a damn hurry, will see me and back up to let me through the intersection. On rare occassions, there will be the jerks, the ones who know I’m coming, even make eye contact with me, but won’t budge. They’ll stay right there and make me go behind them and lift my bike over the curb.
I must admit, I myself was never a driver that took much heed of cyclists or pedestrians until I started riding myself. I think one reason why so many drivers are oblivious to cyclists and pedestrians is because they themselves have never been in those positions. Unfortunately, this has caused a sort of downward spiral where oblivious drivers make it dangerous or at least uncomfortable for cyclists and pedestrians to use the streets, thereby discouraging people from trying out those two modes of transportation.
So to you folks who never go anywhere without your car, you might want to try walking around your neighborhood or cycling to your grocery store. Not only will you get the exercise, but you might just become a better driver too.
Photo Credit: My bike “Coffee Cruiser” and my new bell. Photo by the author.Tags: bell, bicycling, blocking the intersection, blooming rock, car culture, car-free stories, city of phoenix, phoenix, phoenix drivers, side streets, sidewalk, taz loomans
I think a lot of the reason that drivers idle too far forward at intersections is the “right on red” law. If a driver is looking for the earliest opportunity to make a legal turn after a stop, then he or she may feel a need to pull up as far as possible and look to the left at approaching traffic — even if doing so blocks pedestrians and bicyclists who wish to cross in front of the driver’s car. The one near miss I’ve had as a pedestrian was when a driver preoccupied with looking left didn’t notice me crossing in front of him from the right.
Interestingly, the “right on red” law was implemented to save energy and may have environmental benefits associated with it due to reduce time that cars spend idling at intersections. It also has a negative effect, however, of making intersections hostile to those not driving. It would be interesting to see an in-depth study to see if “right on red” is really a net benefit from an environmental point of view.
David, that is interesting that the right on red law has environmental benefits, I never thought of that. I actually don’t mind this law as it’s very helpful when I’m driving! My pet peeve is when there is no stop light, at the side streets, and people block intersections. But that might be a result of the right on red mentality. All I ask for is consideration and awareness that there might be cyclists or pedestrians that want to cross the street.
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I find that when I feel like I’m in a hurry on my bicycle, everyone seems to be in my way, and when I commit to go with the flow and urge everyone to go before me with near-excessive politeness and courtesy, the world appears like one wide open bike lane to me. Nothing throws mean or impatient people off their game faster than heartfelt kindness or patience. Ride happy Taz! In heavy, slow-moving, angry traffic, the power of a polite cyclist is an amazing thing to see.
great advice John, I will take it and report back!
Blocking of sidewalks is a particular problem because riding on the sidewalk is almost a necessity here. Given our high speed limits on arterial roadways, you really do have to be a bit crazy to ride a bicycle on the actual road. Despite what the average driver believes, it is not illegal to bike on a sidewalk. If the City made it so, it would virtually ensure death for every bicycle commuter. Could you imagine biking down 7th St. or Ave. during rush hour? It’s not safe to drive a car on those roads let alone bike.
Lately, I’ve been having increased problems with drivers (who are invariably on phones) completely ignoring the whole “yield to pedestrians and bicyclists when they are in the crosswalk” rule. On two separate occasions just this past week, I’ve been crossing at the Central/Thomas light rail station (just north of the stop) and almost been hit by cars. I’ve been in the crosswalk, and I’ve had the little walking guy signal. That means that the two different people who nearly hit me completely blew a red light. Similar problems routinely occur at the crosswalk on 3rd Ave servicing St. Joe’s hospital.
I used to give all these car offenders dirty looks, but it didn’t do anything. Now I shout. I make obscene gestures. When a driver has posed a particularly dangerous threat to my life and limb, I have been known to throw rocks. These responses may not be nice, smart, legal, or safe, but maybe the drivers will remember me and look out next time.
Unfortunately, to bike here, you must be hyper-vigilant because drivers don’t pay much attention to bikers or pedestrians as you mentioned.
As for being polite, I cannot find it in myself to be polite to someone who almost left my wife a widow and my children without a father.
I think I need to go to church more often or something.
Lol Matt! Yeah, it’s true, to be a cyclist in this city you mist be hyper-vigilant. Drivers simply cannot be relied upon to be aware of people not in cars using the road. As you mentioned, distracted drivers, those on phones or otherwise mulling over a fight with their boyfriend or simply daydreaming, are a particular hazard to the cyclist/pedestrian. Cyclists can’t afford the luxury to be distracted, otherwise, they would surely cross the Great Divide on the road. I also agree it can be necessary at times to jar awake the drivers who’re in whatever daze they’re in. Throwing rocks though seems a bit extreme! 🙂
See this Wikipedia article for more detail on right on red:
The author(s) get it right in terms of the original reason for implementation being to save fuel during the 1970s energy crisis and a major drawback being reduced safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s interesting to note that two cities with especially high volumes of pedestrian traffic, New York and Montreal, exempt themselves from right-on-red. I wish Phoenix would consider that in selected areas near light rail stations and other parts of town with high pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
very interesting David! I agree, some no right on red sections in Phoenix would be great! But knowing the car-loving populus (think the reverse lanes) that we have, I don’t think there’s much chance of that.
To Matt, I would humbly suggest that aggression in response to aggression, or anger in response to stupidity, may not be an effective alternative on the road for cyclists. That’s a no-win strategy. There are many other responses possible that do not involve joining in the “aggressive road user” game. Which I choose to not play not only because it makes me feel crummy, but also because cars will always win that game. The way to be safe and better than cars is to be safe, and better than cars. Else I might as well ditch my bike and go get a big old rusty pickup.