Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charlottesville Drivers on Hyper-Alert (most anyway)

Let's start with some night-time visibility discussion.  On the way home, it was getting dark, but it was a very peaceful night ride.  I have to say I don't prefer to ride at night, but I try to be as prepared as possible for it.  Above are a couple of pics of what motorists might have seen as they came upon me tonight as I was headed home.

Almost all of the brightness you see is reflectivity.  In the front photo though, the middle light is my battery operated headlight.  Lights are legally required, but they are not enough if you want motorists to really see you.  Reflectivity is extremely effective, and necessary.  Key reflective areas are your ankles and feet.  A video would be better to show that, because you would see the reflective ankle bands and stickers on my shoes moving up and down with the pedaling motion.  Also, anything you can put on your helmet is effective because it puts it up higher in the air, and helps motorists see your head!  I do have two rear tail-lights flashing, as well as a flashing white light on the left side of my helmet.  Judging from these pictures it seems I would be hard to miss, but I have never come upon myself on the road as I was driving at night.  :)

Another perception regarding my ride today...  I noticed at least two motorists coming to a stop at intersecting roads on my right.  The first direction they looked was to their right.  That means I was not the first thing they saw as they were beginning to determine if it was clear for them to continue forward.  A driver of any vehicle should be looking left first because that is the lane closest to them where vehicles will be passing.  

Well, it has been over a week since a UVA student was struck and killed while on his bicycle here in Charlottesville, and I noticed a big difference in the way drivers treated me today on my trip out to Cville Bike and Tri and back.  First, as I was going over the Avon Street bridge, a city bus was behind me, but refrained from passing me.  This was highly unusual behavior!  At least it was not what I was expecting.  (The cyclist who was struck and killed, collided with a large city truck.)  By not passing me, I was actually able to move into the left lane for the left turn I wanted to make at the next stop light.  I am used to being crowded out by a city bus, and being unable to maneuver comfortably into the left turn lane.  This was not the only motor-vehicle that gave me time and space.  It happened at least two other times.  Yeah for these drivers!  However it makes me sad that it has to take a death to change people's behavior.

However, there is always someone who cannot help but to show some attitude, and let their ignorance show.  I had a disappointing encounter with a motorist on Hydraulic Road between Four Seasons and Berkmar.  This particular stretch has a bike lane, and it is a 4 lane road with a middle turn lane between them.  So there is alot of space, with two lanes moving in my direction.  The bike lane (like many here in Cville) was cluttered with debris and rocks.  In fact, just before the right turn I had to eventually make, there was a dead raccoon directly in my path (had I remained in the bike lane).  I moved into the traffic lane and hugged the white line.  I believe the posted speed limit here is 35mph.  There was not much traffic on the road at this time, however I was passed within inches by a motorist.  There was no one in the other lane, and she could have (should have) moved over the dashed white line to give me at least the 2 feet required by law here in Virginia.  After she passed I motioned with my hand giving some kind of 'move over next time' sign.  She was looking in her mirror, and saw me.  Then she made a similar motion as if to say, 'stay in your bike lane.'  She didn't realize that I was actually trying to protect myself by moving out of the bike lane away from the debris.  I also wonder if she knows it is legal for me to be in the traffic lane as well, and if she knows she legally needs to give me at least 2ft. of space.  My point is that her driving was very deliberate, and she chose on purpose to buzz by me to try and make her opinion known.  

Again, it is going to take changes of knowledge and attitude before cyclists are truly safer on the roads.

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