Close Call



This isn’t strictly bicycle related, but bear with me, as I think cyclists face the same issues…

I was walking, er… skating, my way around the East Side today, when I had a really close call.  You might call it a near death or at least near injury experience.  As I’m walking across Waterman St., with a pedestrian cross light I might add, two cars were approaching me while driving the same direction along Hope St.  Those who know the area, will know that Hope St. is only a single lane in each direction, so I haven’t a clue what they were doing.  As they entered the intersection where I’m crossing, the car on the left suddenly decides to turn right.  The car on the right swerves to avoid the other car and heads straight for me.  After a brief run and dive onto the sidewalk, thank goodness we still have some snow around, I look up to see the two cars speeding away; I doubt either one of them ever saw me.

I had zero time to catch a license plate, heck, I have to admit it wasn’t until later that I even thought about the fact that I should have tried.  I was just rejoicing in the fact that I was still alive.  But this got me to thinking…

I’m sure most of us have now seen one or more of the awareness tests that have started coming out of the UK.  If not, I suggest you take a minute and look at the following:

Cyclist Test
Phone Joke Test

Put all of this together and it made me realize that we aren’t educating our drivers to see objects other than cars and signs that pertain to driving.  Grant it, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a drivers education course, but I sure don’t remember any sort of serious discussions about avoiding other objects or, heaven forbid, what to do in a situation where you have to decide between hitting another car and a pedestrian or cyclist.  I’d like to think I’d be able to choose hitting another car, where the passenger is greatly protected over hitting a pedestrian or cyclists, but I sure haven’t had any training on this.  I seriously hope that the driver’s education instructors are thinking about this.  They could easily show some of these awareness tests in their classes and with virtual environments and simulators available these days, I would think we could do a much better job putting our future drivers in dangerous virtual situations, before they ever have to face one for real.  The space program and Air Force have been doing it for years.  At the time when they started, cost was certainly a barrier, but I doubt it costs that much anymore to setup something reasonable.


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  • Steph
    Feb 7, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    I moved to PVD 6 months ago, and I had to re-learn how to be a pedestrian. I'm not dashing in front of cars. I'd see a car approaching a stop sign and can usually judge if the car has enough time to stop and I crossed. But drivers never intend to stop at stop signs correctly! I am so sick of cars who have STOP SIGNS go coasting past the sign to a rolling stop INTO THE CROSSWALK (or no stop at all) even when I'm about to cross the street or already crossing. Even at red lights, people do a rolling stop if they're turning red, or they come to a full stop when they've already gone OVER the crosswalk. These things happen every single day when I'm walking to work.

  • Dennis
    Feb 7, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Hard to train auto drivers to "see" cycles.

  • Feb 8, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Hard to train auto drivers to “see” cycles.

    Is it? Is it any harder than training them to be on the lookout for the bazillion signs a motorists need to process as they are driving along. I'd be really curious to find out what they cover in driver's education classes these days when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists. I'm willing to wager they don't spend more time on the subject than just a cursory pass. In this day and age with the computer technology available, I think it is within their reach to virtualize the driving experience for these new drivers. Toss some scary situations at them, like a pedestrian suddenly in their path or a cyclist merging out into traffic because there are parked cars blocking their path (not that a cyclists should be riding there anyways, but many do).

    My main point is that I doubt they are discussing or practicing these issues. Without the practice, it's no wonder people aren't better at noticing non-vehicular traffic.

  • Jim
    Feb 8, 2009 at 8:46 am

    It's been a good 13 years since I took Driver's Ed. However, I do remember a good portion of it. They trained us (or at least tried to) to be aware of all your surroundings. They taught us that pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, even when they are not in a crosswalk (after all, when car meets pedestrian, pedestrian usually loses). They taught us to be aware of cyclists. In fact, and this I found a bit crazy, they taught us to check our rear view mirrors (yes, all of them) several times per minute as you never know what might be coming up behind or along side of you.

    I admit, I don't bike much anymore, though I used to all the time when I was a kid. I hated cars in the suburban town in CT where I grew up. When I learned to drive, I paid special attention to bikers. I am sure to give them lots of space when passing, even if that means I must slow down to their speed until it is safe to pass. However, many bikers I have encountered haven't followed the rules of the road quite so well. They are just as bad at running stop signs and red lights as drivers. I have encountered bikers who refused to ride single file, even in traffic, simply because they wished to have a conversation while riding. It was only after a good 5 minutes of riding right behind them that they begrudgingly (I could tell in their facial expressions) went single file to allow me to pass. I now tend to keep my biking to more rural or suburban roads and bike paths than on the city streets. I have seen the drivers in PVD and they scare the crap out of me when I'm driving.

    However, the point of this is, yes, driver's education, at least back when I took it in CT, does teach new drivers to be aware of all your surroundings, not just other cars, and driving-related signs. In fact, we were taught that you must stop at the stop line AND the stop sign if they did not meet. Only after you made a complete stop at both of those could you creep forward towards the intersection if your visibility was impaired by something on the corner (tree, shrub, car, etc).

    If you've ever visited cities like Portsmouth, NH or Burlington, VT, you will see drivers who follow the rules. I don't know if enforcement is just stronger in those cities than it is here, but I have never seen a 4 way stop work so efficiently as I did in Burlington. People actually stop for pedestrians, give up the right of way for someone trying to turn left, and just generally drive with care.

    But I will also stress that bicyclists also need to remind themselves that they, too, are required to obey ALL the same rules that cars must obey… speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, cross walks, riding single file, not blocking traffic, heck, even using turn signals. They not only put their own lives in danger, but also lives of pedestrians and possible even drivers who may swerve into something to avoid a cyclist running a stop sign or red light.

  • Feb 8, 2009 at 2:57 pm


    Thanks for you thoughtfully laid out comments, I think cyclists and motorists could both benefit from more open communication!

    It's been a few more years since I attended driver's ed, so I hardly remember much of what was covered there. While it's fine to discuss such issues about pedestrians and cyclists, I don't think the concepts really sink in until a driver encounters an actual situation. They don't just allow people to take a class where they talk about driving before given them a license, you need to actually drive on the road. In the same way, I think the technology exists now to do a much better job at training upcoming drivers with the skills needed to notice pedestrians and cyclists. I know for a fact that my recognition of both pedestrians and cyclists while driving has gotten much better, since I've been putting more miles a year on my bike than my car. While it sounds backwards, perhaps part of drivers education should be having people walk and ride around a city. This would give them a better perspective of what it's like to be on the other side of the car.

    I was one of the speakers at last year's Bike-to-Work day event and I think you would have liked what I had to say. I'm sure it wasn't the most popular speech of the day, it's focus was on what all cyclists could do to promote cycling and a good portion of it focused on being good road users and obeying the law.

    As for cyclists riding single file, I would like to point to the actual law:

    § 31-19-7 Number of bicycles abreast. – Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on bicycle trails or paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two (2) abreast shall not unduly impede traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

    So it's actually legal for cyclists to ride two abreast, but they must not unduly impede traffic. I would say that 5 minutes is certainly over the top, however, I've also been in plenty of situations where I've been out riding with a friend when a car pulls up right behind us and immediately lays on the horn, sometimes even as I'm in the process of moving out of the way. I think it basically comes down to an issue of respect, both sides must respect the rights of the other user and share the road responsibly. Again, it's important for motorists and cyclists to have a dialog.

    You are absolutely right that there are cyclists who just blow through stop signs and red lights and this is against the law. I don't have a good handle of what percentage do this, it's certainly not common in my circle of riders. I'll be the first to admit that I don't come to a full stop at all stop signs. Why? It takes a lot of energy to get rolling. Having said this though, I always approach a stop sign with the intent to come to a complete stop and if there are any cars around, do come to a complete stop. When I do roll through a stop sign at a pedestrian speed, ~3-5mph. Strictly, this is against the law, but is it against the intent of the law? I'm not sure it is. I always come to a complete stop when driving. Why? It's much easier for me to kill or seriously injure someone with my car if I don't see them. I don't think the danger is as great when riding a bicycle. I have much better control over my bike and stand a much greater chance of injuring myself in an accident.

    I think this last point is something that is often overlooked during these discussions. What is the likely outcome of a collision? It seems to make sense that the more likely you are to cause death or serious injury with your vehicle or mode of transportation, the more careful you need to be. Hence, motorists need to be the most careful, then cyclists, then pedestrians.

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 9, 2009 at 7:00 am

    "… bicyclists also need to remind themselves that they, too, are required to obey ALL the same rules that cars must obey… speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, cross walks, riding single file, not blocking traffic, heck, even using turn signals."

    "I always approach a stop sign with the intent to come to a complete stop and if there are any cars around, do come to a complete stop."

    Automotive propaganda. Traffic laws SPECIFICALLY address the deadly momentum of motored vehicles, not self propelled. I DEFY you to find any appreciable statistics that shows bicyclists causing injury related accidents. They don't exist. Don't answer with some rare anecdote.

    Motorists are educated, alright: SOLD to buy the quietest car, to isolate themselves from surroundings, to use cell phones. Constantly, they're shown peers driving at excessive speeds. Folks, THE LEGAL LIMIT is only 25 mph, unless otherwise posted. Why? Because the stopping distance for vehicles beyond that is too great to avoid running over children chasing balls, pets off the leash, wheelchair users crossing in crosswalks (if any).

    You shouldn't being choosing what to hit at the last minute. SLOW DOWN, period. Unfortunately, slow speeds negate the marginal advantages of motoring. Conversely, stopping at every traffic control that wasn't even intended for bicycling, especially when you can hear and see no traffic is coming, it just MORONIC.

    Traffic laws shouldn't apply to bicycling. If they really did, you'd have to buy cycling insurance; cities couldn't illegally steal shoulders for new motoring lanes. Unless cities include bicycling in lane painting on all streets not otherwise banned (and otherwise accommodate bicycling through same corridor), you have the legal right to ignore their traffic laws. Case law I've read shows the state supreme courts striking down municipal rulings where cyclist, drivers, parkers and other street users weren't fairly accommodated. They can't ban kids from playing on secondary roads (or cyclists or pedestrians), and ALL the onus of controlling a vehicle is on the motorist.

  • Feb 9, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Whether we like it or not, at least in RI, the way the current laws are written they do apply to cyclists:

    § 31-19-3 Applicability of traffic laws. – Every person riding an electric personal assistive mobility device ("EPAMD"), riding an electric motorized bicycle, or propelling a vehicle by human power shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by chapters 12 – 27 of this title, except as to special regulations in this chapter and except as to those provisions of chapters 12 – 27 of this title which by their nature can have no application.

    This means you do legally have to obey stop signs and lights.

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 9, 2009 at 10:39 am

    "Which by their nature have no application" indeed. Time to repeal all laws written for motoring that are being forced erroneously on bicyclists and other users of streets.

    I'm stopping WHEN IT'S APPROPRIATE, not by rote or rule. I'm jumping lights, because it's the only time I get to cross many of these intersections which have no regard of bicyclist needs. You do whatever you like. I'm no fascist telling you what to do.

    Btw: If there's a CROSSWALK (not at intersections), you don't need a red light, too. Most crossings on bikeways have crosswalks which require motorists to stop for you. NOT when the light is red, but ALL THE TIME. Pedestrian intersection crosswalks have signs to warn that cars are allowed to go, but motorists STILL must avoid running them down, nevertheless.

  • Jim
    Feb 10, 2009 at 3:57 am

    I don't think you get it. Ultimately, the person with the right of way is the pedestrian. Bicyclists running stop signs and red lights can put pedestrians in danger, regardless of your ability to stop on a dime (which generally does not exist).

    By not obeying traffic laws, you put your life in danger and the lives of motorists and pedestrians in danger. Sure, if there are no cars around, run the light, but if there are cars around, it's purely self-centered to think that you can and should run a red light or stop sign. If you run that red light and there is a car coming, it might hit you (your fault), it might swerve to avoid you and hit a pedestrian (their fault, but it's on your back for breaking the law and can probably be argued with a cop that you caused it), or it might swerve into a tree/building/wall and cause injury to the driver and passengers (again their fault, but it's still on your back).

    Yes, I agree drivers should slow down, but bicyclists should OBEY THE LAW. You will be hard pressed to find a state that allows bicyclists to follow a different set of laws than motorists. I have nearly hit bicyclists because I come to a complete stop at a stop sign and am about to go when one comes flying in front of me from out in the distance. It should be safe for me and other drivers to assume that if you come to a complete stop at a 4 way stop and look both ways and don't see anyone coming that anything that will come will stop at the stop sign, as that's the whole point of the 4 way stop to begin with. Same goes for traffic lights.

    Oh, and while pedestrians have the right of way, they can still get fined for crossing outside a crosswalk or when the sign says "Don't Walk". It's called jaywalking. The only reason motorists are supposed to yield the right of way to pedestrians is to avoid killing them.

  • Feb 10, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I’m stopping WHEN IT’S APPROPRIATE, not by rote or rule. I’m jumping lights, because it’s the only time I get to cross many of these intersections which have no regard of bicyclist needs.

    … and it's exactly this type of behavior that causes motorists to assume all cyclists are law breakers. The bottom line is the law exists and applies to cyclists. If you feel so strongly that the laws are broken, then the way to fix them is through advocacy and never ending pressure on the legislature. Angering motorists is just going to turn more people against cyclists in general and add fuel to this ongoing battle for rights.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, in order to gain respect, you need to give respect.

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Your way is NOT WORKING. Bicyclists get ZERO respect in this RI. They only get some in states where there are active CRITICAL MASS meets, such as those that PLAGUED Chicago and NYC. While I'm not a huge fan of CM, it works. Turned Bloomberg totally around.

    All your pointless criticism and narrow minded pontifications aren't going to reach 95% of cyclists anyway. Until motorists get it into their heads that that must, by law, SHARE THE ROAD, through cyclists riding in travel lane where they legally belong, and controls and stripes that fairly permit cycling alongside, all your doing is CAPITULATING, bowing down before an automotive master.

    WHY RESPECT MOTORISTS who don't respect YOU!

  • Jim
    Feb 10, 2009 at 10:12 am

    It's because you won't get any respect from motorists until you start respecting them. There will always be a couple a-holes, but the vast majority give respect where respect is due. If you're riding like an a-hole, they're gonna drive like a-holes. If you ride respectfully, they'll drive respectfully.

    I agree more bike lanes and signage is much needed in Providence and much of the rest of the state. But if that happens, will bicyclists follow the laws then or will they continue what they're doing, just doing it in a bike lane (which still requires you to stop at stop signs and red lights).

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 11, 2009 at 6:36 am

    I was being kind not to RIDICULE your totally specious argument that bicyclists ENDANGER anyone, but if you're going to stoop to name calling, I just can't help rubbing your nose in it. What is there in bicycling where LAW dictates on the side of the travel lane that shows disrespect? Or edging out before traffic across intersections set up to get cyclists killed otherwise? Bullpucky.

    Let cities and RIDOT first show bicyclists the respect of OBEYING federal and state laws that MANDATE furnishing and maintaining bicycling, pedestrian and wheelchair accommodations on all streets. Then I will definitely use them. As it is, you can't use the only two Providence BIKE LANES (Allens or Promenade) because they are strewn with filth 100% of the time. I take parallel streets, Eddy or Smith instead, even though they are narrow, because they do have shoulders and it's perfectly legal. I take an inordinate number of side streets, too, just not to inconvenience motorists. I'd take them more often if I could get through from the ends of cul de sacs to adjacent neighborhoods.

    Obeying the law is all the respect I'm prepared to accept. You don't represent bicyclists or me with your pro-motoring opinions.

  • Jim
    Feb 11, 2009 at 6:48 am

    I'm not pro- or anti- anything related to this discussion. Cars have just as much of a right of way as bikes. The ultimate right is pedestrians, not cars or even bikes. I realize you can ride your bike on whatever street you like, and I respect your right to do that. It's when you violate laws, such as running stop signs or red lights, that I have a problem with. I could start doing that with my car, but it could endanger lives.

    You must never have been hit by a bicyclist. I have and know people who have. It hurts and can cause serious injury. It might not be as harmful as getting hit by a car (though I also know someone who got hit by a car while crossing a street, flipped over the top, and walked away), but it can still cause serious harm to a pedestrian.

    I also was not name calling, unless you actually do ride like an a-hole. If you ride respectfully and responsibly, my previous comment should not have offended you. I have also stated that I used to bike a lot. Frankly, I would bike more now that I live in Providence except the drivers are scary, and I can just as easily walk where I need to go. I respect bicyclists and their right to ride on the side of streets. It's when they stop respecting me and the law that angers me, just as much as it angers me when I see drivers running stop signs, red lights, and just driving like a-holes.

    I could go even further and mention people who ride on sidewalks (against the law) or runners who run in the street when there is a sidewalk present (also, from what I've read, against the law).

  • Feb 11, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I could go even further and mention people who ride on sidewalks (against the law)

    Believe it or not, in Rhode Island, it's legal to ride on the sidewalk.

    § 31-19-11 Bicycles and motorized wheelchairs on sidewalks and crosswalks. – A person may ride any vehicle operated by human power or may operate a motorized wheelchair or an electric personal assistive mobility device ("EPAMD") as defined in § 31-1-3 upon and along a sidewalk, a bicycle lane, a bicycle route or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, unless prohibited by official traffic-control devices (signs).

    I think people do this because of a very false sense of safety, little do they know that cars just don't expect to see something moving faster than pedestrian speeds along a sidewalk.

  • Jim
    Feb 11, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Wow! That's new to me. I believe in CT it was illegal, though never (or at least rarely) enforced.

  • Matt Moritz
    Feb 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Just because there are no easily available (eg: google search) statistics on injuries and fatalities caused by bicycles doesn't mean that they do not exist. "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Having nearly been hit myself by other cyclists, it isn't hard to believe that injury can easily result from 180+ pounds of metal and person moving at 3 times or more the speed of a pedestrian causing an injury.

    Having also been in a vehicle recently where the driver was proceeding through a green light and doing the speed and pushed a rider sideways who was running a red, I can attest that just because a rider thinks they are safe or will negotiate an intersection safely when the law and traffic signals aren't in their favor is false. Yes, the rider may have seen an empty intersection when they started through the red, but a vehicle moving at 25 miles per hour with some of the short siting distances in urban environments can lead to undesired results. In this case, the driver slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw the rider entering the intersection in front of him and the only damage was tire rubbing on bumper, but it easily could have been far worse.

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 14, 2009 at 3:57 am

    I said "no anecdotes". I've been looking for your mythical stats diligently for a decade (and I've had access to official documents). They don't keep them because there aren't enough damages or injuries caused by bicyclists to bother with.

    Bicycling's safety is due to physics. Speed kills; the faster you go, the greater the impact. Many of the 600 or so bicycling fatalities (among only 150,000 reported incidents, probably five times more too minor to be reported) each year occur because motorists overtake and run over cyclists; even so, the collisions versus fatalities is miniscule.

    I've been knocked off my bike several times by other cyclists. Happens among racers; not uncommon. If you don't know how to fall and roll, you might abrade skin or break a collarbone. More often, I've been hit from behind by motorists. Because a bike rolls, it usually results in a fall off the road from which you walk away with a bruise or cut. I didn't even fall, because all were sideswipes, shaken not stirred.

    Factually, cycling is about 200 times safer than driving and roughly 8 times safer than walking. Most of the 5,000 pedestrian fatalities occur where there are no crosswalks or sidewalks. Cities and states are at fault. Each year about 44,000 people die in 4,000,000 motor vehicle collisions; it's the 3rd leading cause of death in America. Ratio of serious injuries is also higher. Worldwide, more people use bikes as transportation than motor vehicles, roughly 3:1. If cycling represented the slightest liability to others, it would be controlled and require insurance.

    Traffic laws exist specifically to control MOTORED vehicles, not self propelled conveyances. Their application against bicycling, which they were written to protect not regulate, is a result of persistent automotive lobbying for profit motives. Anything that slows driving aggravates motorists and reduces sales. But streets are to be shared (not obstructed) by all members of the public. Motorists exceeding the posted limit denies use to those who aren't motoring. Out and about daily on a bike with a working speedometer, I can report that less than 25% of motorists are uniformly obeying laws (crossing solid lines, jumping controls, speeding). This respect you expect ain't happening. Agreed, good manners and obeying laws show respect, but when in Rome…

  • Jim
    Feb 14, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Bicycle-car and pedestrian-car accidents get reported more, because "it's the thing to do" and usually involves car insurance (who wants to pay for that dent out of pocket?). Last I checked, bicyclists don't carry bike insurance and pedestrians don't carry walking insurance. Those don't get reported for a reason, because they don't have to be. They covered by general medical insurance, usually by the person who got injured, regardless of who is at fault. How is biking safer than walking? I really want to hear your reasoning for this. Is it simply because there are fewer car-bike accidents than car-pedestrian ones? If so, that would be because there are a whole lot more pedestrians than bicyclists.

    And your reasoning behind the traffic laws applying to bikes is simply amusing. Do you seriously believe people would buy fewer cars if traffic laws did not apply to bikes? You're kidding yourself if you do. People buy cars because they're lazy (in the case of people who live in the same city in which they work), because they need them for transportation (in the case of people who live in areas without public transit or no other means to get to work), because they are a status symbol. Other obstacles on the roads are completely out of the equation for people who wish to own a car.

    I can see your reasoning if you are specifically talking about people who own cars, but only use them to drive around their small little neighborhood or even within the city. However, most people who have them don't use them just for that purpose.

  • Alan Barta
    Feb 15, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    There are over 1 billion bicyclists worldwide, about 50 million in America. Only in America are there more motorists, about 150 million, 3:1. Of course, many people are both, and except for the disabled, all also walk.

    We are discussing road use. Far fewer walkers share the road than bicyclists or motorists. Walkers almost always use either adjacent sidewalks or totally separate facilities (such as enclosed malls). Typically, people walk about 10,000 steps a day on average, mostly inside buildings. Huge facilities, such as the Mercedes assembly plant, issue employees bicycles to get around. Bikes were common at movie studios of the 30's. Narrow lanes accommodate bicyclists and walkers better than motored vehicles.