Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playing "Thread-the-Needle"

On Monday, Dec 8, a series of drivers played “thread-the-needle” with me and oncoming traffic. Explanation: On any given road, in any given lane, only one vehicle may be in that lane at a time. Specifically, a car and a bike cannot both be in a 14-foot-wide lane, side by side, at the same time. There was no crash or other altercation, but the incident serves as an example of the problem.

In PA, if a motorist wants to pass a bicycle, PA law requires the motorist to pass at least four feet from the cyclist. Really, this means change lanes first, pass the other vehicle (the bicycle), then pull back in, same as you would when passing a car. Other restrictions about having sufficient space for oncoming traffic still apply. Not to do that is unsafe passing, also a ticketable offense (§3305) .

I was inbound between the Shop ‘n Save and Rita’s Italian Ices shop on Babcock Blvd at the north edge of Millvale. The first of four cars passed me with a decent amount of space probably about three feet. The second and third were more like two feet off. The fourth managed to squeeze between me and oncoming traffic, maybe a foot away. All of them were going close to 35, the posted limit, but certainly not “within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed”, as directed by §3303a3.

Fortunately, both front and rear video cameras captured what happened. Here are two-minute excerpts of each. I tried to align them such that I reach the end of a bridge at the 10-second mark.

Front video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghoEuokmr80
Rear video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tfhJZ0uVrM

These start at Babcock and Douglas, about a quarter mile north of the Shop ‘n Save. Note the decently wide shoulder at the start of the video. I am on the shoulder here, as I have been for about the past mile. It’s paved and six feet wide, so why not.
0:08 – This bridge was rebuilt Summer 2014.
0:15 – Car passes me without incident by the “1717 Sigmas” building. I often use this building as a landmark.
0:25 – The shoulder narrows considerably after the “Around the Corner Bar”, so I merge into the traffic lane. (I did signal to the car behind me.)
0:28 – Unrideable shoulder. Car passes me a bit close, but not a problem. I choose to ride in the right tire track.
0:36 – Large hole on edge of traffic lane on bridge. No shoulder at all. I remain in right tire track for the duration of this video. (I really should fully take the lane.)
0:50 – Passing Shop ‘n Save. Dark-orange SUV waits for traffic; this becomes the fourth car, which passes me very closely.
0:55 – First of four cars passes me, maybe three feet clearance. Could’ve/Should’ve gotten fully over, there is no oncoming traffic.
0:59 – Note the huge hole, which is actually a drain grate I reported on the dangerous-drain-grates thread several years ago.
0:59 – Second car passes me, only about two feet clearance. This one, too, was not in imminent danger from oncoming traffic, though a lot closer than the first one.
1:06 – Third car, a black Jeep, also only about two feet off my elbow, playing thread-the-needle between me and oncoming traffic.
1:18 – Fourth car passes me much too closely, only about a foot away, with oncoming traffic right there. PA plate HVX-6133. A screen shot at the 10:54:15 timestamp in my front video shows that the oncoming car was itself on the white line. However, HVX-6133 is not over the yellow. It’s just narrow through here.
1:44 – As soon as I pass the light at Rita’s, the lane widens considerably.

Here is what I want to see happen:

  1. Reduce the speed limit from 35 to 25 from the 1717 Sigmas building to the existing 25 zone at the north end of Millvale, by Rita's.
  2. Enforce that.
  3. Fix those drain grates so they won't throw a cyclist, as well as other transient holes in the road.
  4. Sharrow the road at least up to the Shop 'n Save.


This bit of road is maintained by Allegheny County.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo - 29 Nov 2014 - Upon being pushed off my bicycle

I need to record some thoughts about Tuesday's incident and what I think should happen as a result. To recap, I got a super close pass, followed by the guy stopping his car, jumping out, and pushing me off the bicycle. The event was captured on my dual video cameras. I reported it to the police straightaway and they will press a harassment charge.

It wasn't an assault charge; not my decision. The evening desk sergeant's reasoning was that I was not injured. I did want them to press the four-foot violation, but I don't think that that is going to happen. Well, let's see how far this goes.

I'm a little worried about the publicity so far. Ideally there should not be any until the case is closed. I tried to keep a lid on it, but it's out. As soon as the videos got posted to YouTube so the police could see them, they were also on Google Plus and thus publicly available, and everyone knew it.

I am not interested in seeking a punitive damage award. That's not how I operate. I am interested in seeing this guy change his mind about cyclists on the road. There is no reason he could not have passed me. Possibly he did not know he legally could cross the center line. Or maybe he just has a seed under his dentures about cyclists in the street.

Some other specifics:
* He needs to know cyclists have a right to use the road and to use the traffic lane.
* He needs to know that cyclists are most safe if they are not hugging the right edge of the street and parked cars.
* He needs to know that if he's going 38 mph in a 25 zone, and encounters traffic going 23, that he needs to modify a behavior, not the other traffic.
* He needs to deal with anger management. That close pass was intentional, as was his exiting his vehicle, as was pushing me off the bike. All of that was under his control.

I never exited my vehicle. I remained astride it despite going horizontal. Indeed, I never took either hand off my handlebars. Neither did I speak to him, other than a "Yo!" when he passed, and the word "Video!" after he pushed me. In no way did I escalate that situation.

Then there's the police. Neither desk sergeant -- morning or evening -- nor the evening supervisor, was interested in pressing the four-foot violation, despite my video evidence. That's wrong and needs to change.

I want there to be greater publicity about treating cyclists respectably. The videos show that I was and had been fully in compliance with traffic law for the several minutes before the guy appeared.

This whole thing is only getting started. I have no idea how it is going to turn out. I have no hope that anything useful is going to happen. I really do hope anyone learns anything from it, including me, as it's almost certain to happen again.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 15 Nov 2014 edition - Aliquippa speech, final draft

[N.B.: See the earlier version of this speech, posted five days ago. Thanks to V.B. for several constructive comments, as well as input from a few others privately and through social media. I plan to speak the following at the memorial ride and placement of the ghost bike. I believe a copy of this will also be forwarded to the press.]

Taylor Banks was a frequent, strong, experienced cyclist riding a road he knew well, and obeying the rules. Every cyclist here today is also an experienced cyclist who obeys the rules, so just as we are shocked by his death, we are also concerned for our own safety. But mark my words, this was not an accident. This was the result of a lot of things gone wrong, both at the time he was hit, and long before.

Taylor was killed going to his mother’s house after work. In July 2013, Emily Jankart was killed on Route 51 at the Sewickley Bridge, returning home after work. Two deaths, two years, one road, one reason for travel. That is unacceptable. So why is it unsafe to use a bike to get back and forth to work on this road?

Let's be clear. Cyclists do have the right to be on the road and to use the travel lane. Many people, drivers and cyclists alike, do not know that, and a few do not accept it, but it's right there in Section 3301c1 of state traffic law. So how do we prevent drivers killing cyclists?

One, we can start by enforcing speed limits. If people speed, that's a police issue. Cite motorists, show up in court, and prosecute.

Two, this stretch of PA51 is Pennsylvania Bike Route "A". But if the 55 mph speed limit is too high to accommodate bikes safely, then that's a policy issue for PennDOT to resolve with the active participation of the cycling community.

Three, education. It would really help if everyone knew and followed the rules. Mr. Banks was following the rules.

The roads are there for public use, and that includes everyone, including Taylor and other cyclists. If cyclists are indeed supposed to be able to bike along here, then modify the road, the speed limits, the signage, make the public aware of any changes, and patrol it, so that we safely can.

"Share the road" does not mean share the lane. If there is a cyclist in the right lane, get in the left lane and pass us. When you pass a cyclist, you have to give him four feet of space. If you are on a two-lane road, Section 3301a6 says you may legally cross a double yellow line to pass a cyclist, if you can see it's safe to do so.

The crux of the matter is this: When you come up behind a cyclist, either change lanes and pass, or patiently wait, same as you would behind a tractor or backhoe, until you can pass. Getting there safely is more important than getting there quickly, regardless of your mode of travel.

Getting everyone to realize that bicycles really do have the right to use the road at all, any road, and to use the full lane, any time, is going to be hard. But we can start by obeying the speed limit and knowing what the law says.

In closing, let us remember the wise words of Mary Harris Jones, better known as "Mother Jones": "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

May we all live long, prosperous lives, and ride our bikes in peace.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 10 Nov 2014 edition - Aliquippa speech, first draft

[N.B.: On November 1, a 23-year-old cyclist, Taylor Lee Banks, was killed on PA Route 51, riding from his job in Aliquippa to his mother's home in Rochester. A Ride of Silence and placement of a ghost bike in his memory is planned for November 16. I plan to be there, prepared to stand in front of any media present, and speak the following.]

As far as we know, Taylor Banks was an experienced cyclist riding a road he knew well, and obeying the rules. Every cyclist you see here today is also an experienced cyclist who obeys the rules, so just as we are shocked by his death, we are also concerned for our own safety. But mark my words, this was not an accident. This was the result of a lot of things gone wrong, both at the time he was hit, and long before.

We have created a world in which the only acceptable method for getting from Point A to Point B is in a car. And that's wrong. Why is it unsafe to use a bike to get back and forth to work?

Let's be clear. Cyclists do have the right to be on the road. When we are on the road, we also have the right to use the travel lane. Many people do not know that, and a few do not accept it, but it's right there in Section 3301c1 of state traffic law. So how do we prevent another cyclist's death?

One, we can start by enforcing speed limits. If people speed, that's a police issue. Cite motorists, show up in court, and prosecute.

Two, this stretch of PA51 is a posted Pennsylvania Bike Route. But if the posted speed limit is too high to accommodate bikes safely, then that's a policy issue for PennDOT to resolve with the active participation of the cycling community.

Three, the roads themselves are designed to kill, by inviting people to drive too fast to accommodate any users other than cars and large-engined motorcycles. Why do we do that? We shouldn't need speed traps to force people to obey the law, the roads should be designed to enforce themselves with an appropriate speed.

The roads are there for public use, and that use is supposed to include everyone, including cyclists. If cyclists are indeed supposed to be able to bike along here, then modify the road, the speed limits, the signage, and make the public aware of that fact, so that we safely can.

Taxpayers might object to any money being spent for special accommodations for cyclists. Fine, we do not need special accommodations. We do, however, require normal accommodations, which means you have to accept what the law already says in Section 3301c1, that we will be on the road, and we will be in the traffic lane, and that since it's a four-lane road, we will be in the center of that right lane. It should be possible for 18-wheelers and cyclists to share the same road.

Share the road does not mean share the lane. If there is a cyclist in the right lane, get in the left lane and pass us. When you pass a cyclist, you have to give him four feet of space. Why? Because, if for no other reason, the gust of wind accompanying your moving car or truck is enough to push a cyclist off course, into a curb or off the road altogether. If you are on a two-lane road, Section 3301a6 lets you legally cross a double yellow to pass a cyclist, if you can see it's otherwise safe to do so. So when you come up behind a cyclist, either change lanes and pass, or patiently get in line, same as you would behind a tractor or backhoe, until you can. We will control that lane until we decide it is safe to let you pass, and then and only then we will pull to the right, as Section 3301c1 allows.

Getting everyone to realize that bicycles really do have the right to use the road at all, any road, and to use the full lane, is going to be hard. But we can start by obeying the speed limit and knowing what the law says.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 09 Nov 2014 edition - Surveys

I was completing one of those on-line surveys yesterday. While the topic is irrelevant, one question is not: "How many vehicles are in your household?" OK, how am I supposed to answer that? There is one car in the driveway, true; I suspect "1" is the answer they were looking for.

But it isn't accurate. In our house, three entirely different modes of transport, that are not cars, provide at least half of the family's travel needs -- bicycles, a motorcycle, and public transit -- and two of those are technically household vehicles. Even if I lump all the bikes as one, that would bump that answer to "3".

I want to contact the survey company, A.C. Nielsen, and ask them why they would even ask that question, and point out that our non-car travel fleet results in a lot of money being spent on goods and services related to them. Further, our non-car travel methods results in a skew of where we shop. Getting in the car to drive to the mall is so 1980s. We don't do that, even with the car.

But the vehicles are the focus of my complaint. I want to ask them, why aren't you asking about the non-car vehicles? I know that you are asking about vehicles for reasons other than demographics. I know you make your money by selling information about people's travel habits to potential advertisers. So, ask! There is money in us non-car-drivers, and our numbers are growing.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 08 November 2014 edition - Knotweed and pumpkins

In 2013, I cleared a few square yards of an established stand of Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant which grows eight feet in height and totally overwhelms its environment. I did not try to do too good a job of clearing it, just yanking out as much root as would come with a strong pull. It was a "proof of concept" experiment, intended to see how solidly the area would grow back in 2014.

The experiment was successful. Certainly there was grow-back, as I knew there would be, but it was much less dense. It took less than an hour to re-pull the area I put five or six hours into clearing in 2013. A few yards away, I began a second experimental clearing, this time trying very hard to yank out every bit of root and rhizome, to be evaluated in 2015.

What else I learned in 2014 is that pumpkins can be used as a replacement cover crop. I'm not sure about this, but am willing to try it out. Theoretically it should have some beneficial effect, as pumpkins spread sideways and cover the ground well, where they get established. The problem I see is that knotweed starts coming up in April, long before pumpkins get started, and by July are taller than a human adult.

To that end, I am gathering as many pumpkins as I can, now that Hallowe'en is over. My intent is to outdo the knotweed in those couple of experimental clearings. If I get enough of a supply, I might just toss a pumpkin or two into an uncleared stand, just to see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Right now, though, it's pumpkin gathering time. I know I can carry a 10-pounder to my clearing. I will see how easily I can carry anything larger. My clearing isn't too far away to walk to, but it is rather secluded. But I will get them there, one way or another, and keep my eye on developments next year.

Friday, November 7, 2014

NaBloPoMo, 07 November edition - The Ninja Pedestrian

It was still dark as I walked Perrymont to catch the bus this morning. I've walked it thousands of times before, and this trip was no different, except for walking instead of biking. I know the shoulder of the road well, I know what cars do at every spot, I know where to anticipate wildlife making an appearance, I know every barking dog and motion-sensor light. There isn't much to surprise me.

Except this morning, I saw a shape appear out of the gloom, walking toward me. In those first hundredths of a second, my mind tried to make any sense out of the signals my eyes were sending it, and not succeeding. It probably did take a full second to realize the shape was human, and another to size up what was happening.

In short, nothing. It was just a pedestrian, walking westward as I was walking eastward, on my side of the road. Tall, male, maybe 40s. The problem was, he was dressed about as darkly as one could imagine, and was walking on the wrong side. Contrast this with me, who not only was wearing a light colored jacket, but also had on a flashing amber light which reflected off the road signs 200 meters ahead of me.

Cyclists and non-cyclists alike gripe about "ninja" bike riders, all in black, neither lights nor reflectors, not following the rules. Same applies to pedestrians. If I couldn't see him, moving 3 mph, how would a motorist moving 35 mph? Of course if he was hit, the driver would be faulted, but pedestrians (and cyclists) being stupid do not help matters any. Heck, even a white baseball cap would have helped.

Walking Perrymont is no picnic. Being on the wrong side is actually necessary in a couple of places because it's safer to be, no matter the weather, or lighting or road conditions. But not there. I follow the rules when it makes sense to, and act safely when the rules make it less safe.

But safety starts with making it possible for anyone else not to hit you, thus highlighting the first component in my mantra of "Be Visible, Be Predictable, Be Responsible."