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 12-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:
Rear video: (rotate 90 degrees)

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.
  5. Add "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs from Rita's to 1717 Sigmas.

This bit of road is maintained by Allegheny County.


  1. "Thread-the-needle" is where a motorist tries to squeeze between a cyclist in the lane and oncoming traffic. It's dangerous for everyone. Slow down and get in line.

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