When traffic backs up, so do chances for being t-boned

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 3rd, 2012

Source: BikePortland

Watch out for cross-traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Have you ever been happily rolling along in the bike lane (or in the shoulder) as people in cars next to you wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and then suddenly there’s a break in the cars at an intersection? This usually happens because the cars going your direction don’t want to block cross-traffic from passing through the intersection. When you roll up to one of these traffic breaks, it’s not a time to let your guard down. This is a potentially dangerous situation that can lead to collisions.

I’ve been aware of this situation for a long time, so I usually slow down at intersections (even when I have the green) in order to peek around the parked cars and make sure it’s clear to roll through. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it through unscathed. In the interest of raising awareness, I thought I’d share two stories from readers who were recently victims of these types of collisisons.

Alex M. wrote in a few weeks ago after he was hit while riding on NE Broadway. Alex was headed westbound. When he approached NE 6th, he noticed the classic cross-traffic collision scenario:

“Cars were backed up over a block for a traffic light and had left room for the motorists to get through. I couldn’t see the car coming through the traffic because of large vehicles in the way.”

Luckily Alex wasn’t seriously hurt.

Bob Albano wasn’t so lucky.

Back in August, he was commuting up N. Williams Ave (which is notorious for sideswipes during the peak PM commute hours) to his job at Portland International Raceway (he’s an official with the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association). Albano told us he was riding in the bike lane and that the two lanes to his left were full of auto traffic. As he approached N. Fargo, here’s how he explains what happened next:

“With this heavy traffic flow, I was blind-sided from my left and all I remember was hitting something big, red and very hard. The next thing I remember was laying on the pavement, coughing up blood and a cacophony of voices in my ear and shadows standing over me.”

That “very hard” thing that hit him was a Chevy Avalanche pickup truck, which the Portland Police Bureau says was “traveling through stopped traffic” at about 5 mph when the collision occurred (Albano was going 16 mph).

Have you ever been sideswiped like this and/or experienced the conditions where they can happen? Other than slow down and be extremely cautious, it seems like the way to improve these situations is to add signals and/or stop signs when possible. What do you think?


Here is a link to a forum thread on the ChainLink which deals with a similar situation: Adapt Or Die? Smells Like Vehicular Cycling!

Riding on busy streets where Rush Hour congestion has things backed up does not mean that you can fly more freely past the stalled cars. What it does mean is that all of the training you should have gotten had you not foregone your Vehicular Cycling instruction now comes into play.

For all of their wonderfully advanced understandings of bicycle infrastructure there are two issues that I think Europeans get wrong:

  1. Vehicular Cycling is not a cult idea whose time has come and gone with the advent of buffered bike lanes. In fact the buffered bike lane has its own inherent problems in that it does not protect riders from the dreaded Right Hook. In the final analysis we are responsible for our own safety. It would be wonderful if the Critical Mass Rides we so fiercely protect were actually opportunities for training sessions rather than passive-aggressive demonstrations. I fear that urban cyclists are more into stress relief on monthly group rides than they are into gaining practical knowledge about dealing with the imperfect system of buffered lanes.
  2. Helmets are no more a sign of danger than painting the pavement green and preventing cars from driving along that lane. Both these actions are meaningful attempts to provide an extra measure of safety for cyclists. As with donning a warm coat in winter it is something that makes perfect sense. You don’t necessarily associate warm clothing with winter being a dangerous time to be outdoors (which it can be). But it is nevertheless true that hypothermia can be deadly and so warm clothing is well advised.

Cycling Advocacy groups here in the United States are trying to play on both sides of the fence on the issues of helmets. They want to appear cognizant of the pressures from Europeans to jettison what they think of a needless headgear in favor of riding without protection. Yet they are worried that lawsuits might result from their not requiring helmets on invitational rides.

Here is an example of a bit of the schizophrenic planning that took place for the recent Four Star Bike Tour:

Source: Four Star Bike Tour

Gain confidence riding in the city with Safe City Cycling

Have you ever wanted to participate in a ride such as this one, but were hesitant because you don’t regularly ride in city traffic? We understand and we’re ready to get you informed, empowered and on the road to city biking!

The Four-Star Bike Tour is a fun urban ride that explores a number of Chicago neighborhoods on city streets–some with bike lanes and some that are very quiet residential streets. For newer riders, this can be a challenging first step.

For an extra $20, you can get bicycling instruction while participating in the 12-mile Neighborhood Ramble. The Safe City Cycling program includes pre-ride instruction from a trained cycling instructor who will lead you in a group of 20 people along the route.

This is only available for the 12-mile Chicago Ramble route and limited to 80 people. Your 40-minute pre-ride instructional session and group ride will include:

  • Basic maintenance checks of your bike that you can repeat at home
  • Customized helmet fittings
  • Introduction to the rules of the road for cyclists
  • Review of what to expect on the ride

For the 12-mile ride, you’ll ride together at a moderate pace with other beginning “city riders” to share the learning experience. You’ll make a stop on the route to review your practical experiences, what you’ve learned and to answer questions.

Space is limited and timing is tight; it is imperative participants are on time (you will be notified of your start time after you register).

We’ll do our best to create groups of 20 that include your friends and family. Space is limited to 80 persons or four groups of 20.


Riders must have bikes that are ready to ride. Please make sure that tires are inflated and holding air, and that chain and gears are operating smoothly and brakes are working. We will give all bikes a basic mechanical check, and make every attempt to address any mechanical issues in the brief time allotted before departure. However, our qualified mechanics may be forced to declare a bike unfit to participate if the bike is found to be unsafe to ride.

When you look at this it seems to be a very important step that each rider should take to learn what constitutes a “sound” bike that is ready for riding on the streets of Chicago. And I applaud the effort. But this stuff is no more threatening to cyclists than being asked to ride with a helmet. In fact if most cyclists (even those who are considered “seasoned”) were to have a knowledgeable person look over their bikes they might be horrified to learn about all the things on their bikes that were likely to make the bike “unfit” to ride.

So do you not frighten the potential newbie rider by telling them of all the pitfalls of riding their bike in its present condition? No you go ahead and alert them to the reality of riding a fairly complex vehicle in monumentally more complex traffic and provide them with the knowledge to do so safely.

What you definitely do not do is have ride marshals leading groups on your Four Star Bike Tour that behave as dangerously as the one we had on our recent ride. For the life of me I cannot understand why a group like the Active Transportation Alliance would offer the kinds of help they describe above for newbies and children and then allow their seasoned volunteers to act like idiots on Huffy’s. But given the really asinine stuff I have seen on Chicago streets it all somehow seems to be consistent.