Why I slow down (while biking) at intersections (and I don't worry about riding fast either)
Image from a London Cyclist Campaign organization webpage.
Yesterday, I almost got taken out by a "right hook" at 2nd and K Streets NE, by a car that didn't put its turn signal on til they were midway into the intersection. Had the turn signal been on I would have waited for the car to turn or moved to the left of the car.
Interestingly, this was witnessed by a friend-colleague who happened to be biking by at the same time.
Later he sent me an email, which reminded me that I had been meaning to write about this topic, "why I slow down at intersections." ... because since there is traffic from all directions, there are more chances for mistakes and accidents.
This is the case even though because intersections are "controlled" by "traffic control devices" (signs or traffic signals) you expect the opposite, that intersections would be safer.
The real issue is that bicyclists who ride following the rules are at a disadvantage if they think that all motorists are following the rules. Even if they are, they still can make mistakes (as I do when I drive or ride too).
It reminds me of the old AAA "watch out for the other guy" public safety ad campaign.
And another incident I remember from 25 years ago, when a U of Chicago student was waiting in the median crosswalk, legally, to finish crossing the street when the light changed, only to be hit and killed by an errant, inebriated driver. She was following the rules, the driver wasn't.
(The entry also discusses the presumption that the cyclist was riding illegally and the failure of the MPD police officer to do even a cursory examination of what happened. The cyclist suffered some permanent disability as a result of the accident, and the insurance company settled with him, when presented with evidence of the illegal turn--a fluke that evidence even existed.)
With regard to the specific account, I think the driver lied about not seeing the bicyclist.
I think what happened is that the driver thought the cyclist was moving at 15 mph or less, and so s/he thought there was enough time to turn into the gas station without impinging on the oncoming traffic.
The driver didn't expect that the cyclist was moving at almost 25mph--as fast as cars--and therefore ended up not having enough time to make the turn without creating an accident. "The cyclist ran into me."
I've heard that one before too... it's about entitlement and not understanding the physics of movement, but also having no real conception of how fast bicyclists are moving or can move.
3. Note that I don't think it's a good idea to ride that fast on DC streets in the core especially (not that I have a racing bike anyway). There are too many opportunities for problems, not to mention potholes.
By not riding as fast--I have a hybrid bike, so I don't have thin tires anyway and I don't ride much faster than 16 mph when the terrain is flat--and by slowing down and riding more cautiously at intersections, I have more time to react to errant driving.
By riding faster and taking chances (running red lights and stop signs in the face of oncoming traffic), you increase the opportunity for accidents, and have less time to react besides, which is a nasty combination.
But I do think it's important to reiterate the imperative that cyclists need to ride defensively when it comes to mixed traffic. If that means riding slower, sometimes deferring to traffic, and not always following the rules of the road when they favor the cyclist, so be it.