Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dangerous Roads?

John W asked:

I am just curious about what you Vehicular Cyclists think about the question of dangerous roads for Vehicular Cyclists. Are there roads out there that even experienced Vehicular Cyclists are genuinely hesitant to ride on (and no, I'm not asking about bikepaths etc., I mean real roads)? If there are, what are the characteristics that make them dangerous and why can't you overcome these limitations by using vehicular cycling techniques? If such roads exist, what should be done to improve them? If you can give specific examples I think that would be particularly helpful.

I think there's a two-part answer to this: Dangerous roads and dangerous drivers.

A dangerous road has some flaw that presents a hazard. The most common around here seems to be a pothole that's deep enough to trap a bicycle wheel, or causes traffic to swerve around it. That unexpected lateral movement is hazardous whether initiated by a cyclist or a motorist. Fortunately, the public works department is very proactive in repairing potholes once the weather cooperates.

Railroad tracks crossing at a shallow angle present a dangerous conditon for cyclists. Unfortunately, they're not maintained by public works since they're railroad property, and getting the RR to repair them is difficult since they have little regard for cyclists.

Oklahoma has many older roads that were originally very narrow and paved with portland cement. In fact, one of the original pieces of Route 66 still exists. Called the 'Sidewalk Highway', it's 9 feet wide. Similar roads were repaved and widened, and in places the newer, wider sections have deteriorated toward the road shoulder. The nice, fresh asphault develops a sagging area next to the road edge, sometime extending several feet into the new surface. This edge is rippled, with a distinct drop of an inch or so from the new surface.

As for dangerous drivers, we all know that truly malicious ones are thankfully rare. We're at more risk from impatient, distracted, or impaired ones. And we also run some risk maneuvering on the roadways containing some of the hazards listed above. In that sense, the hazard causes a behavior that puts us at risk, whether we're trying to cross a railroad track safely or a driver is dodging a pothole.

In another sense, a lawful vehicular cyclist educates those around him on the road. For instance, I commute on the same road day after day. I see the same motorists and they've come to expect a cyclist somewhere. Those three flaws above are along my route, and those motorists I encounter seem to be accomodating when it comes to my presence and the necessity of dealing with those hazards. We truly share the road.


On a few occasions, the highway running parallel to my route has been closed by accidents or fire, forcing all that traffic onto the slower side road. Traffic counts go from the tens into the hundreds. That's when I'd describe the road as dangerous, mainly because there are numerous impatient motorists unaccustomed to finding a cyclist on the road and unknowledgeable regarding the hazards we face. But even then, the vast majority of drivers can safely overtake and pass a cyclist. There are only a few who become irate at the presence of a cyclist on their drive home. Obviously, the condition of the road hasn't changed. It's driver behavior that has because they rarely encounter a cyclist on their normal commute.

In essence, then, dealing with so-called dangerous drivers is an education matter. We educate motorists by riding lawfully, responsibly, and predictably. We educate other cyclists by doing so. And we educate those bureaucrats and government officials responsible for maintaining our roads.


Post a Comment

<< Home