Pass on the Left


One great billboard on the back of some buses is the illustration showing a bus turned-in at a bus stop with a cyclist behind the bus moving to the left to pass the bus. What a great illustration for a cyclist to see while traveling behind a stopped city bus! This message has helped countless times avoiding sideswipe right from a bike getting caught behind or at our rear door as passengers alight.  One of the keys to effective change is to have the message right where it needs to be, and this safety ad is in First Place!


Unfortunately, much more needs be done to clarify the do's and dont’s of riding a bike in San Francisco.


First off, dear bike riders, take the parallel street!  Usually there is a nice residential, less commercial street just off of a transit artery that is immensely safer for less conflict collision.  Scott Street or Baker off Divisadero for starters. Page Street instead of Oak or Haight. Valencia instead of Mission. Howard Street with marked bike lane  sharrows instead of scary Mission Street. Polk instead of Van Ness.  The list goes on. It just is not safe to be on Van Ness or Divisadero during Peak Period, or what most call Rush Hour.

Sharrows are the arrow-like bike icons indicating a shared lane with vehicular traffic. They are stenciled in the center of the lane so cars are not in a reduced width lane because of a separate lane for bikes. All these extra paint marks on the street do make for a confusing first time if you are in a car visiting San Francisco.  What with transit islands and taxi and bus lanes, the driving space for regular traffic becomes constricted. 


This philosophy is extended to discourage automobile use, but with the advent of ride share vehicles in large numbers, the squeeze play can become not unlike a video game.  But unlike on a screen, injury and collision is real.


Second tip: Walk the bike. When the space between parked cars and the first traffic lane is not consistently wide enough, walking the bike on the sidewalk is safest. The point is, this bike walk need not be a distance longer than two blocks. Sometimes sidewalks are wide and empty. Taking a driveway becomes the safe in and out especially when timed with the car clusters based on the traffic lights. This also helps smooth the flow in making good time on a bike.  If you know you're going to get a red ahead, why not enjoy the eye candy along the way?


Third tip: Knowing the Lights. Blazing ahead through a red looks really bad. When I see this happen, I follow behind to see if this violation pays dividends. Does running the light make for a faster trip down the line? In most cases, the answer is no. Violating a red light does not a faster trip make, due to the following red at the next intersection. I would lose my cool and scold the cyclist stopped at the next light. Cyclists also block autos from being able to make a right on red as they prance on their cranks or violate the cross walk by being way too close to the traffic lane of the crossing street. 


I stopped trying to control them by chiding them at the next light. It wasn't worth the cost to my serenity. I let one girl have it at Van Ness and Golden Gate, and I saw the next day that she took another route. Instead of changing her behavior on one path, she diverted to another. It was the safer route: less high speed traffic on a two-way street. 

Our stoplights are not timed. The reason for this is to slow traffic and break the pattern of speeding towards the end of the cycle when all the lights go red. Zipping through on a stale red can pay dividends, and most motorists and cyclists get this. The hard part is then to slow down and submit to the next red if it is not timed.


Fourth tip: Ride with the pack. This can be dangerous if some in the pack want to pass. Usually, riding just behind the pack is best. Let them blaze the trail for alley car pullouts and car doors. I come behind well lit and at a tracking speed. If they want to rush ahead without lights at dusk, more power to them. At least I will be seen.


Fifth tip: Be seen.  Now some guys take this to the extreme. Some of these new head lamps look like they could be used to mine gold. The intensity of the beam looks like a close encounter of the fifth kind!  But that apparently is not enough. Adding The Flash makes for an eye blinding experience, and does not seem to be a way to befriend or influence a motorist to be kindly and yielding. Be wary of pushback.


I did have a newly charged light on flash, and was using the sidewalk for a block on a narrow residential street where the cars fly by in a single lane situation. The pedestrian screamed at me as I approached and severely chided me as I dismounted. I did thank him for letting me know the light was bothersome. I now point it downward to the street right in front of me. I also use the dimmer function if I am on a sidewalk. I also slow or dismount if a pup is on a leash or young ones are playing.


I have since noticed that a light on a bike's handlebar is even with the rearview mirrors of a car. I use this to my advantage when coming up from behind a car at a stop sign in inclement weather or when its really dark outside.  Being mindful of other cars and other bicyclists has helped me keep my Zen on the streets and in transit!


Bike Riders Pass on the Left (jpg)

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