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Wednesday February 13, 2008

You can learn to drive: Part 5 (dealing with bicycles)

bike in traffic

So there you are, driving merrily along, minding your own business, and suddenly there’s a cyclist in the road in front of you. The lane is narrow, the street is busy, and dude is like two feet out from your lane’s right line, and he’s not moving over to let you pass. Wtf??

Well, you know what I’m going to say, but hear me out anyway. I’ve been at this situation from both sides, so I understand your frustration. The first thing to realize — and believe me it is a realization that is very far from universal — is that cyclists have as much right to the road as cars do. We’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic, as the Critical Mass folks say.

Okay, so here’s the law: The cyclist can be as far out into the lane as he feels he or she feels necessary. That means out of the way of parked cars who’s doors can fly open unexpectedly, out of any road debris potholes, and in the case of narrow lanes, just out in the middle of the lane. If you can’t without giving the bike a few feet of space, don’t. (Update: Commenters indicate that 3 feet is the legal minimum!) I know it’s frustrating sitting there with a row of cars behind you, but trust me: the cyclist isn’t any happier about it then you, and he’ll give you a chance to pass as soon as possible. Note that honking just shows you’re an ignorant moron, and in my case at least will make me move farther over into the lane before you try squeezing by and killing me. (Which, btw, thank you to everyone’ who’s passed without killing me — I really appreciate it!)

Four way stops: Yes, cyclists often run four-way stops. Yes, there are situations where you have to stay stopped for a couple of extra seconds, but trust me, it’s better for everyone this way. Imagine you get to the stop sign a little after a stopped bicycle; now you’re waiting much longer, because these things take a while to get up to speed. If you’ve come to a complete stop, and the bicycle is a few car-lengths away from the intersection, go ahead. Otherwise, exercise a little patience. Momentum is a beautiful thing.

Stop lights: Kind of a similar situation; bikes sometimes run red lights. When they cut it a little too close, a gentle tap on your brake is considered more polite then a honk of the horn. Oh, speaking of horn honking — do NOT honk at a bicycle to let them know you’re behind them and getting ready to pass. This is annoying, and may require the bike to move further out into the lane, so as to prevent someone clearly clueless from passing too close. Urban cycling is exiting enough without drivers going out of their way to make it more stressful. If you’re waiting to turn and a bicycle is passing, sit patiently — no inching up, please.

Special note to cell phone users: Look, sorry, but you swerve all over the road, ok? I know you don’t notice it, but that’s because you’re on the phone. If you’re trying to pass a bicycle and you’re on the phone, give the bike lots and lots of space to leave room for your swerving. Be extra careful. If you’re not going to hang up, at least stop talking. Thank you to everyone who hasn’t killed me yet!


Wednesday November 9, 2005

You can learn to drive: part 4 (post-Wilma edition)

“Treat intersections without signals as 4-way stops,” is great advice for a day or two after an emergency, when people are happy just to be alive and able to spend 6 hours in line for a free bag of ice. Here we are on day 16 (right?), and in some areas lots and lots of intersections are still out, including some pretty big ones. The novelty of 4-way stopin’ (8-way when you count turning lanes) grows ever the more thin. We have some advice for police, and some advice for drivers.

First, thank you for pulling 12-hour shifts directing traffic. It doesn’t look like much fun, but it helps, and we appreciate it. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to see you when we’re approaching, which causes us to slow down even when we don’t need to. Maybe something to indicate an officer is signaling at an intersection. And those temporary stop signs in the middle of the road? As long as you’re there signaling, maybe could we cover them with a garbage bag or something, ‘cause they’re contributing to the confusion.

OK, let’s talk here for a minute. You’re frustrated and angry, and you’re late for work. Follow these simple rules, but please do calm down – stress on the road is dangerous. About those 4-way stops:

  1. We don’t understand why a blinking red/yellow light is a 4-way stop, but so long as everyone else is treating it that way, we will, too.
  2. If you’re at a busy 4-way stop intersection (meaning there’s enough traffic that everyone has to stop anyway), your job is to try to get through it as fast as possible but without cheating.
  3. That means not waiting to make sure everyone else is standing completely still before you go. If it’s your turn, go already! Just go carefully, and be prepared to stop if someone else has a difference of opinion about who’s turn it was.
  4. If you’re on a street with 2 or three lanes going in each direction, and the guy next to you is starting across the intersection, go with him even if it’s not your turn.
  5. If people are going in the opposite direction, and there’s no one waiting to turn who would impact your lane, go!
  6. If you’re coming up on an empty intersection, and you have a blinking yellow light, do not stop ( [sigh] unless there’s a stop sign, we guess). As we see it, at that point the pre-hurricane laws are in effect, the guy with the blinking red has to stop, and you can drive right through that intersection, just slow down and be careful.
  7. If you’re on a major boulevard, and coming up on an intersection where nobody else going in your direction is stopping, slow down and proceed with caution, but do not stop. Chances are there’s a good reason they’re not stopping.
  8. Conversely, if you’re on a side street and getting onto (or crossing) a major intersection, be careful and treat it as a regular (not 4-way) stop, because there is a very good chance people on the bigger street will not be stopping.

Far and above the best thing you can do, though, if you work 9 – 5, is to ask your employer to let you do alternative hours: say, 10 – 6. Traffic is much much better an hour later. Also, check out Miami Traffic.

[Previously: Part 3]


Sunday September 18, 2005

You can learn to drive: Part 3

Driving school. Steve can have his Traffic Clinic, but we’re all for doing the time ( 4-hour defensive driving course) if you do the crime (51 in a 35). This is great – you’re forced to sit in front of a computer for four hours and get lectured at in plain text (with animated spinning bullet points!), followed by a test. It’s pretty standard mind-numbing stuff, but a couple of nuggets do emerge:

Try to keep a 2-second distance behind your car. Distance behind your car is the hardest to maintain because other vehicles may tailgate or follow to [sic – the whole thing is full of gramatical mistakes] closely. If you are being tailgated, increase — do not decrease — the space between you and the car ahead.

We love this – they’re saying that you respond to tailgating by slowing down, which we’ve always believed to be the correct response. There’s nothing like a little sharp braking to put a tailgater in her place.

In Canada, where daytime running lights are required, there was an 11 percent decline in two-vehicle different-direction crashes during the day. (…) If your car is not equiped with daytime running lights it may be a good idea to turn your headlights on when you encounter any type of limited visibility situation or if you just want to make yourself more visible to other drivers.

Nice. We’ve experimented with driving with lights on during the day – it makes us feel more important. And who wouldn’t want to be more visible?

An average 170-pound male would need to consume four drinks in one hour on an empty stomach to rach a BAL of .08 [BAL = blood alcohol level; .08 is the legal maximum].

So if you have four drinks with a meal, you’re probably legal. If you’ve ever had four drinks with a meal, you know there are some legally drunk-ass people out there on the road. Watch your ass.

In approximately 44 percent of violent traffic altercations the perpetrator used a weapon such as a firearm, kinfe, club, or tire iron. In 23 percent, the aggressive drier used the vehicle as a weapon. More unusual weaons included pepper spray, egges, golf clubs, and, in one instance, a crossbow. (…) Never underestimate another driver’s capacity for mayhem.

Yikes! Scare tactics in time-lapsed html are pretty intimidating. But the truth is, not that many people die in road rage. Mostly it’s about intimidation. Don’t get intimidated.

[ Previously: You can learn to drive: Part 2 ]


Wednesday July 13, 2005

You Can Learn to Drive: Part 2

With the recent lane-signal law change, this seemed like a good time for more driving tips.

1. Signal your lane changes. Please? OK, fine. But at least don’t cut people off. Some of us are constantly running late, and we’re trying to hurry. If you’re on I-95, don’t be in the left lane if you can maintain your same speed in one of the other lanes. The left lane is for passing, or going fast. Note that the new minimum speed limit on interstates is about to become 50mph, so clearly you do not belong in the left lane if you’re going 55.

2. Some fast food places, and other places, have dedicated ‘entrance’ and ‘exit’ lanes. Please heed these, otherwise Tom, from the Grapevine, might have to kick your ass.

3. Speaking of parking lots, we all have to get along. If you’re walking through a parking lot, don’t walk where you’ll unnecessarily inconvenience traffic. (That means, walk perpendicular to the sidewalk, not diagonally!)

4. On the other hand, if you’re driving, give pedestrians a break. In the rain, pedestrians always get the right of way.

5. It is acceptable for cars to cut off SUV’s. It is not acceptable for SUV’s to cut off cars. (If you drive an SUV, keep in mind that cars behind you are in an inherently dangerous position.) It is acceptable for anyone to cut off taxis and limo drivers.

6. Highway debris kills people. If you see a truck with crap that’s about to fall off, call *FHP and report them (hell yes, get on your cell phone, dangerous as that is, you’re saving lives).

[Previously, Part 1 ]


Tuesday May 17, 2005

You Can Learn to Drive: Part 1

Busted-ass police car People, there are a lot of wack drivers out there. Now, we care about out readers. So with that in mind, here are a few things you should know as you drive about town.

1. As you sit in the driver’s seat, you’ll probably be focused on the steering wheel. You may have mastered it. Great. Now let’s look right behind it; you’ll notice a sort of lever on the left side of the wheel, which can be pushed up or down. This is your turn signal control. It goes up if you’re turning right or changing lanes to the right, down for left.

You may be thinking, “but Florida law says I don’t have to signal lane changes.” True; but you’ll want to, anyway. There’s a slightly coked-up real estate agent in a G55 AMG barreling down that other lane, and that turn signal might just save your life.

4-way stop 2. Many of you have problems with 4-way stops. Here’s how it works. You stop. If anyone else is already standing at the stop, you let them go. If someone’s pulling in to the stop, you can just go: no need to wait! In fact, since you slow everybody else down by waiting, some people may assume you’ve fallen asleep in your car, and just keep going through the stop, once again putting you in jeopardy. So be safe and don’t sit there waiting for the other car to come to a complete stop.

3. If you’re on a street with more then one lane going in your direction, you may find yourself traveling next to a car going the same speed as you. In this case, you will want to slow down or speed up, and get in the same lane as that car. This will prevent people who want to pass tailgating you, and decrease your chance of death.

4. See the operator’s manual of your car on the correct use of your high-beams.