7 am, rolling west on madison through o’bryonville. it’s the narrowest part of my commute, and a notorious bottleneck when traffic is heavy.* but at 7 am traffic’s not heavy, and i ease into the middle of the right lane to discourage any drivers from trying to squeeze by where there ain’t no room (and avoid the desert of road salt strewn across the righthand side of the road). a driver passes in the left lane, and before s/he is even past me dives back into the right lane to make a hasty right turn down a side street. i holler and gesticulate helplessly. (especially since i can’t reveal individual digits in my two-fingered lobster gloves — this is a good thing, by the way, and prevents me from inflaming needless confrontation. at least, that’s what i tell myself.)
it’s not really a close call. i was startled and grabbed for my brakes, but didn’t need them. but it wasn’t safe, either. i needed to swerve a bit, and to pass me and make the all-important turn before i got there, the driver had to accelerate rapidly, change lanes with little or no warning, decelerate rapidly, and make a 90-degree right turn at a higher speed than is safe. a lot of work to save, what, 3 seconds? 2? less? so, the pet peeve: i’m repeatedly dismayed by the willingness of some (maybe even only a few) drivers to be in such a hurry that they’ll take unnecessary (and unproductive) risks to get there, wherever “there” may be.
but no harm, no foul, right? then i think: what if a rider less experienced than me, newer to the activity, enthusiastic but a bit nervous in handling the bike, encountered such a situation? would it be actually dangerous? even if not, would it be enough to make this rider think twice before continuing to commute to work? we need safe(r) roads with better drivers not only for those already cycling on them, but to encourage others to get out there and discover that using a bike for transportation is a viable way to go. experiences like mine this morning are a dime-a-dozen if you ride regularly, and experienced riders often blow them off casually. we shouldn’t.
*now that i think about it, it’s easier to ride through when it’s bottlenecked. traffic is slow, it’s easy to insert the bike between cars, and as long as i don’t inflame drivers by weaving among them to get ahead, it’s all good. when it’s less busy, however, people rarely slow to the 25mph posted limit and try to dive through without losing momentum. sometimes it makes me clench upas i imagine drivers zipping up behind me, one hand on their double-nonfat mocha with whipped cream, the other on the cellphone at their ear, driving with an elbow. yes, i recognize that it’s a stereotype, but it’s also something i see at least once daily.