Where Cyclists Have the Power to Ride Straight Past Turning Motorists

Hey, so it turns out the all-powerful @BicycleLobby didn’t actually scale the Brooklyn Bridge and plant white American flags at the top. That was two all-powerful German artists.

But courtesy of Clarence Eckerson Jr., here’s some footage of raw bicyclist power in Copenhagen, where turning drivers defer to people on bikes at intersections. I guess this is what you would call “soft power.” So many people bike in Copenhagen that all these polite motorists are probably either cyclists themselves or know close friends and family who bike. Each person on a bike going by could be a neighbor, an aunt, or an old roommate.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I’ve been waiting to see this post all night to see what it is all about.

    I had the pleasure of dealing with some of the most patient drivers in North America while staying with a friend in Seattle earlier in the summer. Most would just wait patiently behind me as I would crawl up a steep hill until there was room for me to move over and for them to pass safely. If everyone drove like that there really would be almost no need for bike infra.

    Anyway, while the situational awareness of Danish drivers is exceptional there are a few things to note.
    1 – Each one of those intersection had raised cycletracks, NOT protected. The lead-up to the intersection was clear for many dozens, if not 100 feet or more so the drivers could get a very good look at the cyclists. Even with Copenhagen trained drivers, I don’t know how well they would see cyclists on NYC’s barrier protected bike lanes. Maybe they would.

    2 – My German cousin, who is the best skilled driver I’ve ever seen, almost hit a cyclist in a cycletrack behind parked cars as he was turning into a driveway. The parked cars totally hid the cyclist from his view coming up from behind.

    3 – Sadly it is our culture in the U.S. to treat a drivers license as a right and not the highly restricted privilege as it is in most of Europe. Until that time we will need to keep on have Copenhagen Dreams with Clarence.

    Finally, I must say, “DO NOT ATTEMPT IN THE USA!!!” If approaching traffic stopped at a red light, filter up to the second to last (first) car at the light and wait for the light to change in full view of that second driver. Coming up and around the first could leave you vulnerable to a right hook as that driver moves with the green light not expecting you to be there. This is a BIG BIG deal with large trucks! I never pass those on the right at an intersection. If traffic is moving, as you approach the intersection, make sure you shuffle in with traffic (this could be in the bike lane) and make sure the driver behind you sees you and you take a slightly active role in not allowing them to pass and hook you. This is still the reality we live with here.

  • These are the good examples from Copenhagen, but if you ride there very much you’ll also experience many very poor examples of drivers not waiting and cutting bicycle riders off. It’s extremely dangerous feeling (and actually dangerous) when this happens since you (bicycle rider) are stuck in the middle of an intersection with cars and trucks driving by.

    There is another place where this happens. A place with a higher modal share of bicycling (and country-wide, not just two metro areas) and lower fatalities per mile ridden—The Netherlands. There the cycletracks try when possible to cross the intersection several meters and usually a car-length away from the intersection where it is much easier for drivers to see bicycle riders and where stopping and waiting for bicycle riders and pedestrians is more natural than Copenhagen’s middle of the intersection design. NL’s design allows for shark’s teeth or raised tracks which greatly increases safety for bicycle riders.

    I don’t think we’ll be successful in teaching American drivers patience and hygge. We need facilities and rules that send a much stronger message than Copenhagen’s designs do.

  • Gezellig

    Yes! Copenhagen cycletrack design–especially at the intersections–is not up to best practices.

    Both experientially and datawise the protected cycletracks at Dutch intersections are better in pretty much every way. Since we’re more or less starting from a blank slate in the US we’d be wise to copy the best practice, not the second-rate design.

  • voltairesmistress

    If traffic is stopped at a traffic light, why not filter up to the very first car, and get in front of it? The bike lane is a true traffic lane, and as a rider one has every right to use it as such. I get that we bike riders should not endanger ourselves by not being seen (trucks, already turning cars, etc.). But I don’t understand how being in front of the second waiting driver or being in front of the first waiting driver makes any safety difference. Either driver can see you, or either can be inattentive and therefore not see you. It’s not really 100% in the bike rider’s control to do more than be obvious. And you can be obvious in front of the first, or in front of the second driver at a red light. Am I missing something here?

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Thanks for actually reading my long boring comment.

    Why NOT pass the first car waiting at a red light? Why, you never know when the (stale) red light will change and the vehicle will start moving while you a coming up along the side of the first car in the drivers blind spot. You could find yourself in a hooking situation. After 25 years of riding, I find it’s typically much safer just to roll up past the second car and to wait there. Yes you most often can make it past the first car too but I’ve had a few situations where the changing of the light found me in a dangerous position. There is usually enough delay before the 2nd car starts to move on green that you can get in front of them so they see that you are there.

    Still I’d NEVER pass a large truck at the front of the line! It takes much longer to pass them and if they start turning right, you could find yourself dead and under the truck’s rear wheels in seconds! Your life is worth waiting a few moments. The truck will most likely pass you eventually anyway!

    Also, people make rights on red too. You never know when that first vehicle might do one of those too!

    I hope you see my logic in this. As a League Cycling Instructor I just want everyone to be safe and enjoy their ride. Hooking crashes in this scenario are totally avoidable but happen WAY too often.

  • Joe R.

    In NYC at least you have very good feedback on when the stale red light will change. Either the “don’t walk” signal stops flashing and stays solid red, or the pedestrian countdown timer reaches zero, depending upon which is used. You can clearly see either even 50 feet before the intersection. Once either of those events occur, you have at least 4 seconds before the light changes. My usual way of operating is as follows:

    1) If the red light isn’t going change any time soon I roll right up to the intersection at ~10 mph, scanning the intersection for cross traffic while I’m doing this. At that point if there’s no cross traffic I pass the intersection, accelerating from the 10 mph (sometimes less if lines of sight are poor) I was going back up to cruising speed as I’m going through the intersection. If there’s cross traffic, I stop and wait until it clears, or the light changes, whichever comes first.

    2) If I know there’s no way I’m getting to the intersection before the light goes green, I hang back a bit in case any vehicles are turning (this is similar in principal to what you do).

    3) If the “don’t walk” goes solid red when I’m 4 seconds or less from the intersection, I try to time it so I hit the intersection right as the light flips to green, or slightly before. I prefer to be going at or close to my cruising speed when I do this. My rationale here is it usually takes drivers about a second or so to react to a green light. By then at my cruising speed I’m already about 30 feet into the intersection, well past the point where they can right hook me. I do keep keenly aware of any motion before I reach the intersection in case a driver decides to jump the light and make a right turn. This almost never happens. When it does, my maneuver is to just make a hard right at speed, avoiding a right hook. I may end up going down a road I didn’t intend to, but it’s better than a collision. I also scan for drivers on the cross street trying to beat the light, and cover my brakes so I can stop quickly if I have to.

    Of course, when you’re in a place with no feedback on when the lights will change, your method makes sense. However, I think every traffic light should have a countdown timer in full view. This benefits everyone, especially cyclists approaching the intersection.

    Anyway, my method has worked flawlessly for decades. I haven’t been right hooked probably since the mid 1980s.

  • Biking in a skirt

    Right hooks can be prevented by the motorist or the cyclist. In this video it seems those motorists can be relied upon to prevent them. It would be wonderful if US motorists could be educated to obey the law and prevent right hooks by yielding to cyclists and merging into the bike lane before turning.

    In the meantime, right hooks still account for 10% of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions in the US. For my safety, I make sure to close the responsibility gap and take preventative action myself. That simply means using the general purpose lane when approaching intersections. As a bonus, this also prevents left crosses and driveouts.

    http://cyclingsavvy.org/2013/09/smart-moves-video-preventing-right-hooks/

  • chetshome

    The black VW at about :25 seconds cuts right in front of a cyclist

  • M.

    My Danish urban planner friend ranks Netherlands cycling as more evolved than theirs but of course, we’re talking fine tuning. I sent her this video and here’s her reply:
    Hej!
    The ’watch your turning right’ has been something that we’ve worked on for many years. Drivers are generally very good now – but it is still an issue. We are not gods 🙂
    It is especially the campaigns and education of children carried out by this lobby organization called ‘Rådet for sikker trafik’ (Council on Safe Traffic) http://www.sikkertrafik.dk/ that has made a difference.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, the Danish design shown in the video fails to meet the Sustainable Safety standard of mistake-proofing, since it does not eliminate potential cycle/motor traffic conflict. Dutch designs do much better.

    Because it achieves Sustainable Safety by separating cyclists from car drivers in time and space, the Simultaneous Green has become very popular in NL recently. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/05/the-best-traffic-light-solution-for.html

  • voltairesmistress

    Yes, I see your logic. I will start doing the 2nd car position when doing so seems appropriate. Thanks for the tip.

  • “but of course, we’re talking fine tuning” If you spend much time riding in both you’ll likely not consider it fine tuning, especially if you’ve been in NL and then go to Copenhagen. Copenhagen is a really great city and has some wonderful bicycle infrastructure, but their intersections are not much better than those in the U.S.

  • Gezellig

    Definitely agree. Typical example from Copenhagen:

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4078/4768397145_3bf44b7f6a.jpg

    Critical differences from Dutch design are:

    –> intersections…major intersections in the Netherlands carry the protection into the intersection whereas this is rare or nonexistent even in the busiest intersections in Copenhagen.

    –> width. Danish cycletracks are generally narrower than in the Netherlands.

    –> physical separation. Danish cycletracks are often separated from car traffic only by a little curb, leading to lower objective and subjective safety.

    Typical Dutch intersection:

    http://wiki.coe.neu.edu/groups/nl2011transpo/wiki/ba51e/images/e5e31.png#720×540

    More here:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/12/truth-about-copenhagen.html

    Denmark also has the lower modeshare numbers to show for it. Since biking is perceived as more dangerous there (because it is) that many fewer people decide to do it.

  • M.

    Sure, point taken. Guess actual crash stats are more front-of-mind for me and in that regard, those two countries’ stats are more similar than SF’s are to either of them, by a long shot.

  • Yes, that’s very true. But you also have to consider that they are much safer drivers to begin with. They are not as type-a aggressive as U.S. drivers. The chart below from http://streets.mn/2014/07/01/bicycling-relative-safe/ gives a bit of perspective on this. Keep in mind that the stats for Copenhagen bicycling likely make it appear much safer than it really is due to the likely overly high number of miles per capita attributed to them.
    http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/FatalitiesDunnBros01.png

    If you fly from SF to Copenhagen then riding around Copenhagen will seem like heaven on earth. If you fly from The Netherlands to Copenhagen then Copenhagen seems quite dangerous.

  • Gezellig

    Yes, and Danes pick up on this, as biking is cognitively framed as a more dangerous activity there (as compared to the Netherlands), which besides the fact that it is, becomes even more of a self-fulfilling prophecy keeping modeshare lower than it could be. Basically, you just don’t see this in Denmark:

    When I was living and working in the Netherlands one of my Danish coworkers who’d just moved to the NL once said quietly “I don’t understand why even Dutch children don’t wear helmets. We frown upon that in Denmark.”

    What she wasn’t realizing, though, is that as you can see in the school run video above there’s a reason for that. Dutch infrastructure is so robust and incredibly safe that the Dutch have every reason to be confident in it, further reinforcing via virtuous feedback-loop the high modeshare amongst all ages, which further feeds the perception and reality of it as a safe activity the more people that do it.

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