By John Marsh
On a ride with a buddy last week, as we were rolling toward home on a 2-lane road that leads to the “downtown” area of a small Atlanta suburb, we passed a cycling couple about a half mile from an upcoming intersection that crosses a 4-lane road.
The 2-lane road we were on typically has moderate traffic, which tends to stack up a bit as you get closer to that intersection.
As we passed the couple, I was on the front and gave them a clear “on your left” notice – which they both acknowledged (the husband, in back, with a quick additional notice to his wife that we were passing; and the wife with a “thank you” to me as we passed. It seemed obvious that both knew the customs of the road.)
It was road cycling courtesy at its best: Both parties doing the right things to ensure the safety of all.
Then The Mistakes Started Piling Up
Sadly, that changed a half mile down the road at the intersection.
My buddy and I rolled up behind a line of cars waiting at the traffic light and dutifully took our spot in line behind about 10 cars awaiting the light change. Meanwhile, as we waited and chatted, behind us the couple pulled into a parking lot that is adjacent to the road and runs almost all the way to the intersection. Near the intersection a sidewalk links up to the edge of the parking lot.
We watched as they rolled through the parking lot, skirting the entire line of traffic, then rode on the sidewalk the remaining few feet to the edge of a crosswalk at the intersection.
It was one of those times as a roadie when you just sit and watch as a fellow cyclist does something that makes you look bad by association. It always cheeses me off when it happens.
But it got worse.
The light changed, and as the cars ahead of us started filtering through the intersection, we clicked in and got rolling, gathering speed to try to maintain the flow of traffic. There was now just one car between us and the intersection. Ahead, the husband had already made his way across the intersection in the crosswalk, riding – not walking – his bike.
As the car in front of us started to turn right onto the 4-lane road, the wife nudged out into the crosswalk enough to force the car to stop quickly right in front of us. We had to adjust course on the fly, riding around the car and through intersection.
Now I was really cheesed!
Not only had the pair “cheated” their way around the line of traffic – which drivers despise as much as law-abiding cyclists – they compounded the error of their ways by pedaling across the intersection in the crosswalk. And, in the manner in which they did it, they ended up endangering their fellow cyclists.
Don’t Cheat at Intersections
The moral of the story: Don’t cheat at intersections.
First, don’t skirt a long line of traffic queued up at an intersection. It does nothing but make you (and your fellow cyclists) look bad, and it makes drivers resentful. (In an already unfriendly cycling city like Atlanta, we don’t need any additional animus toward cyclists.)
Use the road like a vehicle, and wait your turn in the line of traffic.
If instead you elect to use a crosswalk to navigate a busy intersection, get off the bike and walk it across. The crosswalk is for pedestrians.
Whatever you do, think about not just your safety, but the safety of your fellow cyclists. And don’t do anything to endanger them. Period.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.
John, I agree with your take on this matter. It seems to come up all the time and drives me crazy when cyclist will not wait their turn at a traffic signal or stop sign.
This makes all cyclist’s look bad and causes drivers to be upset with all cyclist’s and not just the knuckleheads who break the rules.
David Pybus says
I’ve heard a different point of view: “Filtering past the traffic queue is perfectly legal. It’s something that Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) – those
green boxes with a painted bike outline – actively encourage. They’re there because it’s safer for everyone if cyclists get through the junction first, rather than being overtaken by drivers in the middle of the
Dave Minden says
Exception: When there is a bike lane next to the car lane. Pedal to the front (or up behind other cyclists, if that is the case). Go when the car next to you goes, when it is your turn in the intersection or the light is green.
Larry Eaton says
Often it seems that stop signs are put up in silly places, like 4 way stops. I think the locals believe it reduces speeds in the area. I often run these when I’m driving, as there is hardly any other car at the intersection.
I do the same, of course, on the bike. If it’s not a safety issue, and you aren’t going to get a ticket, why comply with a silly law?
Katherine Schroth says
I believe that bypassing the traffic at a backed up intersection is often the safest course. I go through an intersection with a short green and a long red where traffic often has to wait 3 cycles. If I am in the line with traffic, clipping in and out, the cars behind me will often wait an extra cycle or two and they make their displeasure known–honking and revving engines. I now ride on the line between that lane and the little used right turn lane to cross the intersection and get back in the bike lane on the other side.
[quote=Edge520]This makes all cyclist’s look bad and causes drivers to be upset with all cyclist’s and not just the knuckleheads who break the rules. [/quote]
What rule was broken? In my city it is legal for a person to bike across the street in the crosswalk.
Did they use bad form, sure. But not illegal or breaking the law. Cars need to yield to peds and bikes in a crosswalk. That is the law.
it’s the same in my city. Bicycles are allowed and frequently encouraged (especially if not intending to maintain close to traffic speed) to ride on both the side walks and crosswalks. This is only illegal in densely populated urban areas (in the direct downtown area).
Though it isn’t legal to filter to the front of the line of traffic anywhere in my state. I believe it’s expressly illegal for bicyclists. But they didn’t filter, they got on the sidewalk.
Yes, as true Americans we should be totally intolerant of anyone who doesn’t abide by all the little rulesy’s we come up with. Everyone should be as expert as we are or they shouldn’t ride. And furthermore, we should be envious of anyone who seems to get something over on the rest of us. These are the things that keep us living together in harmony.
John Marsh says
I think Edge520 was referring to cyclists who skirt a long line of traffic — not necessarily the cross-walk issue. Re: cross-walks and bikes, I believe the laws vary from place to place. So while it is legal where you live, it is not legal in many, if not most, places. Same with riding on sidewalks.
To me, the bigger issue is “trying to have it both ways.” We roadies always want to lock down our rights to ride on the road. If we want to be treated as equal users of the road, then I suggest that staying on the road whenever possible (and safe!) is the best course of action.
But safety trumps everything else. If you don’t feel safe riding across a particular intersection in the road, then by all means do what you have to do to stay safe. And to give this couple the benefit of the doubt (belatedly), maybe that was their reasoning. Still, I’d rather have seen them ride in the road up to the intersection, and then use the cross walk if they felt they needed to.
One last point about the “skirting” issue in the situation I was describing: This was a narrow 2-lane road with no shoulder, no “advanced stop lines” for cyclists to allow them past the cars, etc. The ONLY way to skirt the traffic in this situation was to roll through the adjacent parking lot — in full view of all the queued up drivers AND us cyclists sitting in line, too.
That’s what bothered me most. It was a clear “ride correctly, staying in the road” or “roll through the parking lot” choice. There was no other way to get to the intersection.
Bike Fitness Coaching says
In SoCal, the green lights are short and the red lights long. Here’s the dilemma, if you come up to a long line of cars prior to an intersection your choices are to try and be the last vehicle in line (which you can never be since more cars will be coming up behind you) or slide between the cars and curb to the front. If you decide to wait in line, guaranteed that by the time you get to the front the light will be red again. So either choice, you will beat the front when the light turns green…which is not the most desirable place to be since now all of the cars in line will try and pass you as they race to the next red light which this starts all over again. Note: still lots of roads do not have dedicated bike lanes. A very wise friend of mine, 4x Olympian, multi-time nationals winner, said to me, “you don’t know how much and how often I just ride the sidewalks in these conditions”.
So, there is another alternative – sidewalks when the roads get too filled with crazy drivers.
John, I’m with you on this. Cyclists should follow the rules of the road if you’re riding on the road. You “can” but shouldn’t have it both ways, “now I’m a bike, now I’m a pedestrian etc.” What if a car pulled out of the lane, drove thru the parking lot, then drove across the crosswalk? I quit riding with a local club because I got fed up with them yelling “clear” at intersections if there were no cars, & then blowing thru stop signs & red lights. (I will name & shame them: Tri City Cyclists in MI). What if vehicles did this? Some do of course, & people get injured & killed as a result.
Jim K. says
For me, a lot of this is context driven. Although I most often agree with John, where I live (Palm Springs area), there are several different situations. There are many bike lanes which work very well, but also a lot of 4-way intersections. In those cases, both cars and cyclists tend to edge out a bit to declare their intentions (it works amazingly well unless there is heavy traffic). In really heavy traffic areas, the bike lanes can disappear and give way to signs that encourage cyclists and pedestrians to “share the sidewalk”. And in intersections out in the open desert, you can see all directions for long distances, so it’s common for both cars and cyclist to roll through intersections. So while I totally buy in to “vehicular cycling”, there are a lot of times when you have to use good judgement as well.
Rules/laws are different with every city and every state just like the helmet law as well as passing on the right. Some allow bikes on sidewalks some don’t. Personally I think if a cyclist wants the same rights as motorist they need to act that way. Switching from sidewalks to roads and back just confuse the motorist.
In reference to your cyclist riding in the crosswalk I see nothing wrong with that if and only IF the crosswalk sign said it was ok to cross. I feel if your in the road okay the traffic lights, if your on the side walk okay the crosswalk light. Common sense is the safest way for cyclist even if they might have the law on their side. Ending up dead just to prove your right doesn’t get you very far.
Worth pointing out that, for all the “cheating” the cheater wasn’t faster through the intersection than the rules-following cyclists.
If you want to increase your risk of being hit by a driver at an intersection, by all means use the crosswalk instead of the regular part of the roadway. Being off to the right of drivers who may turn right will increase you chance of being hit quite efficiently! That’s part of the reason why pedestrians have a greater risk of being hit by cars than cyclists do.
Not so much. They are more of a case of “seems like a good idea, but in execution not so”
In fact, Portland — a big early promoter of the ASLs — found they actually make things more dangerous http://www.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2012/10/16/city-finds-bike-boxes-may-actually-increase-crashes
Marsha Thurston says
Well, the last time I stopped behind a line of cars at an intersection, I got rear-ended, so I don’t do that any more. I generally pass the cars (in the street) and get in front of the line, at the place where a bicycle box would be if this country were civilized enough to have bicycle boxes. The settlement I collected from the driver who ran into me (who wasn’t even texting, just not looking) was appreciated, but I would rather not have had the broken pelvis and the totaled bike.
Totally agree with Katherine Schroth. On my commute (Los Angeles area) I always roll up to the right of cars waiting in line at a light. Never had a complaint from motorists or authorities.
John M says
Lane sharing is legal in some states. When done legally and correctly both bicycles and motorcycles can help keep long lines from being longer. This kind of blanket ax grinding is in effective, educate yourself and encourage others regarding city and state laws by following those rules.
Gary G says
Funny. In a bike friendly country like Italy, the bike traffic pattern at such an intersection is similar to what the couple did. Approaching the intersection, a bike lane appears on the right, leading onto the sidewalk. The path turns the corner to the right, still on the sidewalk, leading to a bike crossing just to the right of the pedestrian crossing. On the other side of the intersection, it is reversed, eventually leading back into the original flow of traffic. Result is that bike cross the busy intersection without interfering with cars. (from our tour from Austrian border to Venice)
John Schubert says
I agree, John. Interestingly, cycling in crosswaleople would take their place in trafficks isn’t illegal. But at best it’s awkward, and you’ve illustrated why. If these people had taken their place in traffic, it would have been smoother for all.
[email protected] says
If there is a bike lane, I try to ride to the first car with its right turn signal on. That way you don’t block any right on red movements. I don’t want to be in the blind spot of anybody turning. If there is no bike lane you have to wait your turn, even if you wait more than one cycle.
Seems to me, since cyclists ride along the right side of the road, allowing the cars to pass, it is reasonable for us to move up to the intersection, along the right side, and proceed when the light turns green – on the right side of the road! That’s what I do, and I’ve never had a motorist complain about it. Of course, I watch out for cars turning right, and if there is one on the right side of the road, I stop behind that car.
Alan M says
I always ride to the front. Explicitly allowed in Virginia. Safest place to be is first through the intersection where you can see and be seen. Anyone in the crosswalk has right of way, bike or not. Responsibility to watch where you are going is always with driver of two ton vehicle.
I’m seeing a lot of comments about cyclist riding to the front at a stop light. Some saying they do, some saying it’s legal. I know a lot of larger cities have the green bike box at the front for stoping. I’ll admit I do to if there is space on the shoulder and if I don’t see any right turn signals at the front, but I have a safety question about this.
If multiple bikes ride to the front of the line does this not create a safety problem since the cars will end up trying to pass as traffic speeds up. Then at the next light the cyclist will pass all the cars again. This “leap-frogging” continues over and over. It seems to me that anytime a car has to pass me it’s a chance I will get hit. So why not let them get going and get out of my way? I don’t ride in a big city so I don’t run into the problem of a stop light at every block. Course this does not apply if there is a designated bike lane.
John, I agree with your take on the situation you described with the cyclists acting as cyclists until they reach an intersection and then become “pedestrians”. I live and bike in urban Phoenix, Arizona now after having biked in rural central Pennsylvania for many years. There are many people riding bicycles here but not many “cyclists”. The difference being the people riding bicycles don’t follow the bicycle rules of the road and pick and choose whether they are a cyclist or a pedestrian depending on what serves their purposes best. With the many miles of bike lanes in Phoenix, the people riding bicycles use the bike lanes as cyclists until they reach an intersection at which time they become pedestrians crossing using the crosswalk through an intersection with a red light and then rejoining the bike lane on the other side of the intersection. As a bicycle tourist, I have ridden in many major urban areas and see the identical actions. Take a ride in Washington, DC sometime and you’ll see very few people on bicycles who wait at red lights for the light to turn green. Rather they do what I described above becoming a pedestrian using the crosswalk to get to the other side of the intersection rather than waiting for the light to turn green. I only hope as I sit there and watch them do this that they don’t get hit by a motorist who becomes confused by their actions. These riders make motorists look at all cyclists with the samedisdain and make it harder for cyclists to get any respect on the road.