Thursday, February 6, 2014

Motorists– Kings (and Queens) of the Road - why

Wednesday, 29th January 2014: It looks like I have been getting my days mixed up.  The last couple of posts have been wrong. My calendar has been turned to February which I have been using to check what day it was for a date in January!

Why do people and cyclists generally have to wait for motor vehicles?  I suppose the general view is that pavements are for people and roads are for cars is how many people would automatically respond. Which immediately leaves out those using bicycles, many drivers would want us on the pavements, whilst many pedestrians want us on the roads. It also leaves out vans and lorries or buses, which are perhaps doing more important work than cars with a single occupant.

Mind you people (and bicycles) do have to cross roads and cars and vans are often seen parked on pavements.  There does seem to be the presumption that the bigger objects have priority.  When driving down a motorway it is not uncommon for lorries to just pull out and “force” their way into “your” lane.  Some indicate some don’t - momentum rules.

You sometimes here the argument that motorists pay “road tax” and cyclists don’t and therefore the motorists have a right to the road! That argument has been demolished before but some people still believe it.

What worries me when cycling is that there are a bunch of different reasons why motorists create danger for me as a cyclist. This week as I was cycling up a road, a driver was waiting at a side road. She looked at me, then pulled out in front of me. I was moving reasonably swiftly and had to perform a semi-emergency stop.  As a cyclist (and one-time motor cyclist) you have to be alert to such situations.

She looked as if she was on the school run, it was that time of day. She seemed to see me, but I think she misjudged my speed, once she had pulled in front of me she braked!  She then nodded her head in a sheepish apology and pulled away. This happens on a regular basis when I am on two wheels and almost never when in a car. It could be that a two-wheeled vehicle is obscured by the window pillar (or a-pillar). The pillars are wider than they used to be. It could also be a failure to be able to properly assess speed, or perhaps misinterpret speed. It might also be that we humans drive using some of the more primitive capabilities of our brains. Perhaps she was using a threat assessment and even if I had hit her – I was the one going to come of worst. It is true that when cycling I do tend to view some situations as threat – indeed like the incident itself.

Although it might have been that as I was a small road-user her brain assumed I was further away than I was?

When I learnt to drive, there was emphasis placed on stopping distances in both my car and motorcycle tests. The link indicates that for dry conditions at 20mph the stopping distance of a car is 6m thinking and 6m braking – 12m. Whilst at 30mph it is 9m/14m = 23m and for 40mph it is 12m/24m = 36m. Doubling the speed from 20mph to 40mph trebles the distance. As a cyclist I was taught braking techniques (for my Cycling Proficiency test) however there was very little formal data on stopping distances. Even nowadays with modern braking materials the difference between wet wheel rims and dry rims can be significant. (Not to mention different types of brakes.)

A quick Google search doesn’t really thrown up much experimental data – although the CTC does have a standard for used and hire cycles (maximum stopping distance - section 4). Although I don’t think their data includes thinking time, both brakes are used.

Condition                    Dry                   Wet
Speed     24Km/h        5.5m
Speed     16Km/h        2.5m                  7.5m

The second time I became invisible was when turning down Downing Street. In this second Streetview picture there is a narrow Mandatory Cycle Lane. The junction is light controlled and I was  turning left.  The trouble is whilst most cyclists and motorists actually do obey traffic lights pedestrians don’t. Most of us will cross if either the lights are green for us or if the road is clear.  This is not the case in some countries (jaywalking) but in the UK the lights are treated as advisory. I have no idea quite what the law has to say on the matter or where blame lies in the event of a collision. Anyway as turned I indicated and went around the corner – people just walked across in front of me. Now although I was cycling one-handed – I was prepared to brake, because the design of that junction is atrocious and pedestrians often assume that if vehicles coming out are blocked then nothing is coming.

What got me thinking about relative priorities  was this post from a View from the cycle path – “Default to green; cyclists have priority while drivers wait for lights to change”. It is so reasonable and yet would be scoffed at here in the UK. But if we really want to challenge long-held perceptions about right of way/priorities…  This approach is kind of used on the roads that cross the Cambridge Guided Busway for the busses. There are sensors along the busway that change the lights to green when buses approach the junctions. Well I reckon that those sensors ought to be duplicated for the pedestrians and cyclists using the route.

Time for some pictures of yet another round to Upware and back along Lodes Way. The roads are relatively quite and most vehicles tend to give cyclists leeway. I reckon that the undulating road surface helps to keep motor vehicles down to a safe speed. From White Fen to Upware the road is pretty much single track, after Upware it is wider and doesn’t undulate and the traffic is noticeably faster.

It was a grey day so only two pictures – although we have had lots of rain (for the area) this field looks pretty well drained. The Cam isn’t far behind those trees.

Ploughed Fields and Winter Trees in the Fens

The same scene but zooming in on the tree that stood out. On this Google Earth view of the scene you can just about see the electricity cables that are just above the ground horizon in this picture.

Ploughed Fields and Winter Trees in the Fens

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