Home > Bicycling, Transit > An open letter to “The Bloody Cyclist”

An open letter to “The Bloody Cyclist”

After reading an open letter by The Bloody Cyclist about a collision between the author and a Metro bus, I’d like to offer the following open letter in response:

Dear Bloody Cyclist:

I am unfamiliar with the area that you are describing so I can’t comment on the conditions that may have led to this collision.  While the buses we drive are indeed “really big”, we are constantly bombarded with training messages to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.  It is also clear that we need to stay out of the bike lane except “… to execute a turning maneuver”.  (Thanks for quoting the entire Seattle Municipal Code on bike lanes – Many cyclists sometimes forget this part)

For what it’s worth, we have excellent visibility in our mirrors.  I find driving a 60 foot bus easier than driving my Prius because I’m higher and the mirrors are much larger.  Despite these advantages, there are many blind spots that we must compensate for by “rocking and rolling” when we are in the seat, so nothing is perfect.  In addition, gauging how far a car or cyclist is behind you can be tricky, especially on a 60 foot coach.  That’s not an excuse for missing somebody in the mirror, just a statement about reality.  Because of this knowledge, and the knowledge that no human, no matter how well trained, is perfect, there are some precautions that I take while riding in traffic, especially around buses:

  1. Assume you are invisible – Even though our buses offer excellent visibility, as I have stated above, nothing is perfect.  Therefore, I assume I’m invisible to the driver and ride accordingly.  I stay away from the sides and keep my speed down so I can stop in case the driver moves over to service a zone.
  2. Pass on the left – NOT on the right – Now here’s where many drivers get it wrong.  In certain circumstances I believe it is actually legal for a cyclist to pass on the right (probably while in a bike lane).  I can’t find the RCW or SMC right now, but I’m sure I’ve seen it.  In any event, I really try to avoid doing this – *especially* around bus zones.  It’s safest to pass on the left and to leave a minimum of 3 feet – the more the better.
  3. Assume you are invisible, but do *everything* in your power to *not* be – In addition to wearing obnoxiously bright yellow clothing, I ride with a bright headlight – even during the day.  I started this practice after I almost turned a bus into a cyclist riding fast downhill.  It’s not like he was wearing urban camouflage, which I have seen many times, but a headlight would have caught my attention a block or two earlier.  Ever since, I’ve noticed that cars just STOP when the see me – probably because they can’t figure out what I am because the Dinotte headlight is SO bright.

In short, I apply the principle of “prevent the preventable”, as Metro training likes to emphasize, to my riding as well as my driving.  The difference is that I’m trying to protect *MY* life when I’m riding, as opposed to the lives of people around my bus when I’m driving.

“and I know that we cyclists don’t always make it easy…”  – Nope, we cyclists don’t always make it easy.  I once walked into the base in my cycling clothes and another driver joked that I was “wearing the uniform of the enemy.”  Suffice it to say, we see cyclists every day who put their lives in danger around our buses.  In virtually all of these cases, we avoid the collision by “Preventing the preventable” without the cyclist ever knowing the danger they were in.  None of us ever wants to injure or kill somebody so seeing some of the things cyclists do over and over again can get to you after a while.

But take heart.  There are a lot of us who bike to work almost every day.  Check out this shot of the bike racks at one of the Metro bases.  From this driver, at least, be assured that I’m watching out for you.

Be safe…

The VeloBusDriver

[Updated 8/12/10 to correct awkward first sentence – Doh!]

Categories: Bicycling, Transit Tags:
  1. August 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I wonder how it can be construed that if I am riding in the bike lane and “passing” vehicles in the travel lane–how can that be construed as passing or overtaking as defined in the vehicular code? The bike lane is defined as a travel lane. Unless I have the intention of entering the travel lane after overtaking the vehicle, I am not passing, I am doing what all traffic does. If you are stopped or going slower in the travel lane and I’m going faster than you in the bike lane, that’s not a “pass” as defined in the vehicle code. A pass or overtaking is when a vehicle behind you goes around you and the re-enters the same lane as you in front of you.

    Of course I agree with you completely about preventing the preventable, I’m just a little irritated about this idea that when I’m riding in the bike lane I have to yield to cars because I’m “passing”? No way. It’s not passing if there’s no lane change involved.

    • August 12, 2010 at 4:54 am

      Hmmm… I guess I should not say “never” – I do cycle past traffic on the right when traffic is congested but I ride relatively slowly and always assume some impatient driver is going to lurch out and start driving down the sidewalk to get out of traffic – or some other nonsense. Needless to say, I’m rarely surprised when somebody does something stupid and dangerous so I’m prepared to avoid them – and that’s really what I’m after here.

      I’m going to start a series of posts titled “Darwin Candidates” that should illustrate exactly what I’m talking about. Thankfully, there will be no “Darwin Awards” published here. Stay tuned!

  2. August 11, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Great point on passing buses on the left. Cyclists should NEVER “stand on their rights” when it comes to bike lanes. Just this morning a rider ahead of me, in the bike lane coming down Pine, started to pass a bus. Anyone who regularly rides knows that the buses are constantly taking the bike lane to meet bus stops . . . which this bus did just as the guy was passing. Both swerved, and it was a near-miss, but cyclists gotta remember that bike lanes aren’t sacrosanct. When in doubt, exercise your rights and take the whole damn lane.

  3. August 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    You need those signs that some truckers have:

  4. August 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Gah, HTMLized my comment! Anyways, let’s try that again:

    <<– Passing Side | Suicide >>

    • August 12, 2010 at 4:45 am

      I like it, although I suspect Metro may frown upon such bumper stickers.

  5. August 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I think by “the enemy” our co-worker meant thin, healthy, good looking dudes over 40.

  6. Andreas
    August 12, 2010 at 6:56 am

    The law allowing bicycles to pass on the right makes no mention of the bike lane, and it makes no sense to think that it should. The law which allows any vehicle to overtake on the right in certain circumstances would already cover bike lanes, as it allows passing on the right when there is “sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully”—a bike lane would constitute such width for bicycles. The law which specifically grants bicycles the right to overtake on the right has to do with to bicycles on any roadway, in general travel lanes or shoulders, certainly not just in the bike lane.

    And you repeat the bit of the SMC about the right to use the bike lane to execute a turning maneuver, but don’t repeat the part about having to yield to bicycles in that lane. A driver does not have the right to use the bike lane to execute a turning maneuver if she does not first yield to bicyclists in that lane.

    That said, all of your advice is of course smart. Physics trumps right-of-way every time. But it sounds like you’re making excuses for a driver who was in the wrong. Even if one takes the attitude that there’s never a safe time to pass on the right regardless of the law, the fact is that cyclists in the city can’t never ride next to large vehicles like buses. We can try to pass them as quickly as possible, we can try to anticipate their turns, and we can try to stay out of their blind spots. But even if we do all that, if a driver doesn’t check her mirrors, and changes lanes without signaling and for no apparent reason, we’re screwed. And according to The Bloody Cyclist’s account, that’s what this driver did. Granted, we only have one side of the story, but there are no bus stops on that stretch of road, nor any streets on the right until Spokane Street, and the bike lane ends before that turn, so if the cyclist was hit in the bike lane, it’s hard to imagine the driver would have been getting over for that turn. And there’s that bit about not signaling.

    It should also be noted that the vast majority of vehicles that travel E Marginal Way S are large trucks headed to/from Harbor Island and other Port facilities. Riding this route necessitates riding in the blind spots of very large vehicles far more than any cyclist would consider safe, but since it’s the main/only route from West Seattle to Downtown, it’s hard to avoid it. The only saving grace is the fact that almost all the drivers on this road are professionals. They know their blind spots, they know they’re driving a popular cycling route, and they’re far better about checking before they make any turns than the average driver. This professional driver apparently wasn’t so good. And while cyclists can’t be reminded enough to ride like we’re invisible, it shouldn’t be done to the exclusion of calling out drivers who are in the wrong.

    • August 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm

      “But it sounds like you’re making excuses for a driver who was in the wrong.”

      I tried not to. Given the description presented by the Bloody Cyclist, it sounds like this collision does not measure up to Metro’s definition of “non-preventable”. That said, I’ve seen plenty of bus drivers trashed in the press after a horrific accident, only to be quietly exonerated by a Safety hearing when all of the details of the accident investigation are looked at thoroughly. As such, I’m careful not to judge other drivers unless I know *all* of the details. Thanks for the detail on passing on the right. I didn’t look those codes up precisely because I felt that would look like I was trying to rationalize the driver’s actions in some way.

      FYI: I now understand better where this collision took place. I am qualified to drive several routes through there but have yet to do so. I distinctly remember thinking that it looked like a death trap for cyclists and to be careful navigating that stretch. Many of the buses in that area are on long-term reroute and should be going back to 1st Ave S and/or Spokane Street when the construction is done. Something to look forward to for all.

  7. August 15, 2010 at 5:35 am

    I’m wondering if this is the type of lane (Marginal way actually pictured) where the collision occurred?

    I’m also a bit unclear from the ‘bloody cyclist’ post as to what side of the bus the collision occurred on, and whether the bus was pulling into or out of a zone.

    I have had cyclists speed up as the bus is slowing to enter a zone and tuck inside between the bus and the curb, either trying to beat the bus by trying to pass on the right, to make a point, or because they’re extremely focused on the exertion of riding.

    BC also says that the driver didn’t signal. We don’t signal going into zones, only coming out.

    • Andreas
      August 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

      The bike lane is buffered only for a short segment of Marginal, and IIRC by the time you get to where BC says he was (btwn Hanford and Spokane), it’s back to being a regular non-buffered bike lane.

      And, as I commented above, there are no bus zones along this stretch of Marginal. The Spokane St ramp closure has put a bunch of routes onto Marginal that don’t normally run there, but none of them have stops there. SB buses make a stop at 1st & Hanford then head over to Marginal to get to the lower West Seattle Bridge, but none of those routes make another stop after 1st & Hanford until they’ve crossed the bridge.

      Are drivers at least supposed to put their hazard lights when they’re pulling into zones, or only when in the zone itself? If it’s official Metro policy not to give any indication that a bus is about to pull over, they’re asking for a lawsuit, if not dead cyclists.

      • August 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

        “Are drivers at least supposed to put their hazard lights when they’re pulling into zones, or only when in the zone itself?”

        Outside of the Ride Free Area we are required to use hazard lights. Inside the RFA we not supposed to use them unless we are stopping to use the wheelchair ramp/lift and we are not supposed to signal to the right. (Community Transit does it differently)

        This policy wouldn’t be an issue in most areas of the RFA since there are few (any?) bike lanes downtown that exist in front of bus zones. We would already be in the right hand lane – I’m not aware of any lanes wide enough to share and even if there were, I would drive at a safe distance behind the cyclist – Since I’m stopping at the next zone it’s not going to take much extra time.

      • August 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

        A minor addition to what Velo says. We’re not required to use hazards (4-way flashers) as an indicator that we’re pulling into a zone, and even outside the RFA unless we’re blocking or partially blocking a lane of traffic.

        From The Book, 3.9.J:

        “Four Way Flashers” (to be used under the following conditions)

        J. When blocking a regular lane of moving traffic or in emergency situations on state roadways.”

        4-ways are not intended to signal to traffic that we’re about to pull into a bus zone (many drivers turn on 4-ways in advance including me so that they do offer this alert), but to let traffic know that the bus is not moving.

        Again – there shouldn’t be an expecation that drivers are required to signal when pulling into zones.

      • August 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm

        If this collision between the cyclist and the bus didn’t occur at or near a bus zone, I’m still a bit fuzzy on what happened. What were the circumstances that brought the bus and the cyclist together? Was the operator making a turn?

    • Andreas
      August 15, 2010 at 11:01 am

      Moreover, RCW 46.61.305 (“No person shall turn a vehicle or move right or left upon a roadway … without giving an appropriate signal”) would seem to ban even moving right within a lane without signaling, as when pulling into an in-line bus zone. But even if one could argue that signaling when moving within a lane is unneeded, I can’t see how anyone could possibly argue that you shouldn’t signal when you’re pulling over across a bike lane. You are crossing a lane of traffic, and when you cross lanes of traffic you signal. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse or to jump on you over this, but it’s incredibly disturbing to me that Metro would encourage drivers not to signal when making any sort of movement. There should be an emphasis on an abundance of caution, not an attitude of “Well, it’s not really a lane change so you don’t have to signal”.

    • Andreas
      August 15, 2010 at 11:14 am

      More dead-horse beating. I googled to see Metro has its official “rulebook” or whatever online, and to see if there’s reference to signaling when pulling in & out of zones. The top hit on my search was a transcript from a “Sharing the road” video, and I find this: “The cyclist cannot legally pass the bus on the right side… Cyclists must pull into the left lane of traffic, acting just like any other vehicle to pass.” Which, as pointed out above, is flat-out wrong.

      I guess I’ll be sending off an angry email to Metro today.

      • August 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

        Andreas,

        Not trying to beat any horses (I like horses, dead or alive), just trying to clarify what happened in this particular case to gain understanding and do my part to help prevent it from happening while I’m behind the wheel.

        I’m not sure that I agree with your interpretation of the RCW, as the word “appropriate” appears. While it is appropriate to signal when *changing* lanes, it is not appropriate to signal when pulling over to the side of the road – as buses do all the time when servicing zones.

        In the case of buses, our manual “The Book” is not online (it should be, but that’s above my paygrade). Here’s what it says in Section 8, paragraph 51 H:

        “Turn Signals”

        “Do not use turn signals when entering a zone. Use the left turn signal when leaving a zone.”

        In addition (though this presents a complication with cyclists), when a car pulls out from the curb, as when leaving a parallel parking situation, it must yield to traffic in the lane. The rule is different for buses – traffic in the lane must (legally) yield to the bus re-entering traffic.

        Again in the interest of preventing such accident’s, I think that it’s important to let cyclists know not to expect buses to signal when they are pulling into bus zones. As drivers we are told not to.

      • August 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

        You are within your rights to write such a letter, but rest assured, *nobody* at Metro is trying to setup cyclists to be killed. The emphasis in training is to watch out for all road users and not to put them at risk.

        To make that letter more effective, I would recommend focusing on the scenario you describe. See if you can find a bike lane within the RFA that travels in front of a bus zone – I honestly can’t think of one. As I mentioned, we are not supposed to use hazards or signal right when pulling into a zone. If there is indeed a bike lane downtown where it would make sense to give some sort of signal, that would be a good conflict to point out. And just to be clear, if I ever came across such a circumstance, I would of course signal my intentions to a cyclist without any fear of discipline.

      • Andreas
        August 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm

        @Jeff: I believe “appropriate” in the RCW is referring to the kinds of signals used, not the situations where one should use them. The full RCW goes on to describe how long the signals should be displayed, and references the RCW that defines proper hand, arm and light signals.

        The full RCW also goes on to say “No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle without first giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided herein to the driver of any vehicle immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give such signal.”

        Again, it seems to be amazingly dangerous, if not downright illegal, for a bus operator (and indeed the operator of any vehicle) to not signal when pulling over, and it boggles my mind that this is official policy. Thankfully the vast majority of drivers (yourself included) turn on their hazard lights before slowing to stop into a zone. This is both legally and common-sensically required.

        As for being fuzzy on what brought the bus and cyclist together, I think that was BC’s point: as there is no right turn or bus zone in the area, there was no apparent reason for the operator to move the vehicle to the right. But she did, without giving any indication to BC that she was about to do so.

      • August 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm

        This is a good discussion to have at any rate. I’m with you on the official policy thing. Maybe there should even be a “special signal” – a flashing “ZONE AHEAD” or even 2 signals “Entering Zone” and “Leaving Zone” sign on the back of a bus or some such if the use of turn signals/4-ways is too confusing.

        It is sounding like what happened in the case of this collision was that the bus driver was driving straight ahead and strayed into the bike lane (to the right of the bus), striking a cyclist using that lane. A parallel collision with both bus and bike moving forward. No zone or turn (it sounds like) was involved.

        This is a situational hazard which often occurs due to the sheer size of the bus and other larger vehicles in narrow traffic lanes coming too close to one another. For example, you’re driving a bus in the right-hand lane with a bike lane, parked cars, or other fixed obstacle like jersey barriers on the right. A bus, cement truck, semi or other over-sized vehicle overtakes you on the left, and as a reaction – you move to the right to avoid a side-swipe. I have had a number of misses on the Aurora Bridge headed southbound when this has happened. Cement trucks are particularly alarming when they come alongside, and the bridge abutment wall is only inches away on the right as you’re travelling 30-40mph.

        One difficulty that I’ve had in trying to drive safely around cyclists is that particularly with the 60-foot bus, it’s difficult to tell if they are far enough back that they are clear of the tail end of the bus. The image we see in the mirror is functionally 2-dimensional, with about a 3-inch wide image representing that 60+ feet of latitudinal space. Same issue when changing lanes or merging – it’s often hard to see if you have enough room to move over or the car/bike trailing you on your right is parallel to some part of the rear of the bus. In some cases when I’ve been going slow enough I’ve hit the external PA and said “I see you cyclists, you may pass on the right, I’ll wait for you” so my intent will be clear.

        As an issue that both bus drivers and cyclists can agree on (we don’t want to hit them and they don’t want to be hit), it makes sense to take a look at how lane design,circumstance, training, and procedure contributes to this kind of accident. That is solution-based dialog that recognizes conflicting realities.

  8. August 16, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    @velobusdriver: I am grateful for the thoughtful response. I will agree with your general premise that there are very few accidents that are unavoidable from a cyclist’s standpoint, including the one I described and every other one I have been in. Which is not to say they were my fault, only that different choices on my part could have prevented them.

    I would argue that, in general, every bike ride involves a compromise between maximized safety and whatever the ride’s objective is. When I ride for exercise, as in the case at hand, I sacrifice some expectation of safety by going out in the road rather than just jumping on the trainer. Similarly, I often choose the risks of the road when the alternative is a stretch of trail that I find particularly risky because of driveway crossings or poor surface or poor lighting. I acknowledge that, and try to be conscious of those decisions, because getting killed is serious business and should be risked only after serious thought.

    All of that said, society has done some little bit to mitigate the risks that we cyclists are taking, including the installation of bike lanes in some places. It is clear to me that I can get killed in a bike lane and I don’t assume the white line is a force field. On the other hand, when driving I consider a bike lane as sacrosanct as the yellow ones between me and opposing traffic: I will cross it when necessary, but I assume that I am putting a life at risk when I do so. All I ask is that others consider it the same way.

    @Andreas: You have made many of the points I would have been making, but much more gracefully. Bravo!

    @Jeff Welch: Andreas has done a better job than I could have about specifying the details of the area in which this occurred. It is indeed an unbuffered bike lane, there are no bus zones in the area, and the bike lane (as well as the space in the street that accommodates it) is gone before the right turn on to Spokane Street. As to the details of the collision, I was struck by the right side of the bus as it drifted into the bike lane and pinched me against the curb. (Interesting side note, throwing elbows like bike racers do to fend off rivals who don’t hold their line is muuuuch less effective against a bus.)

    I am surprised to hear that coaches don’t signal pulling into bus zones, but I guess I can live with it. However, pulling across a bike lane to reach a bus zone involves a lane change in my mind (from traffic lane into bike lane, just like I do in a car instead of making a right turn across a bike lane), so I would expect a signal.

    Safe riding and driving to all.
    b/c

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