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  1. #1
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    Are the dangers of intersection negotiation overstated?

    I was thinking about this this morning on my way in, b/c of joejack's thread about reading right turners.
    I kept track of my intersection crossings this morning and there were only two where I had to actually try to read or otherwise "negotiate" with motorists. I was in traffic- that is, there was a moving motor vehicle within ten yards of me- for the entire ride, with the exception of the MUP on the Brooklyn Bridge, which does not have any intersections, either. I've gone back and using google maps counted the intersection... I crossed 91 (or 93, depending on how you count some of the complicated ones in brooklyn). My math is not the greatest but that's a shade over 2% of the intersections I crossed that required anything more than cursory glances and an average degree of awareness. This was an about-average commute in term of traffic and my speed, which was (an average of ) ~16mph. (8.1 miles in 31 minutes, by my stopwatch.)

    I know there's a temptation to claim NY exceptionlism about this but I'd be interested to hear how many intersections you guys feel like you have to negotiate or otherwise actively manage on any given ride. I was surprised at how little effort I spent doing so. My trickiest and most demanding negotiation in traffic today was a 3.5-lane, left to right merge from the left-side situated striped bike lane on Hudson to the extreme right traffic lane, and even that wasn't so bad (habitually traffic is dense and slow moving so it's easy to carve out space for yourself, provided the cabdrivers aren't feeling frisky.

  2. #2
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    Oh, yeah...as regards that MUP on the bridge...I do more active "negotiation with pedestrians on that bridge than I do with motorists on surface streets. And I prefer negotiating with motorists, honestly!

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    If it makes any difference, I have 2.4 miles of striped bike lane/sharrows in Brooklyn, it's like a 60/40 split, and .35 miles of striped bike lane in Manhattan. The MUP on the bridge is a shade under a mile and a half.

  4. #4
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    You keep bumping your thread, but other than the thread title haven't really asked a question.

    I can't really answer the question as I've never heard anyone say intersection negotiation is dangerous. Only that intersections can be more dangerous if appropriate precautions (including some level of negotiation) are not taken.

    Al

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    I thought the thread title was question enough. Also, in the second paragraph, I wrote "I'd be interested to hear how many intersections you guys feel like you have to negotiate or otherwise actively manage on any given ride."

    I thought maybe the folks back here would like to stop the ongoing pissing match for a minute and actually discuss an aspect of, you know, cycling but I'll stop bumping it if it annoys you.

    Intersection negotiation is an ongoing theme in the posts of a lot of people here and in A&S. I mean, how many threads about right-hooking have there been recently? And joejack posted a thread in A&S about reading right turners yesterday that I responded to and which got me thinking about this. Sorry to be a bother.

  6. #6
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    I'm not annoyed with the bumping at all, just giving thought as to why others haven't responded.
    There is a thread JJ started about avoiding right hooks - there is lots of good stuff in there if I remember right.
    Al

  7. #7
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    I have had interstection encounters on a regular basis. Lots of drivers don't see me. A common occurrence is at a 4-way stop and the vehicle is to my right. I'm partially blocked from view by their pillar, but also they aren't really looking for me. They slow at the stop, then keep going. I've anticipated this and either ring a bell, or yell, or just avoid them.

    Last week I was heading west, then turned left (south), and as I exited the intersection, I had to pass in front of a car that had been heading east, and was turning right (south, like me) in a separated lane. The driver was looking north for southbound traffic, and I could see she wasn't noticing me She also was holding a phone to her ear. As I passed in front of her she started forward and I yelled "hey" as I braked. She looked startled, made a sort of apologetic grimace, but kept going, cutting me off.

    I caught up with her a couple of lights later and came around the car to her door to yell at her, just to imprint the episode in her memory for future utility. She made like she was dialing 911 or something.

    I continually monitor drivers for this kind of behaviour because I know they don't always see bikes.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    the dangers of intersection negotiation are overstated. yes. in my opinion. that said, I avoid most busy ones, so YMMV.

    I am of the opinion that the dangers of the door zone are also overstated, but I guess that's another thread.
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

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  9. #9
    Cycle Year Round CB HI's Avatar
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    Yes they are overstated, unless you are the one that gets nailed by the door or the driver at the intersection. Then that cyclist likely would have been happy if someone had told them about such hazards before they got nailed.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laika
    I know there's a temptation to claim NY exceptionlism about this but I'd be interested to hear how many intersections you guys feel like you have to negotiate or otherwise actively manage on any given ride. I was surprised at how little effort I spent doing so. My trickiest and most demanding negotiation in traffic today was a 3.5-lane, left to right merge from the left-side situated striped bike lane on Hudson to the extreme right traffic lane, and even that wasn't so bad (habitually traffic is dense and slow moving so it's easy to carve out space for yourself, provided the cabdrivers aren't feeling frisky.
    Negotiating at an intersection and trying to read motorists actions are completely seperate things. I negotiated a lane change near an intersection about 8 times today I'd say. There's a few spots on the way in and on the way home where I'll use the shoulder for a short bit but it turns into a right turn only lane or goes by an intersection that I want to avoid being far right at so I negotiate my way into the traffic lanes. I also make a left turn to get onto the street where I work which requires negotiating into the left lane from the right lane to get into the left turn lane. I have two left turns on the way home that require merging across at least one lane, sometimes two at the one intersection (road open into three lanes shortly before I make my left and sometimes I'll just stay in the middle lane if traffic is moving slowly enough or the light before my light is red). I don't consider these negotiations dangerous at all but they were something I would have never tried as an inexperienced cyclist (gotta stay out of the way of cars after all).

    In terms of reading motorists, I only did a slight bit of this on the way in while passing by a few minor intersections on an uphill stretch of my commute into work. I use the shoulder going by some residential driveways when traffic is heavy and fast and I'm moving pretty slow (~10mph). I have a clear view of the driveways so I know there is basically no threat of traffic entering the roadway so all I need to do is to look for someone possibly slowing to turn right. Going uphill, I can slow down a lot faster plus I'm moving quite slowly (unlike the example in my other thread where I'm moving at 2-2.5X times my uphill speed).

    As I've stated in my other thread, I do consider trying to read high speed motorists while cycling at relatively high speeds to be a dangerous thing. In the situations where I've tried it, there's usually too much going on for me to pay enough attention to everything I think I should be paying attention to. Moving out into the right hand lane eliminates a large portion of what I need to be watching for.

    Does this answer your question at all? I tried to stay on topic but not sure if I did or not.

  11. #11
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    When I can reasonably do so, I avoid intersections with uncontrolled high-speed merges and diverges, such as the mouths of many freeway access ramps.
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    The last two comments are interesting in that it makes me realize that even though I spend most of my task-driven riding in the mix with dense urban traffic, living in a largely pre-automobile city I have it a lot easier than you sub and exurban folk. I'd really, really have to go out of my way to find a true on- or off-ramp, and the one I do cross (the Bklyn Bridge automobile access points) are regulate by traffic lights and are, in bound, two lanes going into two lanes (with a merge well onto the bridge) and two lanes exiting into three lanes on a surface street. and, though its largely observed in breach when conditions are clear, we have a city-wide 30mph limit on surface streets, and when conditions are not clear, actual speeds are much much lower. Actually, probably the bigges automobile speed danger I face is drivers who, upon finally seeing a clear patch of asphalt, *** it in a mad rush to get to a red light or stop sign. This might be the key to what I was wondering about, vis a vis intersections..it seems your cycling speeds are not far different from mine, but the automobile traffic in your areas moves at a much greater average speeds. Huh.

  13. #13
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    lots of suburban arterials here typically with speeds of 45-60 mph daily. (with a 40-45 mph limit)... whatever they can get away with, that's what they do... that's partially why I avoid 'em.
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

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  14. #14
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laika
    This was an about-average commute in term of traffic and my speed, which was (an average of ) ~16mph. (8.1 miles in 31 minutes, by my stopwatch.)
    This is really off-topic, but I don't feel like paying attention right now.

    Laika, your average commute time in NYC is amazingly similar to mine in Atlanta.

    Ennyway...
    No worries

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laika
    The last two comments are interesting in that it makes me realize that even though I spend most of my task-driven riding in the mix with dense urban traffic, living in a largely pre-automobile city I have it a lot easier than you sub and exurban folk. I'd really, really have to go out of my way to find a true on- or off-ramp, and the one I do cross (the Bklyn Bridge automobile access points) are regulate by traffic lights and are, in bound, two lanes going into two lanes (with a merge well onto the bridge) and two lanes exiting into three lanes on a surface street. and, though its largely observed in breach when conditions are clear, we have a city-wide 30mph limit on surface streets, and when conditions are not clear, actual speeds are much much lower. Actually, probably the bigges automobile speed danger I face is drivers who, upon finally seeing a clear patch of asphalt, *** it in a mad rush to get to a red light or stop sign. This might be the key to what I was wondering about, vis a vis intersections..it seems your cycling speeds are not far different from mine, but the automobile traffic in your areas moves at a much greater average speeds. Huh.
    Laika, the relatively small amount (in comparison to my suburban miles) of city riding (in Philadelphia mostly) that I have done has been an absolute pleasure. Traffic speeds are so slow that lane position becomes a non-issue. The cyclist just uses a full lane like you said you do in NYC. This is why I can't understand the constant plea for bike lanes in any urban environment. I can only see them making things worse for everybody.

    I agree that the biggest difference between suburban and urban riding is the speed differential but that's all the more reason to not implement bike lanes which tend to make motorists ignore the cyclists on the road and which tend to cause confusion at intersections.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleBigMan
    This is really off-topic, but I don't feel like paying attention right now.

    Laika, your average commute time in NYC is amazingly similar to mine in Atlanta.

    Ennyway...
    And very similar to my suburban commute time from Wilmington to West Chester of 7.8 miles in 28-30 minutes.

  17. #17
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    OK, mostly similar results this morning... there were three instances when I had to negotiate with cars turning across my path... twice in actual intersections and once in front of the big Mobil on Caton Ave, where I get my coke slushies & PBR. In all cases there was no bike lane and I was riding approximately just left of the right tire track in the right most lane (would that be a right-biased, centerlane position, I guess?) In one case, the motorist passed me unsafely (not completing a lane change fully out of the right lane and then a full lane change back in front of me to make the turn) In the other two cases, the motorists were in the lane to my left and made right turns across a full lane of traffic, which seems equally bad. None of the three motorists signalled their turns. Negotiation consisted of me either pausing my pedalling or, in one case, of actually applying my brakes to allow them to pass & turn. This still leaves me, by today's route, having to actively negotiate with motorists at only three of the ~95 intersections I crossed and at no time did I feel as if the process required anything greater than a normal degree of awareness or reaction.

  18. #18
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    In an absolute scale, the probabilities of an accident at any one moment are very small. So, I think that it is typical that one can go through many intersections without incident in a carefree manner. But the relative risk of going through intersections is probably much higher than riding legally on a typical road between intersections.

    My guess is that you (Laika) also have a considerable amount of experience riding among traffic such that a lot of actions that a new rider would have to do consciously, you are able to compute subconsciously.

    Is the risk overstated? My interpretation is that you mean, "Is too much emphasis given to negotiating intersections when safety is discussed or taught to a new rider?" My feeling is no.

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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand
    My interpretation is that you mean, "Is too much emphasis given to negotiating intersections when safety is discussed or taught to a new rider?" My feeling is no.
    Well, certainly you're correct in your feeling regarding new riders... there cannot be enough emphasis on safe practices, whatever you believe them to be. But I actually was thinking more about somewhat to very experienced cyclists and really was wondering if the skills we've developed are sufficient to the task, or if intersection negotiation is so inherently perilous that it merited a special, heightened degree of awareness/skill. I was wondering this, largely, b/c of the large number of threads regarding the dangers of intersections, esp. the dreaded "right hook" that is so often dicussed in A&S & VC.

    Thanks for your answer though... every perspective is interesting and yours was very thoughtfully written. (As have been all of the responses offered thus far...thanks!)

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    depends on the type of intersection. I have had little problems at controlled intersections (other than the occassional late left turner) but I really dislike trying to cross over a busy alterial with two directional traffic that constantly "flows" due to a lack of controlled intersections nearby

  21. #21
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laika
    OK, mostly similar results this morning... there were three instances when I had to negotiate with cars turning across my path... twice in actual intersections and once in front of the big Mobil on Caton Ave, where I get my coke slushies & PBR. In all cases there was no bike lane and I was riding approximately just left of the right tire track in the right most lane (would that be a right-biased, centerlane position, I guess?) In one case, the motorist passed me unsafely (not completing a lane change fully out of the right lane and then a full lane change back in front of me to make the turn) In the other two cases, the motorists were in the lane to my left and made right turns across a full lane of traffic, which seems equally bad. None of the three motorists signalled their turns. Negotiation consisted of me either pausing my pedalling or, in one case, of actually applying my brakes to allow them to pass & turn. This still leaves me, by today's route, having to actively negotiate with motorists at only three of the ~95 intersections I crossed and at no time did I feel as if the process required anything greater than a normal degree of awareness or reaction.
    (I haven't read this thread, but in response to this post, Laika-)

    I think since you're flowing with traffic, your problems are few at intersections.

    Anyway...
    No worries

  22. #22
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rando
    I am of the opinion that the dangers of the door zone are also overstated, but I guess that's another thread.
    Actually the door zone is by far the most underestimated danger by non-cyclists and many cyclists. The danger that really is overstated is being hit from behind.

  23. #23
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laika
    But I actually was thinking more about somewhat to very experienced cyclists and really was wondering if the skills we've developed are sufficient to the task, or if intersection negotiation is so inherently perilous that it merited a special, heightened degree of awareness/skill. I was wondering this, largely, b/c of the large number of threads regarding the dangers of intersections, esp. the dreaded "right hook" that is so often dicussed in A&S & VC.
    Hmmmm, well ... in my opinion, most experienced cyclists that have given some thought to the issue have developed the skills to negotiate just about any intersection with a low level of risk conditioned on a minimum level of attention to the matters at hand.

    Just to clarify, I believe that the level of focus needed is actually pretty low. But distractions from traffic such as grabbing the water bottle or answering the cell phone probably change the equation enough such that one would have to apply a "heightened degree of awareness" to safely navigate the intersection.

    More generally, I think that part of experience is determining when one needs to apply more focus than the "average" situation. For instance, I have thought about my commute and which intersections/stretches are more dangerous than others at particular times of the day. When I commute home on a Friday evening, there are a lot of people parking and eating at restaurants on Wilson Blvd. Hence, I believe that the risk of being doored or experiencing inattentive drivers looking for the restaurant or a parking space is greater than the typical commute.

    In short, if a rider can get down a few concepts in a simple pamphlet and exercise due diligence, my opinion is that he/she is minimizing the vast majority of the risk from road riding.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by chephy
    Actually the door zone is by far the most underestimated danger by non-cyclists and many cyclists. The danger that really is overstated is being hit from behind.
    Chep, of the last five fatalities in Toronto, all of them, as far as I can tell from the reports, were hit from behind. The Toronto bike study a few years back also found that "motorist overtaking" caused more fatal accidents then doorings and all intersection accidents put together. I don't want to sound paranoid, but while overtaking accidents are rare, they are much more likely to be fatal.

  25. #25
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    are the dangers of intersection negotiation overstated by the ardent Bike Forums holders of the "vehicular cyclist" torch? YES.

    I thought about this yesterday while riding in this bike lane past minor intersections- there was NO COMPELLING NEED to move out of the bike lane at hundreds of minor driveways along this bike lane- some of the fearmongering "VC" (and I ride vehicularily, just without a political agenda attached to my bicycling ) INSIST bike lanes NEED TO END 200 feet before ALL intersections.

    are the dangers of intersection negotiation overstated by the vehicularist zealots in bike forums? YES.
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