Clear sailing, with a caveat

Tuesday was one of those days I was even happier than usual to be on a bike. Kind of a schadenfreude day. I mean, what’s with the gridlock?

This is Eugene. We don’t have traffic jams …

Ah, good ol’ Coburg Road:

But, wow. The bike lane beckoned like the parted Red Sea. I really thought I would come upon an accident, or maybe an EWEB maintenance truck with a lane shut down, as the cause of this. But, no. Nothing. Just bumper-to-bumper cars.

And yet: Sailing down the bike lane like this makes me nervous.

First, of course, there is the old danger known by some as the “right hook.” This is when some guy who is stuck in this bumper-to-bumper mess right in front of — oh let’s say, Trader Joe’s — says to himself, “Hell, this sucks, I might as well go pick up a case of Three-Buck Chuck.” He then bolts to the right, across the bike lane (emphasis mine) and into the TJ’s parking lot — only after considerately flipping on his turn signal and diligently looking over his right shoulder, of course.

But even sketchier than that, I think, is a particular kind of courtesy that one motorist sometimes affords another, a phenomenon that I like to call the “death trap.” That’s when a car is stopped in a line of traffic but is sitting well back from the car in front of it, thereby leaving a gap in the traffic jam. This is often intentional, to allow a car coming in the opposite direction to turn left, through the gap, across the bike lane (emphasis mine) and onto a cross street or into a driveway. You often can’t see this coming until it’s right in front of you.

Yes, one person’s courtesy is another person’s … well … death trap.

Oregon law, 811.415(2)(c), proclaims: “Overtaking and passing upon the right is permitted if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions.”

“Make the passage”? Did Roald Amundsen write this law? Well, whoever wrote it left things rather open to interpretation, no?

But, yes, this would appear to be generally legal. Just watch your butt! This is a “Cyclist Beware” situation. You should have your Motorist Threat Advisory Level at “red,” if not “flashing red.” Be vigilant. Slow down. Keep a couple fingers on your brake levers. Unless, of course, you’re riding a fixie without brake levers — in which case, you are a braver soul than I.


3 thoughts on “Clear sailing, with a caveat

  1. HAHAHA! This will resonate with me. The “deathtrap” is the perfect term for that situation. And you’re right, it’s scary as hell without brakes!

  2. That’s why slapping a front brake on your (commuter) fixie is a good idea! I know the “cool kids” don’t use ’em and you can’t do bar spins with one, but wouldn’t you rather look like an old man now and have a chance to become an old man later than end up dead because you wouldn’t put a brake on your bike and people driving are a-holes?

    1. Yeah, as one who is getting to be an old man, and as one who loves bar spins as much as the next guy, I think I’m going with the front brake — if I ever get around to fulfilling my fixie fantasies. Maybe I’ll post about my fixie fantasies some other time. It’s complicated.

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