Honked at again

I was bicycling home from church on a Sunday afternoon recently.

The church I attend, First Parish in Waltham, has a parking lot on either side, but also the public school parking lot across the street doesn’t get much use on a Sunday, and handles any overflow.

As I rode home, I headed south on Eddy Street and turned right on a green light onto Weston Street, a two-lane main street with a moderate uphill grade and single-family residences on either side.

Weston Street is wide enough for easy bicycle-motor vehicle side-by-side lane sharing if there is no parking. If vehicles park along Weston Street, it becomes too narrow for safe travel at the 35 mph speed limit even with motor traffic only: parked vehicles block sight lines for residents pulling out of their driveways.

So, parking is prohibited at all times along Weston Street, mostly.

A Lutheran church stands on the corner of Eddy and Weston Streets, and it has only a small parking lot. The special exception, indicated by signs which are faded by now almost to illegibility, allows parking in the block in front of this church on weekends. Many people attending its services park on the street. Some of the faithful park in the next block too.

The Google Maps satellite view below was taken on a Sunday. The marker in the image is at the intersection of Weston Street and Eddy Street. Cars are parkedĀ  in the church parking lot, and front of the church, and in the next block. You might also go directly to Google Maps to look around, though the satellite view you see then might be from a different day.

Weston and Eddy streets, and hte Lutheran church

Weston and Eddy streets, and the Lutheran church

I turned right from Eddy Street onto Weston Street. A few seconds later, the traffic signal changed and traffic started up Weston street behind me.

Here was my choice as I saw it:

  • Ride in the door zone and risk being flung out in front of overtaking traffic by a car door opening in front of me or a person walking out from between cars —
  • or control the travel lane and be safe.

There was oncoming traffic too, so the drivers behind me couldn’t pull out partway across the double yellow line to pass me.

I chose to ride outside the door zone and walk-out zone of the parked cars, not wanting to collide with any good Christians, or be flung out into the path of an overtaking car.

The first driver in line behind me honked the car horn at me.

After I’d passed the parked cars and merged over to the right, the second driver honked while passing me.

I was going about ten miles per hour. That is as fast as I could go. I might have delayed the people in the cars behind me by 15 seconds.

The safe choice is becoming more difficult. Boston used to have an “every man for himself” sort of traffic culture. Drivers were used to other drivers who bent the law to get ahead. (It was always, of course the other driver…) This was somewhat of an ego thing, I think, with origins in the Bluebloods vs. Irish cultural and political struggles of a century ago — but also, drivers often had to edge out into narrow and congested Boston-area streets, failing to yield right of way, sometimes blindly, to avoid waiting interminably for a gap in traffic. In a somewhat perverse way, this was an egalitarian culture, and it worked well for assertive, law-abiding bicyclists. Yielding to a visible, predictable, law-abiding bicyclist was less of an annoyance than yielding a motorist who was butting into line in traffic.

That is changing. More and more drivers have been trained that bicyclists belong in the door zone, by the dozens of miles of door zone bike lanes which cities and towns in the Boston area have been installing. And, every year there is a new crop of students at our colleges and universities, who don’t know any better than to fall into the trap which the cities and towns have set for them.

Oh, and now, rethinking the situation, there was a third possible choice: I could have waited at the green light on Eddy Street, then through the red light so I could start up Weston Street on a new green. I’d then get past the parked cars before the traffic behind me on Weston Street started to move. I wouldn’t be delaying anyone except myself — unless, of course, there was other traffic entering from Eddy Street — and there often is.

What would you choose?

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3 Responses to Honked at again

  1. Jack Hughes says:

    Nice presentation. I would have done as you did, and would have been a little surprised by the honking. The door zone I would consider only as a temporary buffer to use if a motorist were to crowd me while passing. Your third option is viable, but I doubt it would have occurred to me except as an afterthought–waiting longer never occurs to me as a first option for getting somewhere.

  2. Alex says:

    Let me start by saying that I am not a passive, or nice, biker. I am a confident and aggressive biker, which I often find prevents accidents by making quick decisions based on everything I see happening. However, I refuse to follow your third option because the fact of the matter is that there will always be more cars honking at you. I ride outside of the door zone at almost all times, the only times I’ll ride within it is slowly while filtering up traffic at a red light. Even then sometimes I’d rather sneak between lanes of traffic than going up the bike lanes. I know that on a bike I can hold my line and filter to the front without risk of someone coming out of a parked car.

    The most infuriating thing for me as a biker is drivers on their phones. It’s been proven many times that even talking over through bluetooth distracts a driver enough to lower their reaction times to drive safely. So when I get honked at, its usually some idiot who’s also talking on the phone – probably about how there’s a biker in front of them going slow, which for me is about 15mph. Cars think they own the roads and that bikers need to stay off of them, I think the only thing that will resolve this is some legislation against being an asshole…

  3. jsallen says:

    Alex — I’m not sure how you ride, because I haven’t observed you riding. Just a couple of comments:

    — There’s a difference between aggressive and assertive. I don’t know which you mean. Assertion sets the limit at what is permitted under the rules of the road and common courtesy — that is, it is about cooperation. Aggression is about conflict, and is acccepted conduct only in racing pelotons, where one racer may intentionally block another. Bicyclists might be aggressive toward pedestrians, or toward other bicyclists when not in a racing pack, but that would quickly lead to collisions, injuries, being invited out of the bike club…

    — With motorists, bicyclists can’t be aggressive anyway. Only passive-aggressive, where the bicyclist breaks the rules and the motorist is left with two choices: stuff it, or run you down.

    — Sometimes it is possible to extend courtesy beyond what the rules require. Waiting a few seconds until traffic clears isn’t a big deal. Motorists have to slow for bicyclists often enough that building goodwill is worth the tradeoff, as far as I’m concerned.

    — I agree that cell phones are a problem, but on the other hand if the driver honked, he or she did see you. Legislation against being an asshole? How would you define that in any terms which would be Constitutional, and enforceable? Strict driver licensing and heavy penalties for using a cell phone while driving are more popular and practical ideas but still not successful.

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