A near-right hook on Southwest Broadway.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)
This article was written by BP Subscriber John Liu.
This is the first of a series of planned Subscriber Posts on how to ride a bicycle defensively in the imperfect city.
Why read this post?
This post is meant to share riding skills for people who want to take extra precautions against drivers who are distracted, careless, aggressive, inexperienced, or simply fallible humans. And for responsible drivers who don’t ever want to hurt or kill a bicycle rider due to their driving.
Drivers of box trucks, delivery vans, semi-trailers, heavily loaded pickup trucks, or RVs are completely dependent on mirrors, with no ability to look over their shoulders. Sometimes the view through those mirrors is quite limited.
Don’t read this post if you want to know a bicycle user’s legal responsibilities, or if you want to know what cycling should be like in a perfect, Copenhagen-ized city. As bicycle operators, we can ignore everything I write about here, and we may still be legally “in the right”. And dead.
About me: 40+ years of riding bikes in cities, 30+ years of driving in cities, 10 years year-round bike commuting in Portland, licensed driver with motorcycle endorsement, and zero bicycle-car accidents ever, as either a bicycle or auto user.
What is a right hook?
A right hook is when the driver of a car or truck makes a right-hand turn and “cuts off” a bicycle user who is riding on the vehicle’s right-hand side. In the typical right hook, the vehicle is making a right-hand turn from the curbside traffic lane at an intersection, while the bicycle rider is attempting to travel straight through the intersection in a curbside bike lane. The bicycle rider may hit the vehicle’s right side, or be run down by the vehicle’s rear wheels, or both.
Why do right hooks happen?
This is a common crash type because there are so many reasons it can happen.
The driver, when turning right from the curbside traffic lane, may be looking forward for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but fail to look behind for a bicycle. This can be due to carelessness or poor training. The intersection may be so busy that the driver’s attention becomes overloaded. Or the driver may come from a place where there are very few bicycle riders on the streets. (I’m talking to you, Texas and Arizona.)
The driver may check his passenger side mirror, but fail to turn his head and look over his shoulder for a bicycle in the mirror’s “blind spot”. Drivers of box trucks, delivery vans, semi-trailers, heavily loaded pickup trucks, or RVs are completely dependent on mirrors, with no ability to look over their shoulders. Sometimes the view through those mirrors is quite limited.
The driver may check behind, see a bicycle at what seems to the driver like a “safe” distance behind, and make his turn without reaizing that the bicycle rider is moving much faster than he/she expected. This might be the case if the road is downhill or the person is a fast rider sprinting for a traffic light.
It may be dark and/or raining and/or the bicycle may not have a headlight, so that the driver does not see the bicycle rider despite looking behind them.
How riders can protect against right hooks
The basic precaution is to avoid riding near or next to the right-hand side of vehicle that is approaching an intersection. If you’re not in the right hook danger-zone, you can’t get hooked.
If approaching the intersection alongside or just behind an auto user that is also approaching the intersection at a similar speed, the Defensive Rider will slow down to let the vehicle get safely ahead. If the vehicle operator turns right, the rider has given himself room to brake or swerve.
Some of my steel-legged readers will have the alternative of sprinting hard to enter the intersection well ahead of the car. I suppose this falls under “the best defense is a good offense” sort of tactic.
If the rider is approaching the intersection and the person in the car ahead of them is slowing or stopped at the intersection, the Defensive Rider will also slow or even stop, until he figures out the driver’s intentions. A driver who is slowing at an intersection is often preparing to turn, and a driver stopped at an intersection if often about about to turn. Remember that drivers may turn “right on red”.
It should go without saying that a right turn signal, a driver’s head turning to the right, a front wheel starting to steer, or a car moving over to hug the bike lane, are all signs for the Defensive Rider to brake or swerve. Especially if the vehicle wears license plates from a state where there aren’t many bicycles on the road.
Brake, or swerve? Usually, the Defensive Rider who sees a right hook developing ahead will have plenty of time to brake. I don’t recommend making a hard right turn inside the vehicle’s turn, as much fun as that sort of two-wheeled dogfighting may be. For one thing, you’ll probably eat the rear bumper of the car parked around the corner. The “best defense is a good offense” sort of rider may choose to swerve hard left and sprint around the vehicle on the driver’s side, mouthing expletives that I’m sure we are all too well-bred to speak audibly. Good luck with making a regular practice of that…
Wait, you say, as the rider in the marked bike lane, “I have the legal right-of-way, so drivers have to wait until I’m safely past before turning!” That’s true, and your estate’s lawyer will be happy about it.
How auto users can protect against right hooks
Before turning right, the Responsible Driver will turn on their right turn signal and make absolutely sure there is no one riding a bicycle to their right or following closely to their right rear. That means checking over their right shoulder like we were taught in driving school, not just glancing at the passenger mirror. Mirrors have blind spots.
If driving a truck or other vehicle that doesn’t permit looking over his right shoulder, the Responsible Driver will check his mirror very carefully and make the turn very slowly.
If driving a semi-trailer or other vehicle that has mirrors with limited rear visibility, the Responsible Driver will come to a complete stop before slooowly making the turn.
If all this seems confusing because you learned to drive in a state where there aren’t bike lanes or bicycles, then re-learn. You’re in Oregon now. No excuses.
Variations on the right hook
Drivers don’t turn right only at intersections. They also turn into driveways, parking lots, fast food drive-ins, and sometimes dive nose-first into parking spaces. The Defensive Rider will learn which driveways on his daily route act like car magnets, and treat them like intersections.
On rare occasions, a driver in a lane far from the curb will suddenly whip into an utterly illegal right turn, crossing the cubside lane and the bike lane. Being so unusual, this is very hard for even a Defensive Rider to predict. This is where the state of your karma is important. If you survive, buy a lottery ticket.
We haven’t discussed the situation when someone who is riding in the curbside lane, squeezing between moving vehicles and parked cars, gets right hooked. Suffice it to say, the Defensive Rider does not condone “lane-splitting”. He may have done it himself on occasion, but there’s no proof and anyway he’s not going to tell you how to ride like that.
Oh, and, bicycle riders can also right hook other bicycle riders.
Cyclists don’t want to be any closer to the car than is shown, and hanging further back is better. If that car is slowing or stopped, watch out! Drivers, we know the intersection is busy and you’re trying to keep track of all the cars, pedestrians, bikes, and traffic lights ahead of you, but you cannot make that turn until you’ve checked what is behind your right shoulder.
Okay, that’s what I have to say. Any other Defensive Riders want to chime in? How do you stay safe on the imperfect streets where we live?
— John Liu, BikePortland Subscriber (Want the ability to post stories? Support BP and join our community today.)
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John, thank you very much. Those of us with riding skills developed over many years have been too stingy in sharing them–you’re a good example for many of us.
And remember to be especially cautious around large trucks. I never position myself along the side of these trucks near intersections. Timing the light is critical if you want to filter past one while it waits on red. Be prepared to bail onto the sidewalk if you see the front wheels start turning.
It’s best to assume that drivers of large trucks can’t see you at all, I think. Just this morning I had to get onto the sidewalk as a City of Portland truck drifted into the bike lane, then put on its turn signal and turned right. I’m sure that the driver had no idea I was there. If I hadn’t taken action to protect myself, I certainly would have been crushed.
Reflecting on this event after the fact, I wondered if I could have done anything to avoid this dangerous situation. I suppose that I could have slowed down to stay behind the truck, on the chance that they would decide to turn right – but realistically, I am not going to do this every time I’m going faster than auto traffic in the bike lane (common during rush hour on my route). I think that the best I can realistically do is what I was doing this morning – maintain a heightened awareness of what the vehicle next to me is doing (whether or not they are using turn signals or aware of my presence). And to pay extra attention when the vehicle is a large truck with limited visibility.
Taking the lane behind a right-turning driver is a good preventative move, and removes the confusing interaction between you and the driver.
Please don’t do this if there are more people on bikes behind you. Also note that this move may leave you behind a stopped car where the driver was yielding to you in the bike lane and then lost track of you when you moved from one mirror to the other.
What’s the appropriate response when there is someone riding behind me? Seems to me, depending on the particulars of the road we are on, that they should be taking the lane too.
When taking the lane behind a car, I always assume they will stop short and then I’m never surprised.
If you move left, you’re setting-up those behind you to get hooked and encouraging the driver to hook them (driver may not have seen them.) Cyclists behind you may not have a clear lane to move into to follow you around, so might get stopped if they don’t get hooked. The law requires the driver to yield, so in this case I think it’s best to carefully pass and maybe slow/ signal to the driver that more people are coming. This probably doesn’t apply in light, fast traffic. If a lot of drivers are turning right across a heavily trafficked bike lane, the next driver back is going to cause more of the same, so best to make them all wait.
Riding past a turning car because you have the right of way!?!!! That’s how the law is written, but yes be careful. I ring a bell and look for some sign of compliance (like severe slowing, stopping) before passing any point of no escape.
I should pull up next to the driver and somehow wave at them to indicate that there are other people using the road? Uh uh, I’m not doing that.
I’m responsible for protecting my life and riding predictably, not for waving drivers around or shepherding cyclists behind me.
You want to watch it happen and spend the extra time to hang around and give a statement? Or you’ll maybe just end up stopped behind the car while the turning driver follows the law and waits for bikes that were behind you to pass.
Well, it won’t be me. I don’t ride in the vicinity of other riders that often. Maybe this is something that happens on Williams?
Regardless, I don’t subscribe to the ‘pack of riders’ philosophy. When I check for cross traffic before crossing a road, I’m checking for me. I’m not responsible for you riding behind me, and I’m not going to call out ‘clear’ for you either. I teach my kids this too — you don’t get to follow another rider across an intersection without stopping to check for yourself. If you want to not be hooked, slow down and position yourself accordingly, or join me behind the car. If you’re close enough to me to put yourself in danger, why are you following so close anyway?
This is a good point, and counterpoint. In California where cars buffer for turns into the bike lanes, it becomes especially useful to anticipate and signal and pass on the left as described. The law allows cyclists to take the lane “wherever a right turn is permitted” for this reason. Two things I’ve learned here: using a mirror to time gaps in approaching traffic is extremely useful, and – to your point – I need to be aware of any other cyclists “in the pocket” when I do this, so as to not place them at risk.
As a faster cyclist (for the most part), I tend to take the lane on upcoming intersections earlier than later if I’m coming up on other cyclists. It might hold back the driver more than I’d have otherwise timed, but I’ve now forced them to bleed even more speed and have time to catch sight of the others and not just me. (Often they are then behind or directly next to the other cyclists rather than just ahead where they might have confidence to make the turn in front). Timing is everything!
What do you recommend — continue on a path you know is unsafe just because others are exercising questionable judgment?
I’m afraid I always pull around on the left or position myself on the left quarter panel depending on circumstances. I see people get hooked all the time, sometimes entire groups. It’s totally unnecessary.
Setting yourself up to not get hooked is faster, safer, and makes the riding experience more enjoyable.
I really try to avoid passing cars on the right if there are driveways or side-streets where they might turn. If I do, I make myself extra-aware of the “body language” of the cars I’m passing to try to anticipate if one will turn.
One other left-hook-ish thing I’ve encountered (I think down on water ave headed toward omsi). I was coming up behind two stopped cars. The car in the front was making a left turn but, had stopped for oncoming traffic. As I approached the car behind, the driver of the car behind made a fast and unexpected move into the bike lane to pass the turning car (car in front) on the right. I had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting the car in the bike lane. I’m pretty sure this maneuver was illegal but, I’m also pretty sure this is not uncommon and, such a driver is unlikely to check the passenger mirror for cyclists.
Yes, very much illegal.
And very much a trait of California drivers (even in Oregon).
I regularly overtake traffic at night on Multnomah/Gardenhome (the long downhill section).
Not only do you have to be aware of the car pulling unexpectedly into your lane to go around a left turning car, but you also have to watch anytime there are stopped cars with a gap between them and the car ahead – there very well may be a car turning left through the gap. Drivers in that situation can’t see you behind the vehicles in the right lane and mostly don’t stop at the sidepath to check it when they clear the car.
trikeguy…you mean on a ‘bent? You’re brave. ‘Bents are cool, but they generally lack the visibility to other road users of even comparatively difficult to see riders on upright bikes. That westbound downhill section of Garden Home Rd to either side of Oleson Rd, or the more gradual descent on Multnomah Blvd east of Oleson, is fun-fun and fast, but definitely has some inherent hazards.
Yes, this is one of my top defensive recommendations for folks riding on heavily trafficked N. WIlliams in the evenings. As a rider you have to be super aware of when there are gaps in the heavy travel lane, because that is when cross traffic cars will take the gap to cross N. Williams, or turn onto. And because of parking and the packed travel lane, they largely cannot see bicyclists until the last minute.
Whenever i see a gap or people slowing to allow a gap, I start scanning for the cross-traffic and looking those drivers directly in the face to see if they see me. I also drift toward the right edge of the bike lane/near the vehicles to make myself more visible to the cross traffic (since they are largely entering on my left). I’m also ready to brake if needed. This awareness maneuver has averted many collisions but it’s not something I see many other cyclists practice, at least on this corridor. It sounds a lot like what you’re doing on your ride.
If there’s no bike lane, my experience in eastside Portland is that taking the lane in general is the safer way to go, not just in the case of right-turning drivers. Even on a big street like Foster (W of 89th), I’d rather deal with the very occasional angry driver “stuck” behind me for a few seconds than the more-common clueless/inattentive driver who passes too close, turns right in front of me, or doesn’t make any accommodation for me merging into the lane in the case of parked cars, stopped buses, curb bump-outs at crosswalks, huge potholes and/or un-trimmed trees. (A corollary of this is to not filter past drivers unless traffic is essentially stopped and you do it quite carefully.)
If there’s a conventional bike lane, especially a door-zone bike lane… I don’t know the best way to go. I find it impossible to truly pay attention to all the possible hazards (car doors, pedestrians, right turns, cars coming from cross-streets) in a bike lane like SE Hawthorne between Grand and 12th. I choose alternate routes where possible.
Agreed on all points, including filtering. If motorists feel like you’re working with them, the treatment is very different than if they don’t.
I usually give a “thank you” wave when taking space. As is the case with dealing with hostile dogs, demeanor is important. If you’re calm, assertive, and act like everything went exactly according to plan, they stay calmer and play nicer.
On rare occasion, a motorist especially excited to see a cyclist may yell “GOOD RIDING TO YOU!” Or at least I think that’s what it is — hard to be certain with the ambient noise…. I always counter with a calm but friendly wave 🙂
They are yelling “Get on the sidewalk!”, but it’s better to pretend that it’s something else.
I like to confirm that move by waving at the driver’s side mirror.
That’s difficult to do with bus drivers who indicate stops with turn signals *and* the vehicle’s “body language” but I can’t exactly complain about the extra warning.
taking the lane is usually a good idea…
but don’t do it when there’s a bike lane there…
when I’m driving and I’m slowing for a bike in the bike lane to pass me it confuses me when they illegally leave the bike lane to get behind me and let me make the turn… I’ll be stuck in your way for longer now because I’m looking all over to make sure you’re not still there in the bike lane…
Use your rearview mirror.
Better to have a momentary bit of confusion due to a courteous driver than a crushed body due to an oblivious one.
If someone is obviously seen me, I go ahead and pass cautiously on the right with a friendly wave. If I have any doubts, I fall behind and pass left if conditions allow.
Too many drivers don’t see or don’t care. That aside, you have to be careful no matter what because the car may be stopped for something crossing in front of them that you didn’t see — a problem that gets amplified with larger vehicles.
Sometimes it takes a few seconds for drivers to figure out what’s going on, especially if they intended to wait, but my personal experience is that falling back and passing left is both faster and safer.
This is the terrible thing about all of this. Tons of good survival-enhancing advice here, but all of it is contra-legal enabling of horrible driving. Much like the well-intentioned actions of some drivers, e.g., stopping at a two-way stop, when it’s my stop, not theirs, stopping in a free-flowing, oncoming lane to “be nice” and let me make a left turn—it might “nice”, or “safe”, but it confuses people who actually know and follow the law. The real shame is that so very, very few people actually know or follow the law when it comes to bicycles being used on the roads.
The other frustration of mine is that most of the time, when a driver endangers a bicyclist—unlike when they almost hit another car, or when a bicyclist upsets a driver—there is no screeching of tires or protracted horn blast to even let an offending driver know they did anything the least bit unsafe, let alone illegal. If drivers got some kind of warning (e.g., a horn-honk) every time they turned across a bike lane, they might start to wonder why. But as bicyclists who are merely fulfilling our “duty” to not get run over, drivers often “fail silently” and never know they did anything wrong—and will thus continue to drive obliviously.
I didn’t glean any about my legal responsibilities. Author sounds condescending to cyclists.
I’m sure that someone somewhere will find this interesting and useful, I wont.
The author indicated clearly that he was making no effort to provide legal advice. As he wrote, “[d]on’t read this post if you want to know a bicycle user’s legal responsibilities . . . “
Consult here for your legal responsibilities:
I was trying to think of a way I could have written this differently than John. I might have left out some of the interjections (or changed the name of the referenced states… ;-)), but he nailed the most useful content. I have similar years of cycling and driving experience and didn’t learn the techniques he describes from laws or books. I’m sorry you’re missing the value in the wisdom he’s trying to impart.
Nice article John. I assume not all drivers are careless, stupid or distracted but I leave them plenty of room just in case they are. Also, rain or shine, day or night put on the light.
Good one Jonathan.
Another one that has gotten me on several occations. “If you are on a bicycle, and no longer in the windshield of the motorist.
You no longer exist!”
I always remember this when I am doing cartwheels over the right turning car.
No mention of bells or other audible signal and I have noticed very few riders use their bells in Portland. I’ve heard they are more commonly used in other places in the world. Is a bell an important safety tool or just not that effective? Are people hesitant to use them for some reason? Thanks
I am a bell-liever Eric. I use mine constantly. I wish other people used them too.
Don’t you also yell out a friendly “Good Morning”? There’s someone around town who does this when passing, and I love it.
I’ll usually call that out as kind of a “thank you” when passing ped’s or other cyclists. Though, I don’t have a bell, so I’m one of those “onyerleft” people. Though I try to make it as friendly-sounding as possible 🙂 – more of a request rather than an order.
I’m partial to squeaky toys and children’s horns. It does the same job but manages to garner a few more smiles and outright laughter. I mean, who can be annoyed at a guy with a squeaky toy?
I find that a loud rear hub is the best. People can better localize a continuous sound that is increasing in volume as it approaches and continuous sounds are less startling. It is also automatic when I coast to pass someone.
Rule No. 65: “Bicycles must adhere to the Principle Of Silence and as such must be meticulously maintained. It must be cherished, and when leaning it against a wall, must be leaned carefully such that only the bars, saddle, or tires come in contact with the wall or post. This is true even when dismounting prior to collapsing after the World Championship Time Trial. No squeaks, creaks, or chain noise allowed. Only the soothing hum of your tires upon the tarmac and the rhythm of your breathing may be audible when riding. When riding the Pave, the sound of chain slap is acceptable. The Principle of Silence can be extended to say that if you are suffering such that your breathing begins to adversely affect the enjoyment of the other riders in the bunch, you are to summarily sit up and allow yourself to be dropped.”
I think loud hubs are the exception… you don’t stop pedaling in the peloton :p
HaHa. I am glad Chris King didn’t take this rule seriously.
I mainly use mine to notify pedestrians or other riders when I’m approaching from behind. I assume the driver of a car won’t hear it (they’re enclosed and probably have the radio on). More and more I’m also assuming peds and cyclists won’t hear it either because everyone seems to be wearing ear-buds these days.
Yeah, I find my bell to be useful in warning pedestrians only about half the time. The other half of the time their ears are plugged up as they are walking in the middle of the path.
All of my bikes have bells. It’s a hell of a lot nicer than yelling “ONYERRLEFT!!!” Also, if you’re someone who does this, please stop.
I have 2 bikes with bells and 2 without. Even when I ride with a bell, I’m still left saying which side I’m going to pass because sometimes this ends up being on the right, either due to the pedestrian’s position or oncoming traffic or other circumstances. While I find that the bell tends to get through to pedestrians with earbuds, it can also startle them especially in the early morning hours when they feel that they are alone on their walk/jog/journey.
In summary, I have not found an effective and also polite way to communicate my presence and intent without actually talking at people which also includes other riders. I do not ride with earbuds on but am considering getting a small ipod speaker to tuck into my jersey pocket to play music just for the purpose of having an always on audible signal to others of my presence. Reminds me of the bear bell days of mountain biking Appalachia.
Most of the time I don’t try to communicate because it doesn’t work more often than it works, and it many cases, makes things worse by startling the person. My general rule is to just pass when there’s enough room without announcing my presence. I ride slowly, so this is a rarely a problem. It works a hell of a lot better than dinging at everyone. I will only ding if someone is walking in a bike lane or at a group walking so that they are blocking the entire path.
I honestly wish people would do the same to me. I get ONYERRLEFTed on the Hawthorne Bridge constantly, and it’s more annoying than helpful. About half the time, I can’t even understand what they’re saying until they’re practically on top of me. Usually people do this to me when they actually just want me to move over for them, but I’m riding on the left side because there are peds on the sidewalk that I’m trying to give a wide berth. I just can’t win. 😛
I often get those ONYURLEFT riders on the Hawthorne trying to move me over as well… I’m not moving… I’m on the bicycle side of the path and I’m staying there… you can pass on the right if you’re so fast…
I also ding my bell at every ped I pass on the bridge, which annoys some riders in front of me who think I want them to move over…
hey riders: bells and ONYURLEFT are not meant for other riders… do not be upset when we ignore you…
the hawthorne bridge bike facility is very clearly designated on the left so passing on the left is the unconventional maneuver.
i personally believe that there should be no passing signs on the hawthorne bridge deck. a few seconds of our time is a small concession to the comfort of pedestrians and less-confident people on bikes.
Cyclists have to be able to pass pedestrians. Pedestrians walk about 3 miles per hour.
there is a clearly indicated portion of the path for people cycling. my comment referred to people passing people cycling in the pedestrian area.
I had a bell on my previous bike, and stopped using it because it confused the hell out of pedestrians. Whenever I would ring it on the Esplanade, I had people looking up in confusion but not realization all the time, even after a second or third ring. Maybe it depends on the kind of bell?
Yelling on “on your left” is at least clear–it tells the other person where you are, and that you’re on a vehicle going faster than they are, not a child on a tricycle. I do try to yell in a sprightly, friendly way, and am frequently thanked for the alert. (As a pedestrian and slower cyclist, I do appreciate any sort of alert.)
I always put one of the old-school “bring-bring” style bells on my bike… the small “ding” ones sound like a smartphone text alert… everybody seems to understand the old-school “bring-bring” bicycle bell sound…
Giant Dutch DING-DONG bells ftw. 🙂
“… if you’re someone who does this, please stop.”
Most people prefer not to have orders barked at them from aggressive cyclists, FYI.
Indicating the side with which you will be passing someone is not an order. Saying “MOVE TO THE RIGHT” would be an order.
To me and many others, it comes off as very aggressive. Especially since there are plenty of instances where someone has yelled it at me over and over until I move over for them.
P.S. I’m super nice…
“Most people prefer not to have orders barked at them from aggressive cyclists, FYI.”
And most people prefer not to have orders barked at them in online discussion forums (as in “if you’re someone who does this, please stop”.
I use the phrase “on your left” because it’s usually understood as a means of alerting someone to my presence. I do try to be aware of my tone of voice, so as to mitigate the “bark” factor. I also generally add on a “thanks” or a “good morning” for good measure.
Now, if someone is badgering you with this phrase while riding your wheel across the Hawthorne bridge, that’s another story. Does it really matter what exact words they’re using if their intent is just to bully you aside?
but what about all the weight and wind resistance from having an actual bell? won’t all that extra resistance make riders sweat?
yeah, I prefer a bell, but you’re legally allowed to use your voice…
My Spurcycle is mounted aerodynamically.
I’ve received more “thank you” comments then attitude about saying it. Would rather ring my bell ahead of time though.
I had a couple of homeless people get really angry at my bell a few years ago. I started using bells for pedestrians, and the nicest “On your left” I could offer for people on bikes.
I like “Passing!” which is less confusing. I think some folks hear “On your left,” and it requires too much thought, like they’re supposed to do something. “Passing” lets them know they can stay right where they are. I often hear “Thanks” after I say this.
I tried using my bell and sometimes it startles people out for a morning walk, so I slow way down and say good morning, makes for a more pleasant morning.
Funny how most peds don’t answer back…
I, too, am a bell-iever, though I’ve noticed the chance of a response to said bell has, in the past few years, dropped to about 20% for people on foot, and -500% for a person driving a car.
response? why are you expecting a response? the peds aren’t supposed to do anything in response… the bell is to notify them you’re there so they don’t suddenly change direction into your path… the bell isn’t to tell them to move… they may move if they want to, but they have the right of way and don’t have to…
Not if they are walking on the left side of a MUP.
The utility of a bell depend on where/how you ride. Although you can use your voice, they provide an easier to parse and clearer signal to others that a bike is passing. I think they’re a good idea on paths with peds.
You should never assume people can hear you until you have specific reason to do so. Hearing problems, earbuds, or just being spaced out are very common.
I don’t see any particular reason to use bells on roads. You should be giving bikes the same space that cars should give — i.e. 3′ minimum. You don’t expect cars to honk their horns as they pass, so there’s no particular reason to expect bikes to pass from the same distance as they represent a lesser threat.
People who don’t like not knowing what’s coming up from behind should use mirrors. They are legally required equipment on cars and for good reason. They are even more useful on a bike since bikes get overtaken more frequently.
FWIW, Its Oregon law to give an audible signal when overtaking a pedestrian on a sidewalk:
(1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following
(b) Operates a bicycle upon a sidewalk and does not give an audible warning before overtaking and passing a pedestrian and does not yield the right of way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk.
I’m not sure, but I this applies to multi use paths as well.
Right hooks are much easier to avoid in cities with bike lanes and parking banned at corners. There, you can pull partly into the intersection just ahead of the crosswalk, and be within the driver’s immediate view. This is also the same idea behind the “protected intersection” – placing the cyclist ahead of the driver, so they are forced to see them before turning.
In Portland, this maneuver is impossible. There are practically zero major streets that have bike lanes, and parking is allowed all the way up to the curb. This causes turning drivers to pull partly into the intersection – well ahead of the stop bar – to see around the corner, blocking the crosswalk and effectively occupying the area you should be positioning yourself.
When I rode in Chicago, I used this trick all the time, but in Portland I am often forced to just wait behind the line of cars, which sucks.
As someone who also drives, I’d add another recommendation for the Responsible Driver: choose your trip, route, and schedule so that you have the capability to drive safely, if you choose to drive. Sometimes I drive from near 100th & Foster to a Biketown station to get downtown. I have the choice of 12th & Hawthorne, 21st & Clinton, and 26th & Clinton. Once, I drove down 21st and Ladd to 12th & Hawthorne, but I felt stressed by the interaction with people biking and felt I couldn’t do it with enough attention. So, now I stop near 26th & Clinton and ride the rest of the way.
If it’s dark and rainy out, do you really need to make the trip? Can you take transit or ride your bike? Can you take routes with fewer distractions?
Avoiding driving on streets with bike lanes is a good way to lower your risk of right-hooking someone.
Also: Can you leave early enough that you don’t feel rushed? And even if you do feel rushed, can you remind yourself that driving safely and responsibly is more important than getting to your destination a few minutes earlier?
Being in a hurry is never an excuse, even if you drive a garbage truck.
Good points all around. As a driver, I try to avoid high stress roads or, places where there are lots of ped/bike interactions. And, vice-versa as a ped/cyclist. Your other point cannot be stressed enough. You being late is your fault, take your own medicine. Don’t put me and mine at risk because you slept in.
I wish all drivers would follow your lead. Nothing annoys me more than the impatient driver swerving around cyclists on the bike boulevards. Why are you driving on the bikeway if you get annoyed by all the bikes?!
Just doing what the computer told them to.
You’re right by the 14 bus and Green Line, but the 14 gets stuck in traffic and the Green Line is way out of the way for heading into downtown. Do you think if transit in Portland was more reliable, you wouldn’t feel like you had to drive to a bike share station?
I’m also right by the 10 bus, which is actually my best transit option. But all those options take an hour+ door to door, and have greater unpredictability than drive+bike in my experience. Drive+bike is always less than 45 minutes. I try to opt for transit when I can, but with two kids under 4, time in the morning is often at a premium.
If transit were as fast or faster than drive+bike and no more unpredictable, I would never drive+bike. I think bus lanes are the most feasible route to get us there, but we missed a big opportunity in the Powell-Division project.
Agreed. I’d love to see the entire 14 route be car-free as well, since it’s all 4-lane roads; however the Foster Streetscape project (if it ever happens) will make that more challenging. Another huge missed opportunity there. There was room for bus lanes and protected bike lanes on Foster, but PBOT opted to retain parking instead.
The 14 between C. Chavez and Foster is not 4-lane.
True. However, PBOT could easily remove the parking lanes on 50th, since they’re barely used and cause drivers to speed excessively, since the lack of parked cars creates a 20 foot travel lane for them.
Honestly though, I’d rather have protected bike lanes on 50th. I’m sick of riding on the sidewalk there.
I agree with the defensive riding approach, from what I can see motorists can’t be trusted to exercise good judgement. Two days ago I was on one of my rare car drives as I was returning from taking my wife to the airport. Going down Hall in Beaverton ,where it is three lanes one way ,I observed two cars traveling next to each other for some distance, then the center lane car pulled slightly ahead and turned left across the front of the other in a classic “hook” causing a collision. The road was nearly empty with the exception of these two cars and myself 40 yards behind. I was sort of dumbfounded and realized that if the clueless driver who caused the collision was not even aware of the large car next to them on a nearly empty road, that their chances of seeing a cyclist in a bike lane next to them was nearly zero. Beware my friends.
Oregon drivers are the worst I have ever seen. They are completely unpredictable: they stop when they don’t need to, swerve without signaling, signal but then don’t turn, pull halfway into intersections then stop, etc. Chicago drivers are aggressive, but at least you know what you’re getting with then. Oregon, however, is a total crapshoot – everyone here seem to drive like they’re half drunk.
When riding Clinton street, every block seems to have a driver coming from a cross-street and it’s a constant stream of a “I hope they see me” moments. Most pull halfway into the intersection, don’t signal, and turn while there are still cyclists in the intersection. At least once per day, I see someone pull a U-turn right in the middle of the intersection.
But it’s probably my lack of proper riding techniques that’s causing all those drivers to turn without looking. 😉
At least once per day, I see someone pull a U-turn right in the middle of the intersection.
That’s a legal place to do a U-turn: https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.365
Still doesn’t make it a good idea. I mean, wtf people, the blocks in Portland are 220 feet long, just drive around the damn block instead of pulling a U-turn on a busy bike street.
It also does not mean it’s a bad idea. Several 90º turns could be more dangerous than one 180º, it just depends how they are all executed.
The U-turns contribute to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of our greenways IMO. It’s why we simply just need less cars on them. Less cars means less dumb driving moves.
The same car going around a block or two to get to their destination, or to get facing the right way to pull over to the curb, also adds to the “chaos.” Again, it depends how the turns are done. Sure, more of any moving objects will decrease the placid nature of an otherwise unoccupied street, and of course motor vehicles are the devil incarnate.
If you think Oregon drivers are bad, go drive on I-80 and I-680 between Sacramento and Concord some time. It’s simply insane! Traffic flow will be 65-ish with nearly every slot taken, but large numbers of motorists will insist on darting and weaving, including using shoulders, on and off ramps and ending lanes, to go 80-90 mph. Of course there are multiple wrecks per day, each of which brings things to a stand-still, so everyone has waze to tell them which surface streets they can attack.
I just got back from an extended business trip that had me driving that thing way too much and am relieved to be back in our calmer wing of the asylum. I’m saddened that it has gotten so bad in an area that used to have remarkably polite motorists. Maybe motorists are like lab rats; if you put too many together in a cage, they begin to eat each other.
Honestly, it’s gotten so much worse out there very recently. It wasn’t like this even three years ago.
Oh, and another point about Oregon: what is up with all the backwards parkers in Portland?! By this I mean people who park on the side of the street facing against traffic. In Chicago you’d get your car towed for doing this. This makes it very dangerous when they pull out of the spot because they are now driving in the wrong side of the street. It’s bad enough with all the drivers driving on the wrong side of the street for blocks at a time on bikeways. It’s unnerving to look up and see a car barreling directly towards you on the wrong side of the street…
I report a ton of these with the PDX Reporter app… and thanks to NextDoor.com my immediate neighbors all park correctly because they know I’ll report them…
Those aren’t Oregonians, those are Calegonians. You want to see worse than Portland head to Seattle or San Jose. I love driving in Oregon because they are the most mellow drivers of anywhere I’ve traveled! All drivers should be treated as unpredictable, though – certainly not splitting hairs with you…
Yep. My general rule is “assume all drivers are drunk and texting, and assume all closed doors will open”. It’s worked well for me so far. No need for a manual on cycling techniques if you just remember that one rule.
Is this bikeportland or the Oregroanian?
Joking about someone’s death is awful and especially so in the context of recent coverage on bikeportland. (This comment also assumes that people who read bikeportland have estate lawyers.)
I guess my 12 year old neighbor should signal, exit the bike lane, veer into the traffic lane, and control the lane on Hawthorne.
This kind of appeal to authority is a textbook example of someone pushing anecdotes as “facts”. A wide variety of “techniques” are used to safely negotiate intersections in Portland and there is no evidence presented that Mr. Liu’s “method” is safer than other ones. Moreover, Liu’s unwillingness to discuss other ways to negotiate intersections (that may be more appropriate for young and/or cautious people) suggests a certain degree of dogmatism.
I have 45+ years of riding bikes in cities (not that this matters in the least) and I safely ride “near or next to the right-hand side of vehicles” because that’s how bike lanes work. I’m glad Liu has found an advanced cycling skill that works for them but “never riding near or next to the right-hand of vehicles” is not feasible for the large number of people who use Portland’s many protected and not-so-protected bike lanes.
Soren asked: “Is this bikeportland or the Oregroanian?”
My goal with subscriber posts (and all guest posts) is to share voices from the community — even if they choose words and/or have perspectives that are different from mine (both personally and as publisher). I appreciate that you and John Liu have a different outlook on this. I think we need to allow different voices to express themselves and feel supported in doing so. There is often not one right way that fits for everyone. The best outcome is when people with different perspectives are open to each other and are willing to consider adjusting and evolving their own. Thanks soren.
Usually people that feel the need to lecture others on proper riding techniques are the least “open to each other and are willing to consider adjusting and evolving their own”. Often it’s from people who ride racing-inspired bikes and use racing-inspired bike handling skills handing out advice no one asked for. It comes off as very condescending, IMO.
“Usually people that”
For one who seems so adamantly opposed to the social damage stereotyping can do, you should be careful where your perspective meets your own prejudice. In the case of John Liu’s article, he is giving advice he believes someone else might find useful (even though you may not). This is stated upfront, and the advice itself seems mostly sound. You made some assumptions about this author which come off as derisive and intended as mildly insulting. Is this really the tone of writing you want to represent yourself with?
I am grouping people based on their behavior, not on their personal qualities. Giving out advice is fine, but it should be asked for by the person getting the advice, not given out without permission.
In this case, I have nothing against this article’s existence, because one can choose not to read it. I disagree with the contents, but that’s a different matter. I do not believe this is prejudicing because, again, I am criticizing a specific behavior. I personally could not care less how you ride a bike, as long as you leave me alone while you do it.
Unless someone specifically asks for advice, do not assume the person wants or needs it.
Joking about someone dying while cycling in a legal manner reinforces prejudice against vulnerable road users. Prejudice is certainly a “perspective”.
Did the author do anything positive at all in your eyes by writing this article?
I hear you soren.
Again. When I edit other peoples’ writing, I don’t want to take away their voice and spirit. It’s a fine line. In this case, I feel that sentence did not rise to the level where I needed to delete/edit it… although I understand why you think it should have.
I would like to hear ways that 12-year-olds can avoid right hooks with our current infrastructure. Do you have any suggestions?
Avoiding right hooks in particular sounds like something 12-year-olds and other riders with a lower level of skill/attention/risk tolerance (like myself) can avoid by route and behavior choice if they live and ride only in eastside Portland. Never pass a car that is in the rightmost motor vehicle travel lane. Avoid streets with bike lanes (e.g. use Rodney instead of Vancouver/Williams).
“Avoid streets with bike lanes”
This gave me a chuckle. I’d like to see our DOTs share this wisdom in their safety campaigns, ha ha.
There are many streets with bike lanes where right-hook risk is minimal due to inexpensive choices that favor the safety of people over the convenience of drivers. For example, the bike lane on 52nd has a leading interval that gives pedestrians and people cycling a ~8 second head start over motor vehicles.
At Division? That makes sense. I can never seem to figure out the timing of that signal, so I usually run the red light when the ped signal goes on.
Thank you for being a scofflaw for safety, Adam.
Didn’t NYC legalize biking through red with the LPI? Can we get some “bikes use ped signal” signs?
should be “lower”, not “minimal”.
The idea that any manner of cycling or walking can completely avoid right hooks is a strawman. However, many people in Portland avoid riding through dangerous intersections via the use of sidewalks and pedestrian signals. A body of literature suggests that an offset crossing where the vulnerable road users are more fully in the view of the driver is generally safer. I also believe that this “method” is taught to young people in cycling education classes in the Portland area…
In general, 12-year olds should not be riding on busy city streets. I know there are a few that are savvy enough, but it is a rare kid who has leaned enough, has the skills and reactions to survive on busy city streets. I saw a kid last week, after her Dad crossed two lanes to get into a left-turn lane, wait about five seconds, not look, throw out her left arm, and swerve directly in front of a car. Missed getting hit, seriously injured or worse, by less than 5′. All I could think was ‘Dad, ride behind your kids, so you know what they are doing’.
Tell that to our school district, which has removed the bus routes that reach our neighborhood. Our 12-year-old will be making his way home 1.7 miles now, instead of being dropped off down the street.
Funny thing is, he has a friend who lives one block further away from school who will get a bus directly his house. Can our son ride this bus, get off there and walk a block backwards to get home? Nope, not allowed.
You might want to alert your school district to Oregon law:
2013 ORS 327.043¹
When district required to provide transportation
(1) A school district is required to provide transportation for elementary students who reside more than one mile from school and for secondary school students who reside more than 1.5 miles from school. A district is also required to provide transportation for any student identified in a supplemental plan approved by the State Board of Education.
(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, the State Board of Education may waive the requirement to provide transportation for secondary school students who reside more than 1.5 miles from school. A district must present to the board a plan providing or identifying suitable and sufficient alternate modes of transporting secondary school students. [1991 c.780 §7]
Thanks, we are aware of that law. By car, our house is slightly under 1.5 miles, but the bulk of that route is on Cornell, and we’d prefer that he take a less dangerous route.
Also, BSD is pretty bad at following that law to begin with. When they cut bus service at Oak Hills Elementary a couple of years ago, there were kids at 1.2 miles away who lost bus service. We basically gave up a few buses and replaced them with hundreds of cars.
That’s tough. Generally, I would say walk that distance, but for a kid, alone, on a public sidewalk, not a good solution. Maybe, one of his parents meet him and school and ride with him? No good answer.
Why is that not a good solution (assuming a route with sidewalks and good crossings of major streets is available)? It used to be absolutely mainstream for kids to walk that kind of distance. Crime rates have been declining for decades, and the “stranger danger” that people worry about is exceedingly rare.
I’m only 30, and I used to walk and bike to school as a kid.
Clarification in the Portland context: *violent* crime rates have been declining for decades.
Oh my, what a crazy world we have made. I was eight years old when I rode my first century, totally unplanned, with a friend. Luckily, we had enough change to buy a big bag of cookies to see us home.
We used to ride all over the place as children on our small Schwinn or Peugeot bottom-of-the-line ten speeds. Now we’re telling our kids to sit around and we wonder why what we used to call “adult onset diabetes (type II) is now a growing epidemic in teenagers.
I have been avoiding right hooks using the methods described by John Liu since before I was 12. We didn’t have bike lanes then and we had plenty of fast traffic. We walked and rode our bikes to school and everywhere else without crossing guards and safe routes to school. We thought we would die if our parents drove us to school, rather than our parents thinking we would die if they didn’t.
As fallacies go, argument from emotion about your 12 year old neighbor doesn’t delegitimize a valid defensive riding strategy. It’s not for everyone, but it *does* work.
Perhaps you should read what I wrote again. I explicitly indicated that there are multiple ways to negotiate intersections and that there is little evidence favoring one or the other from a safety perspective. If you disagree with what I wrote I’d be interested in your evidence!
Soren is still seeking empirical evidence that the defensive strategies described here by John and taught in several large bike advocacy groups’ training classes are effective. They work for you, me, and John Liu, so I guess the number he’s looking for is 3.
“Safety in numbers” is a very effective way to reduce serious injury and death.
IMO, suggesting that horrible things may happen to people if they do not use proper “defensive strategies” is not particularly conducive to higher mode share.
Nobody needs to suggest anything….you can learn about bike tragedies by reading the news.
Most people react to those news stories not by going out and acquiring cycling skills, but by exclaiming – as BikeSnob puts it – “Screw it, I’m leasing a Hyundai”.
It may be effective in theory, but getting more people riding will take a long time (and is not guaranteed to last, as varying gas prices have shown us). The tipping point of the (theoretical) impact on driver behavior is not guaranteed either.
The defensive riding techniques described here are things many people can do now.
I don’t see anything John describes here as reducing bicycle mode share. Both approaches are prudent; one is more practical for a wide range of cyclists. Describing higher risk situations (and ways to mitigate them) is reality, not scare tactic. Many folks I know have tried biking or bike commuting and gotten too scared to continue just by the very fact that drivers and cars are scary, not (consciously) by media influence.
It’s no secret that putting yourself to the right of (potentially) right-turning cars may result in a right hook. For statistics, we asked our county and city engineers to look at the reported incidents for intersections where the bike lane is Far-To-Right (FTR) versus where a Right-Turn-Only Lane (RTOL) is to the right of a bike lane continuing straight (i.e. https://goo.gl/maps/i9b4gfJYHsC2). The data proved this point.
Some results from the exercise (not overnight, mind you) :
Bike-related crashes (reported) went down after this infrastructure replaced a FTR bike lane (the sharrows was my influence) :
This intersection has been updated (not yet in Google) with the exact same configuration (except with green paint, cuz that makes everything safe). We proposed the right lane become RTOL except for buses, with a dashed left-side bike lane continuing straight, since the travel lane disappears after the bus stop across the intersection). Time will tell if it remains to be a high-risk intersection for cyclists, but I’ll bet a paycheck the numbers stay the same or get worse:
Again, the paint is telling the bicyclist to stay to the right of right-turning cars (when there was a practical alternative). The paint is not always your friend…
My criticism was not focused on specific advice but on the “do this or die” tone.
That being said there are other ways to ride defensively:
1.) Pick a different route that has less right hook risk.
2.) Cross the intersection using the sidewalk (and associated signal). This technique is very common in east portland.
3.) Position your bike in front of turning vehicles during a stationary red phase. (Treat every intersection as a bike box.)
4.) Move back and forth (slightly) prior to the intersection in order to make yourself more visible to overtaking traffic (e.g. the SMIDSY maneuver).
Fair enough; I think John’s probably gotten the point on his writing style by now.
To your point on bike boxes, I have no idea why so many city engineers are afraid of them – even advance stop lines. It’s just a little bit of paint! In intersections with bike lanes and no right turn permissible, it would even make sense to make it mandatory.
We’ve had the best luck catching projects right at the beginning of their implementation, even past the planning stage. On this bridge widening there is now a bike lane that terminates without warning (at Fremont Ave – there’s no width for a bike lane or even sidewalk across it, so you have to take the lane straight or the sidewalk to the right or left). Many have already complained about how ludicrous this design is – I’ve advocated for sharrows here, but you’ve inspired me to change my thinking to bring up the idea of a bike box (probably too late and we’ll get nowhere). Thanks!
“…It’s no secret that putting yourself to the right of (potentially) right-turning cars may result in a right hook …” pete
Potential for right hooks may not be something people aren’t generally aware of. Still, I’m not sure what the reason is, but maybe there’s something seductive about the front of the line. I’ve seen people I’ve been riding with approach an intersection with motor vehicles waiting at a red light.
Some of them seem not to be able to resist riding past the end of the bike lane two or three car lengths back, and to be in front, ride up in the narrow space to the right of the front car. What’s the sense in doing that? I’m worried some loopy doop person driving is going to decide to whip their car into a right turn, just as the rider or riders gets up there They’re adults, experienced riders. I don’t want to drop advice on them I feel they probably know already.
“…ride up in the narrow space to the right of the front car. What’s the sense in doing that?”
Maybe I don’t understand the scenario you describe, but when waiting to the right of a car at a red light, I always make sure I’m past the driver’s A-pillar and in their field of view.
There are also places where I do that because my choices are to out-accelerate the first car across the intersection and ride to the left of the bike lane markings to avoid a right-hook into a popular mall, or fall back and risk picking up speed about the time the driver behind the right-hooking car closes off my escape option to my left. (Well, specifically, when riding from the left in this image towards the right, across this expressway: https://goo.gl/maps/zk1VYfP1Vrr).
“… but when waiting to the right of a car at a red light, I always make sure I’m past the driver’s A-pillar and in their field of view. …” pete
You’re generally describing an example of what I consider to be excellent right hook avoidance procedure. (haven’t looked yet at the photo you provided a link to.). Getting far enough forward of the front edge of the front door…alongside the front fender or even to the front end of the car or a little beyond, as long as the rider isn’t jutting dangerously out into the cross street…so the person behind the wheel without even turning their head, can easily see the rider right about where they’d be looking if they started to turn right.
The specific situation I was trying to describe, and which I think I sort of did, is one where the bike lane has ended, and the available space between car and curb is a mere 3′ or less. I’ve seen people riding, go beyond the end of the bike lane to squeeze into such a space with no room ahead of the vehicle to gain the driver view-able position described earlier.
soren…maybe lighten up a bit. I’m someone that considers it very important to be serious about understanding and developing skills to deal with the difficulties and hazards associated with using bikes for travel in traffic.
Still, in discussing these things, I think it’s also important for people to be able to relax a bit, make the occasional self deprecating remark so the discussion doesn’t devolve into something like a boring, depressing lecture or sermon. I’ve never gotten the impression from anything Liu has written, that he’s apathetic about the safety of people riding bikes in traffic, or that he takes some kind of pleasure in their succumbing to misfortune.
About John Liu’s subscriber post of today: overall great explanation of some of the basic road use in traffic procedures people riding bikes can use to save their skin. I only wish those procedures were as easy to learn to use on the road, as they are to read of in his writing.
It’s a reality people will be well to recognize, I think, that the right hook avoiding road use skills described, can take a fair bit of time and experience to be proficient at. And a higher level of awareness and alertness to surrounding traffic conditions and individual driver action, than many people biking seem to realize is essential for their safe use of the street.
By the way, about the question of how 12 year olds’ might or should handle riding a bike in traffic:
There’s not so simple an answer for that question, I don’t think. Because they’re still maturing and growing, some very small in stature and many having little experience with traffic. Parents’ or some other responsible, knowledgeable persons’ judgment and advice should factor into deciding how 12 year old’s and other kids around that age would be safest in navigating the streets with a bike.
Some kids of this age are big and relatively mature. They might be able to do a good job of signaling, lane changes, turns, and managing traffic. If they can show that they can do it well, maybe it’s fine to give them the go-ahead to make full use of the street.
In all fairness, the younger kids I see riding exercise better judgment than adults as a group. I have yet to see a kid doing what I’d consider an unsafe pass on Interstate, but I see adults doing that practically every day.
I don’t know if that’s because the type of adults who let their kids ride in traffic teach them to ride defensively or the kids have better sense…
I think some kids fairly young, can probably manage traffic reasonably well, despite their youth and physical stature, if they’re introduced to the techniques so they can understand the caution they need to use.
Not to put the heat on anyone in particular, but I believe some adults are very anxious, understandably so, about having young kids do things that are fundamental to riding in traffic, such as taking a hand off the bars for at least several seconds at a time to display a hand signal.
Whether they can do it well, I think, depends on the kid. Some people have amazing coordination, balance and maturity at a very early age. They can probably do the riding in traffic thing reasonably well, managing turns and lane changes.
Even so, I’d be reluctant to turn even them out on some major multi-lane thoroughfare or highway, for example, 185th, or Beav-Hillsdale, or Canyon Rd. The intensity of motor vehicle traffic on those roads is just nuts. Even I avoid them except on rare occasions. Neighborhood streets and greenways is what I’m thinking some kids could be able to do reasonably well on with familiarization and practice of some basic biking road use skills.
Love this thank you John. On my commute down SW 1st, a lot of cars are trying to turn right at SW Clay when lots of bikes are trying to go straight. After turning my head to assess what traffic is coming behind, I like to sprint ahead and travel up the left lane to avoid any potential conflict with turning traffic. Coming from a place with no bike lanes I find that a lot of messy conflicts are created that I have had to figure out now that I live here with lots of bike infrastructure.
I find the tone of this article to be highly patronizing. That is all.
I appreciate that this article was written by a cyclist, and not PBOT or PPB.
yeah, but still a patronizing cyclist. Maybe if more cyclists lost their attitudes a bit they would make better progress with the powers that be, among others. It only takes a couple of sentences to explain right hook dangers, and not a short story, and not with all the patronizing BS.
“I find the tone of this article to be highly patronizing. That is all.” buzz
Patronizing? To whom? Or what? I’ve been hoping for a long time, that someone reading and posting comments to bikeportland, would write up something that would reflect an understanding of the complexities of certain basic road use procedures that in reality, are more complex and challenging to do well than some of the old salts take them for granted to be.
Just a few sentences advising about the dangers of right hooks, left crosses and so on, doesn’t cut it for people that have little experience or knowledge about the realities of riding in traffic with motor vehicles. If my appreciation for your writing on this subject didn’t come across in my earlier comment from this morning…thanks John Liu for your work on it.
FWIW in these situations of being along the right side of traffic, whether it be moving at the same speed as me, slowing, accelerating, approaching an intersection etc. I will never ride beside a car, I always position myself alongside the gap between the two cars, like a zipper. As the car to my left is approaching, or leaving the intersection I match my speed with theirs and watch the cars’ ‘body language’ (front tires etc.) for signs of a deviation of their path. I have avoided an uncountable amount of right hooks using this method.
Also FWIW in general I would say that if you are unsure of a drivers intentions, direction, path, etc. it is probably because they are as well, and will make erratic, illogical, and dangerous maneuvers without notice, and therefore should be watched and reacted to as one would who was dropped into a cage with a wild animal. DO NOT take your eyes off the gorilla!
Agreed. I always aim to be either well in front of vehicles to my left and so easily visible through the windscreen, or behind them, watching, and moving at a speed where I can easily slow down and if needed stop if they move right. Alongside a moving vehicle at a comparable speed is the worst possible situation and I’d usually slow a bit to avoid this (or speed up if they are particularly slow). Giving yourself space to react calmly also makes it feel less of an affront if they do move right, less stressful!
Clear front lights at all times also help drivers see there is someone there when glancing at their mirrors particularly in visually crowded situations.
Thanks John, this was great. One tip I don’t think you mentioned is to try to make eye contact with drivers. Here’s what I do if I’m in a bike lane coming up to an intersection, there’s a line of cars, and I’m not sure which ones are going to turn right:
– If I’m first in line at the intersection during the red light, I try to look into the first car and know that the driver sees me. Give a little wave, nod, smile, or something.
– If I’m rolling up to the intersection and I think I might be in a car’s blind spot – especially if their turn signal is on, or if it’s a large vehicle – I hang back and let them go. Meanwhile I look into the next car beside me and try to let them know I’m there.
It’s not always possible to get a driver’s attention – or sometimes they see you and just don’t acknowledge – but it’s just another thing you can do.
BTW, I didn’t find the tone of this article to be patronizing (or – ugh – mansplaining) at all, and I hope there are more coming. No matter how much we ride, a reminder of best practices never hurts!
Making eye contact is increasingly difficult. If the windows aren’t completely tinted, you still have to compete with embedded LCD screens, phones, and a myriad of other distractions. I’ve basically stopped trying.
Tinted front windows suck.
Thank You for this John, appreciate all the tips and also the fact that you cover both the driver’s and cyclist’s point of view, too often folks in power or even some on this blog assume one only uses a single mode of transport when the reality is that most of us are multimodal. I’ve taken to emphasizing this point when filling out transportation surveys etc. hopefully to force them to concede that its not just cyclists whining about road conditions (without “paying their fair share” and other such nonsense.)
Please keep articles like this coming, really appreciate the positive tone !
Thanks to John for courageously sticking his neck out knowing full well that not everyone will agree with him and that he will take a bit of (mild, polite) abuse.
Now here comes my hopefully mild and polite abuse: I think he missed a wee bit on his advice to motorists, especially truck drivers. Part of the mandatory training for a CDL relates to how to use one’s mirrors. In the driving test, one MUST scan each and every mirror at least every few seconds or points are deducted. This isn’t just to see what is on one’s side and behind, it’s to see what will be coming alongside and behind the rig.
High quality drivers keep track of all vehicles that are visible. This is also good advice for cyclists and for those of us who occasionally drive cars, especially when we drive slower than most others, like I do.
If you ride through the Rose Quarter before a Blazer game, or big event, I recommend taking the lane every time. The bike lane is a meat grinder and the parking attendants are running the machine…
I made that mistake once. Never again. Interstate Av is bad enough without all the drunk drivers in the bike lane. I even saw someone park on the MAX tracks to take a phone call! Utter chaos.
The right hook problem in Oregon could be related to our state being the odd-bird with respect to our prohibition against motorists taking control of the bike lane prior to turning right. Only Arizona follows this nearly-unique approach. In pretty much all other states, motorists are required to merge into the bike lane to prevent cyclists from overtaking and passing on the right when the motorist is turning. Yes, this means that cyclists approaching from behind have to either wait behind the motorist, which is what John recommends anyway, or they need to merge out of the bike lane into the travel lane.
Now, when Oregonians drive in other states and forget to adjust to the “normal” right turn across a bike lane that is mandated outside of Oregon, things can get pretty hairy.
I’d like to see the statistics on the incidence of right-hooks in OR vs CA, etc. Requiring that the motor vehicle “occupy” the bike lane goes a long way toward eliminating the possibility of a right-hook.
Sadly, there is very little research on this question but one study suggests that “motorist turning/merging into the path of the bicyclist” collisions were more common in CA than in states that do not allow drivers to merge into bike lanes.
Thanks for that source; that’s a lot of info to wade thru! I would guess that lane change or side swipe collisions would be less severe than right-hook collisions.
This wouldn’t surprise me in the least. While you saw the outcry from CA-conditioned riders who claim the merging is safer, the reality is you quickly get used to it and try to plan accordingly, so it becomes your conditioned style of riding. (And I agree, it is not an appropriate strategy for increasing ridership).
I also believe the California style of creating “slip lanes” (as I learned here that they are called) leads drivers to carry speed into intersections, and especially across the crosswalks that bisect them. My personal belief is that this has assisted in training newer generations of drivers to treat right-turn-or-red-after-stop as more of a yield, resulting in higher pedestrian deaths (I myself was hit in a crosswalk on my walk light when a driver did this; fortunately managed to jump and roll over the hood a la Dukes of Hazzard style!).
Here’s a victory for our city engineer, convincing the county to let him turn a slip lane into a RTOL: https://goo.gl/maps/XSrJMiefGML2.
Here’s another slip lane that was removed due to high incidents – a block from a high school (in fact Google Maps still indicates the slip lane in their graphics): https://goo.gl/maps/ofUmhXiq8sD2.
Anyway, as conditioned as I’ve become to the ‘dance’ that is navigating California intersections, the reality is that the merge (and IMO right-turn-on-red law) has trained drivers to carry more speed (and therefore less caution) into turns in intersections.
P.S. I recently learned that there is a clause that allows the gov’t to withhold funding from states that don’t have right-turn-on-red laws… someone on here posted it. Very illuminating, and disconcerting!
“…Requiring that the motor vehicle “occupy” the bike lane goes a long way toward eliminating the possibility of a right-hook.” paul z
I doubt that very much. Requiring motor vehicles to ‘occupy’ the bike lane in prep for turns, still has them turning across the line dividing bike lane from main lane…and into any road user riding a bike in the bike lane if they should be so unlucky as to be in the path of someone not exactly on top of every important detail as they turn their motor vehicle into the bike lane.
In Oregon, the bike lane for the most part, is the travel lane reserved almost exclusively for people riding bikes. Some people driving, violate this exclusive domain, and people riding have to always on the alert for this happening. Still better than the situation in California, I think, where people driving can virtually enter and drive in the bike lane at any point they’re 200′ or less from an intersection.
With the informal though I think, still illegal ‘california stop’, and the state’s ‘drive in the bike lane to prep for turns’ law, that state sounds great for hot driving. For a turn, cut right through the bike lane before the intersection instead of as in Oregon, having to wait until the intersection to start turning, maintaining the bike lane width distance away from the curb, if the bike lane continues on the street to which the turn is being made.
Note that it’s not just CA, to the north in Washington, drivers are also legally required to merge right into a bike lane before making a right turn. That’s actually true in most states, it’s standard in the UVC, though few states have given it as much attention and specificity as California.
The right hook ‘problem’ is the inevitable result of having bike lanes. The advocates chose a sense of safety over actual safety in order to entice new riders.
Might also add another skill set for the the urban cyclist. That is learning and doing with confidence “extreme braking”. Many novice cyclists have never practiced this and perhaps too late when the measure is needed. Most extreme for me was laying my bike sideways to hit a car that blew across road not seeing me. Similar to a right hook; impossible to avoid vehicle so instead of head on which would have buckled frame/fork and sent me catapulting I rotated bike to face 90 degrees right, impacting sideways and reducing speed radically. Wind knocked out, sore torso, broken saddle but otherwise intact. Best of course to never collide at all but extreme measures might be called on. Everyone should feel able to put bike into full skid and rotate rear of bike around to cut forward movement. Unfortunate such measures are needed but essential for urban cycling – even if never used. As a kid growing up in pre-climate change Wisconsin teens learned winter driving by driving onto frozen lakes and learning how to control motor vehicle behavior on ice. Crazy in some ways yes, but knowing how to control an icy skid prevented many accident and undoubtedly saved lives. Radical evasive measures are useful for cyclists too.
“…Everyone should feel able to put bike into full skid and rotate rear of bike around to cut forward movement. Unfortunate such measures are needed but essential for urban cycling – even if never used. …” ed
Now that may be a tough bike skill for many people to learn, I think, depending upon exactly what you mean by ‘full skid’ Do you mean locking the rear wheel up for the full braking distance, instead of feathering into an eventual skid? Or do you mean a full front and rear wheel brake lock up bringing the bike into a full skid? I’m not sure I could do that on my bike with calipers.
Skidding the rear wheel isn’t too difficult. Front and rear braking coupled together involves some deft handling, weigh redistribution to avoid going over the bars.
Didn’t want my post to bog down in minute analysis of terms and specifics of the type you and Chis bring up, so just used the sideways “skid” (going sideways not really a skid) as an example of radical emergency technique. It could go without saying that of course learning emergency braking involves front/rear modulation and weight shift, but goal of my post was only to advocate for learning skills not to teach a braking technique class! Why must we get so micro-analytic and picky about others posts on this site? Sooooo many “experts” here; sigh 😉
Well…when someone says ‘full skid’, I think some people may really want to know what that is and how to do it, to help them decide whether they might be able to do it, especially in the aftermath of a collision widely discussed on this weblog, where it seems apparent someone actually did try manage such a stopping measure. Thanks though for replying with more details on what you meant ;>).
“Everyone should feel able to put bike into full skid and rotate rear of bike around to cut forward movement.”
You didn’t actually mean this?
Skidding typically isn’t the quickest way to stop. Shifting weight back and maximizing the braking on both wheels just up to the point where a skid is induced will bring you to a stop in the shortest distance.
“Unfortunate such measures are needed but essential for urban cycling – even if never used.”
I realize that we enthusiasts are proud of our sKILz but I doubt even 5% of Portland’s bike commuters want to learn how to side skid, brake on one wheel, or even quick turn.
If a right turn vehicle acknowledges me and let’s me pass, I give them a friendly wave:)
Read Robert Hurst’s “The Art of Urban Cycling,” especially the part about the “Invisible Style.”
Great book. I rode like that as a kid on my paper route, without a light, always assuming that drivers couldn’t see me and staying far away from them.
The title was changed to the “Art of Cycling” a few years ago. If someone picks one book about cycling to read this should, IMO, be it. No other book does such a terrific job of describing approaches to cycling safely in such a non-dogmatic manner.
Thanks John for writing this. This article is excellent advice for riding in urban environments.
we also must remember a left hook can also happen, lately I have noticed some drivers
pass me at high speed to cut in front weather it is a left or a right.. QUICK reflexes can help avoid getting mowed down. I’ve bounced off cars and also shot into a clear lane to save my life.. *Seems we have huge problem with distracted driving aka cell ph usage*
Happened to me last year. I hit the deck, but had full Winter gear on, so no harm, except a bruised hip. His passenger door had a $500 dent in it, haha and I got a new bike and $4000 out of the deal.
One other thing that I have learned in 60 years of city riding is to try to not go way faster than the cars next to me. If I’m coming down a hill at 30 mph, and the cars in heavy traffic next to me are going 15, I am greatly increasing my risk. Generally, because I am a former racer and probably am going 5-10 mph faster than most cyclists, I have to factor that into my expectations about how drivers do, or do not, perceive me.
I’ll chime in & give thanks to you as well for writing this post. It’s always interesting to read other peoples’ biking experiences & how people ride in a given situation.
Good stuff, except the “or else you will die” undertones are counterproductive and somewhat exaggerated. True right hooks (not crosses), with a tight-radius turn by the motor vehicle, by nature happen at lower speeds. I once tucked and rolled out of a right-hook collision at a supermarket parking entrance; scratched my pinky finger. (But of course I would have fared worse if it had been a semi instead of a compact car.)
Right hooks can be fatal, especially when a truck is involved but also with cars. I’ll never forget Kathryn Rickson in 2012, I thought about her as I rode by the spot of road where she died, every day that I rode home via the Hawthorne Bridge. 2014 Kirke Johnson. 2016 Lydia Johnson. Many others whose names I’m ashamed to have forgotten. Another fatal right hook just this last February. About 1-2 deaths annually in Portland from right hooks. And many serious injuries, I mean more than scrapes and bruises.
Nationally, right hooks are about 6% of fatal bicycle accidents. In Portland, I believe they represent a higher % of fatal accidents because some of the other types of accidents are thankfully less common than they are nationally.
Yes, it seems we agree in that the people you mentioned were killed in collisions with a semi, a FedEx delivery truck, and a box truck: We fare worse in collisions with such high-riding, high-mass vehicles. And yes, it would be interesting to see any numbers backing speculation that Portland has a distribution of collision types that differ significantly from the norm.
I have a bell on my commute bike. I don’t use it to signal drivers because too many won’t hear it – windows up, radio on, deep in some important conversation, chewing loudly, etc. I sometimes use it with pedestrians and other cyclists, that’s in a later post.
This is a timely post for me, as I was right-hooked at 11th and Hawthorne just a few days ago. Thankfully I emerged from it with nothing worse than some scrapes and a bent front fork. I’ve always been vigilant and wary of turning cars in that eastbound stretch of Hawthorne, but I find it difficult to choose a safe riding position there, since both the car lane and bike lane tend to be fairly full and are not always moving in tandem.
Is this just an inherently flawed piece of infrastructure, or is there some trick to positioning myself safely that I’ve never stumbled on in 20 years of commuting through there? I’m comfortable with taking the lane, but that’s not always possible when the car lane is filled to capacity.
“the car lane is filled to capacity.”
During peak bike commute hours the car lane is almost always filled to capacity. Right turns at 11th should be eliminated entirely. People who want to drive south on 11th can reach it by turning left onto 12th.
I’m not following. 11th and 12th go in opposite directions.
This area requires extra vigilance for a number of reasons, but these sorts of issues tend to occur wherever busy streets meet each other. There are other viable cycling routes depending on where you’re headed.
Three left turns will place drivers on 11th without requiring a right turn across a major through lane. No engineer would dare design a turn across a major general-use traffic lane so its time that we started to treat major bike lanes (used by thousands each day) with the same respect.
The left lanes could just as easily be argued to be through lanes as the right is often clogged with buses and slow bikes. If traffic is moving, I strongly prefer taking the lanes to the bike lane even if I later intend to turn right.
I thought the “major through lane” being referenced was the bike lane. A driver turning left from Hawthorne would do so from the left lane and not be crossing a bike lane to do it. Two more lefts and there’s a signal to cross Hawthorne on 11th. Turning right from Hawthorne requires turning across a bike lane that might be jammed with bikes. If I were driving, I’d much rather deal with the orderly hassle of making some extra turns and using traffic signals than attempt to turn across a busy bike lane, drawing the ire of following motorists while I waited for bicyclists to clear…or stop and try to wave me through…or swerve to pass me on the left…or take other survival-motivated, yet non-legal actions in an attempt to avoid getting run over.
I haven’t needed to go through here for awhile when the traffic was all backed up during rush, but my recollection is that the bikes tend to get bunched up and the drivers are pretty good about watching for them. Once a single driver stops, the bikes can get through.
Thanks for passing on your wisdom for avoiding the right hook. I probably miss a dozen good right hooks a year. The actions discussed becomes second nature, but explaining it to other is not so easy. Sometimes I will brake and someone will turn without signalling, and I can’t identify why I knew this driver was about to take a swing.
Thanks for the cool post – constant vigilance is required. Any suggestions or comments for dealing with Tri-Met buses on arterials with bike lanes? I find myself in a leap-frog type situation where the bus will pass me and then cut me off in the bike lane to get to the curb, and then I’ll pass it back when they are stopped for their fare, and then it will repeat a few seconds later further on down the road.
Although Tri-Met bus drivers are very good at looking for the cyclist on their right, I have been pinched to the curb in the bike lane by a stopping bus on more than one occasion. Not fun.
I find TriMet bus drivers to be generally better than regular motorists. The worst though, is situations like on 52nd where the bus pulls into the bike lane to drop off passengers and I need to turn left; however the issue is generally not with the bus driver, who sees me and waits, but with the car drivers who illegally cross the double-yellow to pass the stopped bus, usually without even slowing down. My house is next to a bus stop, so turning left when there is a driver going the wrong way down the street is extremely dangerous.
Catch your breath for three minutes
Continue on your way
In a leap frogging situation you describe where you’re actually faster but keep getting cut off — hang back far enough so you can pass on the left without getting boxed being mindful of cars that are probably doing the same. Then put extra leg in, maybe riding further left if you haven’t fully escaped before the next stop. If they still keep getting by you, let them by because you’re slower and enjoy the rest of your ride.
If they unnecessarily and repeatedly box you, that’s BS — I’d call them in. Haven’t had to do that yet with Trimet, but did that with an OHSU shuttle (the only complaint I’ve ever made against a driver in PDX). They promised to talk to their drivers and I noticed an instant improvement — repeated issues with unexpected drift into bike lanes also disappeared overnight and I haven’t had a problem since.
Don’t forget the courtesy waves for drivers who look, see you, and stop with their turn signal on until you clear the intersection.
Being liberal with courtesy waves never hurts. I don’t even know how many I do, but it’s quite a few on ever ride.
Lest people think this is a Stockholm Syndrome thing, drivers wave at each other (and me) all the time.
Yep, agreed. I wave liberally; growing up here, courtesy waves were pretty much de rigeur. Not sure if that’s still the case with the influx of new residents, but I think it’s one tradition we should keep.
I enjoyed reading John’s post. And while I find much of the conversation in BikePortland to be about the systemic problems vulnerable road users face, it’s useful to hear how personal responsibility can play a role in risk management as well.
I did too.
Though I did wonder for a second if I stepped into the Twilight Zone. I’m sure everything will be back to normal soon 🙂
Not the twilight zone, just an appropriate context to discuss how experienced cyclists think about avoiding injury. This is different than publicly admiring yourself and your good fortune when a fellow bike rider or pedestrian has been seriously injured or killed.
Isn’t the context of the article leaving out victim blaming? We all know about being responsible to increase our safety, we just don’t want to excuse driver irresponsibility.
I think we agree. This post, John’s article, addresses bike rider safety precautions separately from the context of when someone is hurt. Because of this, it is much less “victim blaming.” It doesn’t admonish an individual or make assumptions about “what would have happened if the cyclist would have xyz,” ignoring the failure of the system.
One of the most powerful tools to stay safe is route finding.
The question of how to keep a 12 year old safe on the roads is near and dear to me.
I teach my kids to never ever not ever remain next to a semi-truck.
And to position themselves between cars so a right turn will not have consequence. Not always possible but this advice has already created a close-call story instead of a crash for my somewhat savvy 14 year old cyclist.
I don’t find the article patronizing or condescending. It’s one person’s opinion on how best to stay safe. To pick it apart seems like wasted energy. Getting content out there on safely avoiding risk as this article has done is helpful.
It would be interesting for the bikeportland contributors to crowdsource the best ways to handle various risks. I think it would be valuable to have an informal guide that becomes a starting point for new riders.
Here’s a tip people might find useful on a day like today:
Always spit to your right.
I have, in the past, been the unfortunate recipient of a loogie from someone who didn’t know this one.
With the proviso that you’re not passing by peds, cars, or anything else you don’t want to hit. Looking like you’re intentionally hawking a loogie on any of those things (whether or not it’s true) sounds like a great way to get in trouble. I personally prefer left since it’s easier to verify as clear and the positioning is better from an attention point of view.
Protip: Snot rockets always fly from the same side as the nostril. Some riders know exactly what’s going on behind and will wait until you’re not threatened. But many others don’t use mirrors or check behind….
If you’re riding a ‘bent, don’t you just spit upwards?
Head is more level than on a DF so unless you tilted your head waaaay back, odds of nailing yourself would be high…
There is a bike racer protocol for spitting. Angle your hand against your mouth, lean downward in that direction, spit downward, most of the loogie hits the pavement, and any spray ends up on your own hand. It also warns those behind you that you are about to expectorate.
Tip: to help you make a last minute swerve to avoid a hook, steer very slightly to your right as you enter the intersection. This way your wheels be headed in the right direction, if necessary. I do this at intersections where I’m especially concerned about being hooked, especially when I’m alongside a car.
Thanks John for your article. I find it very refreshing to read other people’s experience’s and attitudes re: cycling in the city of Portland. I’m a year round cycling commuter, and it wouldn’t have been so if I hadn’t read a previous article on BP about commuting by bike in the city.
Every multi-model commuter has choices to make depending on the time of the year and the mode they choose, but the more vulnerable the commuter, the more informed they need to be about safety options.
Thanks again. I hope this article saves a life. You’ll never know……. j
I guess John ‘wins the internet’, based on the number of comments received…
Having the same length of experience as the author (except for his crash-free record), I would like to chime in to this excellent article with additional tips. Engine noise is an additional situational awareness cue, right hookers tend to de-throttle or, jerks will up-throttle to beat you to the turn. For this reason, I reluctantly avoid my earphones. Keep brakes exquisitely maintained. Helps to be fit to zip in, out or to the side optimally as second-tier defense and to also take up the whole lane if riding at similar traffic speeds. If using a mirror, don’t neglect forward panorama. If accelerating ahead of a right-hooker, watch out for the gaps motorist open up in congested traffic to allow cross flow. The crossers are inevitably oblivious of oncoming bike-lane traffic. Always assume you are not seen.
Not always true. I rode a bike around for nearly a month in Sicily this summer, on self-guided rides in the south of the island. At first I was annoyed how many drivers (I’d estimate nearly 50%) would give me a quick honk just before they passed me on the road. “How rude” I thought, “why re you honking at me?” Lots of other cyclists on the road generally, so it couldn’t be that cars were confused by my presence. It wasn’t until day two or three that it dawned on me: these were courtesy honks. The cars were alerting me to their presence and giving me time to prepare and react. (I confirmed this when I asked about it at a local bike shop). And drivers never buzzed me; they always straddled the middle stripe as they passed (unlike here in Tacoma – what a joke). In fact, despite the general chaotic traffic patterns (stop signs? Hah! lane markers? Hah hah!) that I observed riding through the small and medium Sicilian towns and cities (Catania, Modica, et al) I felt more visible and respected by cars than riding I ever have in Portland or now here in Tacoma, or any other US urbanized area. I was expecting daredevil disregard and close calls, but it never materialized.
the honk before a pass is standard practice in many part of the world when passing motorvehicles or people cycling.