Friday, July 31, 2009

Shooting a Train Track Drive-By: How Should I Ride This?

When people see the camera mounted on my handlebars, many of them ask, "is that for catching people who cut you off and stuff?" I always respond no, I'm not into taking pictures of everybody who ticks me off... if I were, I would be posting nothing but bad driver videos all the time.

No, the camera is there because you just never know what you'll see, and sometimes just leaving the video cam rolling captures neat or funny stuff, like freaking out girls, cutie pie road hogs and super heroes.

I'm posting this clip, however, because it shows that sometimes, bad situations will happen no matter what you do. This one happened while I was crossing multiple railroad tracks on Egerton Street, in close proximity to where Caleb Losier was killed in November 2008. As that incident makes abundantly clear, these train tracks are no place for riding to the right of traffic, so I didn't. Here's the video:

After reviewing the video, I can see that crossing the first two tracks at the correct angle took me just far enough to the right for the truck to think they could get by. I now approach these tracks on the left edge of the left tire track, so crossing those first two sets of tracks leaves me in the centre of the lane. When I am that far to the left though, I begin worrying about being passed on the right, which I welcome even less than the pass you just saw. It's kind of a no-win situation I guess.

The video doesn't look anywhere near as bad as it felt on the bike. I have a pretty high tolerance for close passing, but this felt way too close. Remembering that the camera is mounted on my handlebars, you can imagine that the stuff attached to the side of the truck came pretty darn close to my head. I was in the centre of the lane, and the driver must have known I had no interest in his squeezing by. To do it while we were crossing multiple train tracks was just stupid. I know that for the cyclists who visit this blog, stuff like this is nothing new; it happens all the time. I just wish it didn't.

If any of you cycling educators out there have opinions on how I could do this crossing more safely, let 'er rip. I am open to all suggestions other than walking the bike or riding on the sidewalk.

Keep it Upright,



Doohickie said...

I can understand what happened: in crossing the tracks at the correct angle, you veared to the right. I'm guessing the truck took that as a signal on your part that it's okay to pass (without realizing you were doing it to be square to the tracks).

How to remedy that? I can't think of an elegant solution. I can picture several scenarios:

. You proceed like you did, which the truck misinterprets as an invitation to pass.

. You cross the tracks at the correct angle, then recover your lane position before the next set of tracks. In this case that may have turned out worse if the truck decided to pass anyway.

. You slink off toward the shoulder and cross the tracks well off to the side, allowing motor vehicles to pass while you negotiate the tracks.

. You hold a straight line and don't swerve at all, crossing the tracks at an angle.

They are all problematic, but maybe in stating the possibilities it will get the creative juices flowing with the other bloggers.

RANTWICK said...

Thanks Doohickie... I took your second approach this morning as luck would have it, and recovering lane position more agressively did feel better.

I also suspect the crazier zigzag would make overtaking vehicles more reluctant to get near me.

ChipSeal said...

Yes, most motorists have no clue as to what road conditions are hazards to a bicycle operator. Seeing situations from someone else's perspective is not one of the hallmarks of motorists!

I cross angled tracks twice on a street that I often use. (It is sad that it is on one of my favorites, because I avoid it when it is wet out.) Traffic is light, but I occasionally have conflicting overtaking traffic. I have found that motioning with my full arm toward the space I am about to occupy with an over the shoulder head check alerts them that something is up. My movement is from the far right of the lane to the center of the road, opposite of yours.

They don't really seem to understand what I am about to do, but they back off anyway.

I have been able to execute a radical full lane swoop that way, but I am prepared to execute a emergency slow/stop maneuver if the motorist is non-responsive.

In your case, I would set up on the far left edge of your lane, waving down any potential passers on the right of you. Execute the swoop, and immediately wave off passers to the left as you set up for the next set. By then any motorist behind you ought to have caught on to what you are doing!

The success of this ought to be better for someone riding in the lane prior, as you were in the video. The motorist in the truck was in the hysterical throes of "Must Pass Bicycle Syndrome" (MPBS)and so must be considered to have not been in his right mind at the time. He ought to have his his license taken away until he can satisfy the court that he has received therapy for his condition.

With out a doubt, he passed you without due care, and in an unsafe manner. This is a crime. It is tragic that I will be the only one who is likely to point out that obvious fact.

Doohickie said...

Seeing situations from someone else's perspective is not one of the hallmarks of motorists!

You may recall that on occasion I have reminded you to try to look at a situation from the motorist's perspective. It works both ways for people who never navigate the roads in the others' shoes. So be charitable. ;- )

Excellent suggestions though. Communication is usually the answer for this sort of thing of course. The only issue would be riding one-handed over a rough railroad crossing. If that's not too much of an issue, I think Rantwick has his answer. Give ChipSeal a gold star.

Rollz said...

That is a tough series of tracks to cross. My wife was rear ended in a car right there where that CN truck started out in your video. She stopped for the train and the guy behind her didn't. She was pushed onto the first set of tracks but the train was on the middle tracks. I used to go that way once in awhile on my bike but I would cross the tracks at Rectory St and cut through the Western Fair property to Egerton St. This would force you to double back to get on Brydges. I was going farther north on Egerton so that worked for me. I found the traffic lighter on Rectory and the tracks were easier to cross. I haven't been that way on a bike in awhile though. Seems like in this city if you take your lane or you don't your going to pay. That ladder or siding break or whatever was on the side of the truck was pretty close. I have enhanced the audio on that clip and I don't believe the caption matches your words ;-p

RANTWICK said...


Yes, sometimes taking the lane seems to just drive people insane, insane enough to make terrible, dangerous passes. I had one on North Wortley today that was just so dangerous for eveybody... grrr.

I would guess that London is no better or worse than most places, but I'm not very well travelled.

Don't "CSI" my video clips! I'll be caught in too many sneaky deceptions!

Keri said...

There's little we can do to keep the insistent jerks from passing, but fortunately they're the small percentage.

One of the tricks that has worked well for me is: before I get to the tracks, I look back and straight-arm following drivers (a very clear "do not pass" signal), than I do what I need to do to cross the tracks (double tracks might require this communication twice). Once I'm clear of the hazard, I'll make a small gesture to let motorists know I'm OK with them passing me.

This works with the majority of intelligent humans.

I think the head turn is key. Not sure if it makes me human, establishes communication or what, but it really enhances the cooperation.

Almost all of my RR crossings are at an angle where I have to move way to the right and then cross toward the center of the lane.

RANTWICK said...

Thanks All! Thanks to a combo of my own discoveries and some of your good advice, I think I'm riding this bit quite a lot better than I used to.

Keri, welcome back! I'm looking forward to some posts about your bike tour.

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