Monday, February 16, 2009

Hazards 1: Traffic Calming: Chicanes

Anyone who's done cycling in an urban environment has encountered traffic calming devices. On my modest 9-mile commute in Columbia, MD, I experience speed bumps, rumble strips, chicanes, and traffic circles. Sometimes these devices don't work entirely as intended; they can be abused by drivers, or can be confusing to drivers who don't know how to manage multiple inputs (Bicyclist ahead! Traffic calming ahead!) in a way that reconciles everything.

Sometimes, as a Practical Cyclist, you've got to help that driver Do The Right Thing.

Today we'll talk about chicanes, "pinch points" that are intended to slow down traffic. A two-way chicane is illustrated at right. Notice that I've illustrated a chicane that preserves the shoulder / bike lane. Not all of them do.

So, what's the problem here? Well, the simple problem is that most drivers dislike (sometimes intensely) traffic calming and therefore feel entitled to "cheat" it. ("Let's see if I can get through this chicane without slowing down. Wheee!") And sometimes they tend to ignore little things like, oh say, that cyclist up ahead. I've heard other city cyclists complain about this bitterly, and yet I've not had a bad problem with this. Maybe 1 in 100 times, I'll have a jerk motorist squeeze by me, but it's rare.

What's my secret? The magic of Eye Contact. I'll be the first to say that I don't know why eye contact works, but it definitely does. What I do is, when I'm approaching a chicane and I hear a motorist behind me, I'll turn and fix an eyeball on him when he's about 3 or so car-lengths back. In (as I say) 99 out of 100 cases, it works like a charm, and that hundredth case, well, I take evasive action (and usually holler something.)

Try this the next time you come upon a pinch point (and 3-way traffic circles are analogous to chicanes in this context). You'll be surprised how effective it is.

1 comment:

Elliott @ Austin On Two Wheels said...

Eye contact seems to me to be a huge help in getting respect on the road (although not everyone agrees with that.) I think the eye contact humanizes you to most people seeing as be are genetically predisposed to the human face.