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A month of cycling: Dodging Houston drivers in July, 2014

Cyclists riding Houston's streets must be defensive at all times
Cyclists riding Houston's streets must be defensive at all times
Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Bongarts/Getty Images

Any time a Houston media outlet runs a story on cycling in the Bayou CIty, you can be sure there will be a wall of hateful comments about people who ride on two wheels (without an engine, of course). You'll find hateful comments about Spandex® and unprintable ones about how a cyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver "deserved it." There will always be claims that every bicyclist "blows through" every traffic light or stop sign, often with commenter-supplied "statistics" (the numbers 90% and 95% figure strongly…) They don't think to mention observer's bias, and rarely seem to notice the oft-frightening driving habits of some locals.

So as a frequent cyclist, I've volunteered to keep my own "statistics." In the interest of full disclosure, I ride road bikes in Houston and its western suburbs. I wear Spandex® on the streets, as well as gloves and a helmet. I'm a big fan of Idaho Stops: I treat stop signs as yields (if you're a Houston native, YIELD signs mean, according to the DPS online driver's manual, you "should slow down or stop if necessary so you can yield the right-of-way to vehicles on the other road.") At the same time, I only ignore a stop light when it won't change to green after I push the pedestrian button and wait through a full cycle of the light. Some of those push buttons for walk lights are apparently not connected.

What I've learned from riding here is that cyclists must master defensive riding, because some motorists apparently don't see us and a few attempt to intimidate us off what they seem to think are their personal roads. So I keep my own count of how many times I'm forced to stop or dodge people who're doing something weird, stupid or mean on the road. Here's my tally for 19 rides totaling about 575 miles, almost entirely on public rights-of-way:

Number of "Idaho Stops" at stop signs: all of them - trying to keep count count is like trying to count the bottles shattered on the pavement or count the improperly-parked vehicles.
Number of red lights run: 1 (three minutes waiting to cross French at Queenston)
Times driver forced to avoid me at stop or red light: 0

Times I was forced to evade a car or truck in the street because:
Driver runs stop sign
: 2
Driver runs red light: 1
Driver passes at unsafe distance: 22
Driver on wrong side of street: 22
Driver backs into roadway: 10
Driver makes left turn across my path: 1
Driver makes right turn across my path: 4
Cyclist must dodge an open(ing) door: 4
Cyclist must dodge a pedestrian in roadway: 9
Cyclist must dodge an other cyclist on wrong side of road: 1
Cyclist must dodg ea loose pet: 8
Cyclist must dodge non street-legal vehicle: 1
Cyclist must dodge large road debris: 3
Driver confused about right-of-way at 4-way stop: 9
Driver confused about cyclist right-of-way elsewhere: 10
Deliberate intimidation by driver: 1

That's a total of 112 incidents requiring this particular cyclist to avoid drivers and others on public roadways, about one for every five miles ridden. Crowding drivers were abundant this month, including two consecutive days in which a driver passed close enough for me to reach out and touch his or her vehicle. I'm pretty sure one was the closest approach I've ever experienced in 30 years of riding - and that was because the driver was incompetent, not mean. The lone "intimidator" was a young man in a black Tahoe who "didn't have time" to wait for traffic to clear before crowding me at 45 MPH. He did have the time to get out of his vehicle to object to the hand gesture I made, however! Clearly a juvenile bully, since he had to be watching his rear view mirror to see my reaction!

Stay tuned for August's numbers some time in early September.

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