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One Rider's Month: Dodging Houston Traffic in June, 2014

A ghost bike near Houston remembers Mickel Peeler, 53, killed by a hit-and-run driver near Dayton  on June 11, 2013.
A ghost bike near Houston remembers Mickel Peeler, 53, killed by a hit-and-run driver near Dayton on June 11, 2013.

Every time there's a bicycle fatality in Houston, the same handful of commenters ramp up their obvious distaste for people who get their exercise on two wheels. The more polite comments cavil about Spandex® while the more unprintable ones opine that the dead cyclist "got what he deserved." And, there is almost always someone who claims that every bicyclist "blows through" every stop sign and red light - almost always with "statistics" based on personal observation. Never mind the concept of observer's bias; never mind that a disturbing number of motor vehicle drivers treat stop signs as suggestions.

OK, well, maybe a cyclist should print his own "statistics" some time; so I've volunteered. For starters, I ride a road bike on the streets of Houston and the western suburbs. I wear Spandex® when I ride, plus gloves and a helmet. When it comes to Idaho Stops, I'm a fan: I treat every stop sign as a yield. For those of you raised in Houston, where yield signs are rare to absent - and where present on feeder roads are ignored - a yield sign doesn't mean "ignore me": it means, 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." On the other hand, I only run stop lights if I've tried to get the light to change to green and have not been successful. It seems that some of those push buttons for walk lights are mere placebos.

What I've learned riding in Houston is that a cyclist must be a master of defensive driving, because some motorists don't see us and some delight in attempting to intimidate cyclists off "their" roads. So I keep my own "statistics" of how many times I've had to stop or dodge while riding because of the things other people on the roads are doing. Here's the tally for 15 rides totaling about 460 miles, almost all on the public roadways:

  • Number of "Idaho Stops" at stop signs: all of them - keeping count is akin to counting the number of broken bottles in the street or the number of improperly parked vehicles.
  • Number of red lights run: 0
  • Times driver forced to avoid cyclist at stop sign or red light: 0

Times cyclist forced to take evasive action:

  • Driver runs stop sign: 2
  • Driver runs red light: 2
  • Driver passes at unsafe distance: 9
  • Driver on wrong side of street: 11
  • Driver backs into roadway in front of cyclist: 10
  • Driver makes left turn across cyclist's path: 2
  • Driver makes right turn across cyclist's path: 8
  • Driver makes U-Turn across cyclist's path: 8
  • Cyclist must dodge open(ing) door: 4
  • Cyclist must dodge pedestrian in roadway: 7
  • Cyclist must dodge other cyclist on wrong side of road: 5
  • Cyclist must dodge loose pet: 6
  • Cyclist must dodge non street-legal vehicle: 3 (golf carts, lawnmowers, 4-wheelers, etc.)
  • Cyclist must dodge large road debris: 2
  • Driver confused about right-of-way at 4-way stop: 12
  • Driver confused about cyclist right-of-way elsewhere: 8
  • Deliberate intimidation by driver: 2

That's a total of 97 incidents requiring one cyclist to evade others in the roadway, about one incident every five miles. The worst was a motorist in Katy who, before informing me (incorrectly) that I was "jaywalking" in a marked crosswalk with a walk light, attempted to display his disdain for cyclists by driving over me and my riding partner.

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

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