Recent changes in my daily commute have me hitting 40th and Normal every day at peak traffic time, and in my experience, this is one of the most dangerous road crossings along a trail. This is all I want to do:
Simple, right? It’s pretty unremarkable. If you saw this intersection, you’d think it was decent. It has a marked crosswalk. It has a pedestrian signal that gives a ‘walk’ signal without having to be pressed. It’s a pretty narrow street, so it’s a short distance to cross. And yet!
There was only one car in the frame as the Google satellite passed over that day, but on a weekday afternoon, there would be cars backed up all the way to 39th Street or even South – and at least half of the drivers want to turn right. Not allowing right turns on red wouldn’t help this one bit; it’s the right turns on green – when you, the person on a bicycle, are also cruising along with an automatic ‘walk’ signal – that’ll get you. The drivers are going 40 mph. They don’t really care to slow down to turn. And they’re certainly not looking, especially since they can complete almost their full turn without even seeing the crosswalk for the trail. Sure, there’s a sign there warning them to watch for trail traffic as they turn:
Hah! We all know signs are irrelevant.
And so, I spent the first few weeks trying various approaches to crossing this steady stream of right-turning car traffic:
- Roll right up to the edge of the curb and wait. Result: Nobody stops.
- Roll right up to the edge of the curb, stay up on the bike, and pretend like you will keep going. Result: Drivers will just keep going… and maybe honk at you for threatening to interrupt their turn.
- Slow down early. Give up. Wait through a light cycle and a half for a fresh green, when at least you have a couple of seconds to go before the first driver looks up from her phone and realizes the light changed. Result: It works, but it’s annoying. It confuses other trail users – the bolder ones would just go around me and quickly cut into a gap in the cars. It also tricks the occasional driver into stopping and wondering why you’re not going, which is sometimes an opportunity to cross.
Let’s also take this moment to note that you, as a trail user, do have the right of way over turning vehicle traffic – whether you are on foot or rolling across on your bike. You do not need to dismount and walk across to get the right of way, as the law said you did not too long ago. Thanks to our friends at the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance getting the law changed at the state level, and our city planners and others working to update the local ordinances to match, we now have the right of way when in any crosswalk, marked or unmarked, trail or sidewalk. (Except downtown and in business districts where sidewalk riding isn’t allowed. See Lincoln Municipal Code 10.48.130 for more.) But also, please note: at a signalized crossing, you only have right of way if you follow the signals. This means you can only cross with the ‘walk’ signal; once the countdown or flashing hand has started, don’t start crossing. If you’re hit, it will be crucial to prove that you crossed with the walk signal. You’re SOL, legally, if you didn’t.
COMMON SENSE NOTE!
You may have the right of way, but you’ll still be injured or dead if you’re hit. This means that, effectively, our motorized friends can bully us into letting them do whatever they want. You can be assertive about your right of way, but don’t be stupid.
Lately, however, I’ve found a trick, and it may just be THE trick. I call it the “stick”:
- Slow down well before you get to the crossing, but do keep rolling.
- Look to the left, with purpose. Glare, if you want to. A few cars will keep going around the corner, but you’re waiting to “stick” one – to convey to one driver that you’re going to be crossing soon enough that they actually brake before turning.
- Check to make sure a driver is stopping. Look at the car’s wheels.
- Scan the intersection ahead for left-turning traffic coming from the opposite direction, or other drivers rolling into/blocking the crosswalk.
- Proceed to cross.
This intersection is a worst-case scenario, but this trick can be helpful to deal with right-turning traffic at any crossing. Give it a try!