Friday, January 11, 2013

Passed by 6 inches - "Drive fair, Pass Bicyclists With Care"

It's such a real shame but I feel more and more like I'm cycling on borrowed time despite being a highly experienced LCI who rides in near perfect compliance with New Jersey law and doing all that I can to avoid busy, narrow roadways.

I was having an exceptionally great ride in beautiful Hunterdon County, NJ yesterday.  As it was early afternoon on a weekday, traffic was exceptionally sparse making the already lightly traveled country roads in the area all that much more bicycle friendly.

I was heading south on County Rd 579 just north of Ringoes, NJ.  I had just passed County Rd 609 (Rosemont-Ringoes Rd) as a large semi truck heading north was coming towards me.  I could also hear that there was a vehicle coming up from behind.  I held my line riding no more than 2 feet from the white fog line.  Simultaneously as the semi truck passed, the vehicle from behind suddenly overtook me as significant speed.  It was a black mid 1990's Chevy pickup.  I don't know how I wasn't hit by the passenger review mirror as the Chevy passed me by a mere SIX INCHES!!!

I know for sure that it was only 6 inches because I smacked the back of pickup truck as it passed.  Doing so my elbow barely extended before the back of my knuckles hit the sheet-metal of the side of the truck bed.  I also remember my hand never got more than 10 inches away from the outside of my handlebars which also means that the truck must have missed my shoulder by no more than 6 inches.

View Larger Map Site of my near miss on County Rod 579 just north of Ringoes, NJ.

This was by far the closest NEAR MISS I've ever experienced in my 20 years and 50,000 miles of riding. But what is sadder even still was that this was the second of three scary close overtaking maneuvers that I would experience over 2 days of riding.  On Tuesday I was passed dangerously close on Canal Road in Griggstown and later on Thursday I would be passed by about two feet on Amwell Road just west of Neshanic.  In all three situations the driver of the overtaking vehicle decided it was his right to pass despite oncoming traffic making such maneuvers nothing less than reckless.  Also in all three situations, traffic was very light and overtaking drivers could have safely passed me if they only slowed down and waited a few moments.

It is my opinion that dangerous passing maneuvers by overtaking drivers is the most serious threat to experienced cyclist and is something that should be address immediately by those at NJDOT and at the NJ Bike Ped Resource Center.  There is very little that even an experienced cyclist can do and one cannot see the dangerous pass coming.  Yes, as an experienced LCI, I know you could take the lane but that is Russian Roulette of another sort and takes an extremely high level of "fortitude" to stick one's 12mph derriere out in front of 2 tons of 50mph metal traffic.  All that one can realistically do is hope and pray.

So what can be done on the state level? Well here are a two simple suggestions:
  • Pass a New Jersey version of Pennsylvania's "4-foot Law" that also clarifies many aspects of how to properly and now legally pass a bicyclist.
  • Start a message campaign on NJDOT variable message boards that inform drivers how to safely pass bicyclists in the vein of "Click it or Ticket" or "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaigns.  Something like "Drive fair, Pass Bicyclists With Care."  This would a nearly expense free way of quickly getting the message out.  It should be followed up by a TV and radio PSA campaign by NJ Highway Traffic Safety.

Oh yeah!  Regarding the driver of that six inch passing black Chevy pickup, despite "coming in contact with me" (my hand made a loud notable thud) the driver didn't even slow down.


Anonymous said...

Not fun. I've had my share of close calls in NJ, but never any quite as terrible as what you described.

My only suggestion, which you have likely thought of yourself, is to have a camera to record your rides so you have video evidence of any encounters that you can submit to the police. While NJ may not have a 4 foot passing law, I'm sure the driver could be cited for reckless driving.

Ezra said...

Thanks for writing this. I have been thinking about it so much lately with many recent close calls. I'm sorry to hear about your experience, it can be quite scary!

I was also just riding in Griggstown and it was a lovely ride, with mostly very respectful drivers. Lately, I have been trying to modify my lane positioning, I ride when I can in the shoulder which I know I'm not technically supposed to do, but it is really where I feel safest. But, I have been trying to ride closer to the lane or in the lane more often in hopes to force drivers to slow down further and go around me when necessary.

Last night, I was on Route 27 in South Brunswick, and a very large truck came up behind me and passed me within inches, it was extremely scary. He must not have seen me and this is one of my greatest fears with riding directly in the lane or closer to it.

Do you usually ride in the lane and move over as cars are passing? What is your approach?


Andrew J. Besold said...

Hi Ezra,

If there is a wide, smooth and clean shoulder I will ride in it despite the fact that the NJ Supreme Court says I can't legally. I ride on Rt 27 up between North Brunswick and Franklin Township frequently and the new and very smooth shoulder is perfect for riding despite legal technicalities. Don't worry. Any reasonable cyclist is going to ride in the shoulder when it is perfectly suitable to use. BTW, the law needs to be changed so it is legal.

When there is no shoulder (a foot of asphalt to the right of the white fog line is NOT a shoulder) I ride about a foot or two to the LEFT of the white line. Generally I stay about 2 feet away from the edge of the pavement, three feet or more from a curb. You need room to operate! I'm just shocked at how many very fast cyclists ride on the white just six inches from falling off the road.

But sometimes you need to take the lane. On Canal Road north of the Griggstown Causeway, where the road wider and asphalt smoother, I will ride close to the white line, about a foot to the left. South of the causeway, where the road is narrow and the asphalt in very poor condition, I generally take the lane and move over to allow cars to pass but ONLY when it is safe for me to move over and there is no oncoming traffic. Trust me, this take A LOT of fortitude, which is a real shame as one shouldn't need to be a bold LCI to be able to ride on the roadways in a manner that is most safe.

As for your incident on Rt 27, if you were riding at "night" (your words), I hope you had a front and rear light. I find that most drivers give me a great deal of respect when I'm riding at night and properly equipped. Lights for and aft are required by law here in New Jersey and that's a law I totally agree with.

Andy B - LCI #2682

Ezra said...

Hey Andrew,

Thanks a ton for the advice, you make a lot of sense. Yes I also agree that the law should change. I feel lucky actually to ride often times on 27 where there is a good shoulder to ride in, because I just feel that it makes sense and is safer for everyone.

I was riding at night, fairly late at night as well so traffic was low which is one reason why the truck driver may have been less aware. However, I was absolutely using a front and rear light, as well I have multiple reflectors on my bike. I'm considering getting an extra set of lights for both back and front for a bit of additional safety at night.

Thanks again for the advice, good luck to you on your rides!


john c said...

Here's a bike jersey that might help spread the word about safe passing:

Max Power said...

I suspect the FTR regulation contributes to these kinds of passes.
Far too many people (including, sadly, police officers) believe that 39:4-14.2 requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as "possible." They then take it upon themselves to "teach a lesson" about keeping right to anyone who isn't riding inches from the edge of the pavement.

Andrew J. Besold said...


In all three of my situations mentioned in this post, the driver was clearly just too impatient to wait for oncoming traffic to go by before they made their pass on me.

And yes, 39:4-14.2 requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as "practicable." That DOESN"T mean "possible." Yes it might be "possible" to ride through the road debris and potholes but it isn't "practical" because one is more likely to crash if you do so. Cyclists have the right to ride away from the very edge of the pavement.

Still if I'm cycling slowly, like up a hill, I will move over further to the right than I normally would to allow a driver to pass but I expect the driver to slow down and pass with extreme caution, not blow by. I will often wave at them to slow down and if they do, I will wave them by.

Keven said...
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