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Bus vs bike - John C. Kirk

Mar. 31st, 2009

11:57 pm - Bus vs bike

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Cycling into work today, I went along Acton Lane (travelling right to left on this map). When I reached the junction, I wanted to turn right into Barretts Green Road, but the traffic lights are a bit fiddly there: the green light means "go straight ahead or turn right if the road is clear", so you have to wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic before the light turns red. Anyway, I saw a bus coming from the opposite direction, which was also indicating right, i.e. it was about to turn into North Acton Road. That would do a nice job of shielding me from the vehicles behind, so we could turn together (basically waving our bums at each other as we went past, rather than facing each other during the turn). Unfortunately, it turned out that the bus wasn't actually turning right; instead, it was going straight ahead, but I only discovered this when I was in front of it. We avoided a collision, but the driver blasted the horn at me, presumably to imply that this was my fault. I'm guessing that he/she turned on the right indicator to pull away from the previous bus stop, and forgot to turn it off.

I've submitted a complaint to Transport for London. They've been quite receptive to some of my previous complaints about buses, e.g. the driver who was drinking from a can while the bus was moving (i.e. he only had one hand on the wheel and his head was tilted back so that his eyes weren't on the road), so hopefully they'll be able to have a word with the person responsible.

Meanwhile, I wonder what I could have done differently, i.e. how I should guard against a similar situation happening again, but I haven't come up with any useful ideas. The obvious approach would be to wait until the oncoming vehicle has committed to the turn (in case they're lying), but at that point I don't think I'd have time to get all the way across before the following traffic comes through (assuming that I'm stationary, i.e. have no momentum), so I'd still have the problem of playing chicken with oncoming vehicles. I could wait until there's a gap in the traffic, but then I might wait so long that the light turns red again. Also, I need to be aware of traffic behind me (also wanting to turn right) who might get impatient. For now, I think I just need to keep my wits about me, and be prepared to take evasive action when necessary.

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From:totherme
Date:April 1st, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
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So, the junction looked like this from your point of view - though presumably with a little more traffic.

The rules about box junctions are not that you have to wait at the edge until someone lets you through. The rule is that you have to keep out of the box until your exit is clear (rule 174 of the highway code). If you're turning right, and there's a stream of traffic between you and the exit, the exit is still clear - you just can't get to it yet. If the traffic in the road you were turning in to was backed up as far as the edge of the box, that would mean the exit was not clear, and you'd have to keep out of the box.

So, a reasonable strategy for turning right at a box junction (if you must turn right at an unfiltered box junction at all - there's often a better route) is something like the following:

  1. signal right as you approach the junction

  2. get into the right hand half of the rightmost lane on your side of the road

  3. Wait for your green light

  4. slowly ride out into the middle of the box

  5. wait for a gap in the opposing flow of traffic. This might mean waiting till their lights have turned red. That's fine. You've passed your light, and it was on green at the time

  6. Once you have a gap that's bigger than you're comfortable with, ride through it, completing your right turn

  7. Under no circumstances ever ride into the path of an oncoming bus, taxi, or other vehicle. Remember, all other road users want you dead, and are just looking for an excuse. This is the first lesson of the road-creed.



Incidentally, the official rules about turning right past another vehicle also turning right are that it's supposed to be a good idea to drive past one another, and turn right keeping them on your right side (rule 181 here). No-one actually does this, but it's the kind of thing that's worth knowing.

Finally, be wary of using other vehicles as shields. A car can't slip past that bus, but another bike can. Or a motorbike. And if someone does slip past at speed, you can bet they won't have seen you behind that ruddy great bus. And as you discovered, your shield doesn't always co-operate :)

It might be better to concentrate on being visible and predictable. Make it your goal that everyone on the road knows where you are, and where you're going. Make eye contact with people ahead of you - people about to turn across your path (like that bus, or like the guy that ran me over the other week). Particularly if you're about to maneuver into their right of way. Pedestrians too. Signal often.

I'm glad you didn't get killed :)

Good luck in tomorrow's commute :)
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[User Picture]
From:totherme
Date:April 1st, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
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Incidentally - I know I linked to the highway code twice in that comment to illustrate my points - but it's worth being aware that most road users have never been in the same room as a highway code. They don't know what your rights are or what their responsibilities are, and they do actively want you dead. They're just waiting for you to give them an excuse to try out their expensive shatter-proof windscreens, and in many cases, bull-bars.

So read the code, and follow the rules yourself, but don't expect others to. Like the knights of old, you have to expect better of yourself than of the world around you.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 1st, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
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Yup, that's the junction. (Although I'm not quite sure about the panda in the bottom-right corner!)

Thanks for the advice; I knew about the "wait until your exit is clear" rule, but I'd been interpreting that differently, i.e. "if the lights changed and all the other traffic stopped moving, could I get out?"

If I stop in the middle, I think the tricky bit will be working out how far forward I should be. If I'm in the nearer half of the box, I'll be blocking the exit for oncoming vehicles that want to turn right; that's ok if we can gracefully turn around each other, but it would be a problem if the traffic behind them is going straight on (blocking me). On the other hand, if I stop in the further half of the box, I'll basically have to do a U turn to get to my exit. That's not too bad on a bike, but I wouldn't fancy trying that in an ambulance!
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From:susannahf
Date:April 1st, 2009 07:26 am (UTC)
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You stop in the way of people going straight on, coming from your right. Because their light will be red. People coming towards you and turning right will turn in front of you. Then (worst case), when the lights go red for you and the guys in front of you, you will have time to turn before they go green for the guys on your right and left.

Another way to think of it is to divide the box into quarters. You stay towards the centre of the quarter nearest to you, clearly signalling right. People behind you going straight on use the left bit of your quarter, and the quarter in front of you. People in front of you going straight on use the two quarters to your right. People turning right don't cut into your quarter until they're past you. So you have to cycle forwards and then turn when the way is clear (or do a near-side to near-side turn with someone who has also been waiting).

Never, never assume that people are going to do something based only on their signalling. Look at where they are on the road, and if necessary, wait until their position on the road makes things clear. This is particularly true of people who are not signalling at all; in my experiences, about 50% of them (more at some junctions) are actually intending to turn.
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From:ext_5743
Date:April 1st, 2009 08:08 am (UTC)
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totherme's view is coloured by too much urban cycling. As a motorist, I can attest that making a right turn around another vehicle as in Rule 181 is fairly common practice for motor vehicles, especially at box junctions. However, motorists may not expect cyclists to do it - and will expect a turn in front (as you did) even less. Bus drivers are a special breed, too - because they drive the same route, they expect everyone else to know where they're going. But yes, never pull into the path of a moving bus or lorry, even if they are indicating.
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From:totherme
Date:April 1st, 2009 09:46 am (UTC)
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My view is indeed almost entirely the colour of urban cycling :)

It's interesting though - I remember back when I was a teenager having a go at this "learning to drive" thing that everyone was doing, my (professional) instructor told me exactly that about making right turns around other vehicles... I think his words were something like "Yeah, officially you're supposed to do it that way, but in all my years on the road, I think I've seen it actually happen maybe twice". He advised me to be aware that that was the official rule, but not to expect other drivers to do it.

A peculiarity of the time and place I grew up perhaps?
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From:ext_5743
Date:April 1st, 2009 10:18 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it tends to be most common where you have broad streets that meet at right angles - as in parts of London. Box junctions are also much more common in London than in other cities.

I suspect that on the Wirral you might not have had the appropriate road geometry!

On the subject of box junctions, did you know that any junction controlled by traffic lights is supposedly governed by the same rules as a box junction? Lots of drivers in Cambridge don't seem to get that one. Mind you, lots of cyclists in Cambridge think that traffic lights don't apply to them.
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From:sulkyblue
Date:April 1st, 2009 08:06 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I'd agree with the better written responses above. The most important thing when trying to co-ordinate with other road users is to make eye contact. You can't rely on them having read the highway code, remembered it, interpreted it the same way, and being aware enough to pay attention. Make eye contact and you'll immediately be able to interpret what (or if) they are thinking (and as a bike rider if they've even seen you!). Also you really should be able to interpret their intentions by road positioning and speed, I would have thought the bus would be moving very differently if it were turning (particularly as they have large turning circles).

For that junction, as a car driver, I would place myself to pivot around the outside of the another car, otherwise you won't be able to clearly see what's going on with the rest of the traffic coming at you. As mentioned above you were very lucky a motorbike wasn't coming down the road - you'd likely both be dead and it would be entirely your fault). On a bike... I would probably just get off and walk it across two sides of the square.

As someone that drives every day cyclists and motorcyclists rank as my top most terrifying thing I encounter. They're extremely fragile and unpredictable, rarely a week goes by when one doesn't do something unexpectedly stupid and narrowly avoids an accident. They're worse than tailgating BMWs and undertaking Mazdas - and that's saying something. PLEASE be careful.
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