Yesterday I met with the CDTA to discuss close passes by busses.  It went well.

We started by reviewing a video of the most recent close pass I reported.  While he pulled up the video, I asked about the cameras.  Eight on each bus all taping at the same time.  Eight?  Some inside.  I remembered the bus fight that recently went down.  He said he was the first person at CDTA to respond to this–was in the office for 8 hours the next Saturday morning.  Ugh.  That was a tough situation.

We watched the video of the pass together.  I kept a poker face and the CDTA rep concluded it was a safe pass.  I was hoping to agree so I could relax in the face of what I believed to be close passes.  Unfortunately, the pass was clearly not safe.

Having made a bunch of careful measurements and calculations, I know a bus that is two arm lengths from me is three feet away.  That’s assuming bus mirrors extend nine inches (something I haven’t measured but I will at the first opportunity).  I brought a tape measure to the meeting but didn’t get to measure–we spent enough time talking–but the reality is every mirror will be a different height and extend out a different amount (they are adjustable).  And all cyclists are different heights.  Too much to calculate on the fly so the only way a driver can be safe is to assume the mirror could contact the cyclist and use the outside of the mirror as the place from which to measure the three foot safe pass.

The math from there is simple–24″ from my body to the tip of my fingers, less 3″ gained in width if my arm were down (the outside of my shoulder when my arm is down is 3″further out than my body when my arm is extended), plus 24″ when my arm length is doubled, less the assumed nine inches for the mirror gets you to 24-3+24-9=36 (3 feet).  Two arm lengths for the three feet safe pass.  Three arm lengths for the five feet safe pass recommended in the CDTA manual.

The bus in the video was 1.5 arm lengths from me.  I knew because I brought a pair of architectural dividers and used them to measure the distances on the screen.  Set them at 1 arm length (my arm was extended in the video).  Yup.  The bus was never more than 1.5 arm lengths away from my right shoulder.  To be precise, it was 24-3+12-9=24″.

The pass was within two feet.  Illegal and scary to watch on a computer in an office, but not nearly as scary as it was to experience it on the road.  The size, noise and heat, together with the proximity, make for a terrifying experience and I told the CDTA rep so.

He was understanding and sympathetic, but pointed out that the bus was within a foot from the centerline of the second lane.  The bus had almost fully left the lane I was in.  I was in the middle of the lane when the bus passed.  The rep suggested only one fix–I could get closer to the curb.

I reminded him of the exception to the stay right law.  When a lane is too narrow for a bike and a second user to share side by side, the bike can leave the curb.  The cyclist “takes the lane” to communicate to the other user that they need to pass in another lane.  I was on a part of Western where all four traffic lanes are narrow.  Headed west just after Allen.  The lanes are narrow for just two blocks to Manning, after which the outside lanes become wide enough for a bike and a car, but not a bike and a bus.

The safe passing zone is a moving zone of three feet.  Not three feet from a theoretical cyclist pedaling near the right hand curb.  Three feet from the cyclist’s left shoulder no matter where they are in a lane.  Imagine a yardstick extending from the cyclists left shoulder.  Something I’ve done as an experiment and am tempted to do more often, but know better.  In the video, I was in the middle of the outside lane.  If the bus couldn’t pass with a minimum of three feet, they must (a) cross the double yellow when there is no oncoming traffic or (b) wait a safe distance behind me to pass.

Wait to pass!  This hadn’t occurred to the rep, but it is the solution required by law.  No exceptions.  Hard for some motorists to grasp that they aren’t entitled to unimpeded flow at five to ten over.  They slow and stop for other motor vehicles but to do so for a cyclist is for some too much to ask.  I call them bullies.  Get out of my way, they think.  Sorry, I think.  And I am sorry.  But I can’t just now.  Will soon, though.  Give me 10 seconds.

The rep asked what would happen if I never got over.  I asked if he was concerned that I would stay on Western, taking the lane all the way to California with the bus stuck behind me, but added in all seriousness that he needn’t worry–I always get over as soon as it is safe for me to do so.  I reminded him that busses slow and stop for lights, cars and passengers and that they must slow and stop for cyclists, too.  This I didn’t say, but could have–If a cyclist never gets over, call the police.  The cyclist may be breaking the law.  Will calling the police help get a cyclist to move right?  Just as well as calling the police to get busses to pass safely!

I told him that I always move right and wave cars and busses by when I can see I am holding people up for more than 10 seconds.  That’s not a law, but it is my rule.  It is as long as I am comfortable being in the way.  I told him that I wouldn’t take the lane, that I would stay right, if I could tell in my mirror that an approaching bus was fully changing lanes.  I said I move or stay left when an approaching bus appears to want to snuggle up.  Staying in the lane creates a buffer zone allowing me to move right if the bus snuggles even closer before they finish the pass (this happens).  I said I have to trust my spider senses.  He understood that I was a reasonable person, that my concerns are valid, that I knew the law and how to be safe.  This was all very good.

I pushed on.  I gave him a packet of my talking points with the back up diagrams, laws and statistics.  We had already discussed most of it on the phone and by email, but I asked him to turn to the page with the death stats from Vision Zero–car hits ped at 20 mph killing one in ten/car hits ped at 30 mph killing five in ten/car hits ped at 40 mph killing nine in ten.  I reminded him that his operators routinely exceed the 30 mph city wide speed limit.  I know because I get tailgated and passed by busses when I drive my car (and I always go 30 mph).  I also know because I watch the speed indicators in school zones as I walk Frida.  Leaving the meeting I watched a bus go 30 mph in a 20 mph school zone.  Happens all the time.  I asked him if he can remotely monitor bus speed.  He said he can’t on all busses, but he was as surprised by the death stats as I continue to be.  He really is a good and caring guy.  I wasn’t wasting my breath.  I was getting through.

Now here is the best part.  He said at the opening of the meeting he was working with his safety coordinator to require drivers to fully leave a cyclists lane when passing on four lane roads.  Something I’d mentioned on our last call and the one thing I hoped to get out of the meeting.  I thanked him but suggested the rule is as necessary on two lane roads.  I think by the end of the meeting he understood.  We’ll see.

I ended the meeting after 30 minutes by saying I could talk all day but knew he was busy.  He said he’d send me the safe passing memo to drivers and that I should continue to contact him directly when I experience close passes.  I said I wouldn’t expect perfect compliance on day one but was encouraged to know that he was on the case.

Here is the packet I presented.  This is my first iCloud share so I have no idea if you’ll be able to grab the document using the link.  If you can’t get it and want it, be in touch.

6 responses to “Increments

  1. CDTA = Capital District Transit Authority (Albany, NY).
    For some reason, I keep forgetting where you are. Now that I looked CDTA up I’m sure I’ll remember.

    I applaud your efforts. NYS is not a particularly bike-friendly place but your efforts may well help change that.

    If every state, in the U.S., had “its share” of bike fatalities each would have 2% of the national total; NYS has between 6.2% – 8.4% of U.S. bicyclist fatalities. And, Long Island, NY (where I live), has between 22.2% – 29.8% of all NYS bicyclist fatalities (about 4.6 per million people…more than twice the NYS average). *statistics derived from Newsday (newspaper) reports for the years 2011-2013.

    So, when I see someone trying to make bicycling safer, fairer, or a reasonable transportation alternative I just have to do let them know I really appreciate their efforts.

    • Very kind of you. Here’s hoping it helps. That’s the funny thing about trying to make things safer. Hard to track and/or attribute progress. Deaths can be tracked. Deaths avoided are not so easily tracked. But good relations are always a win and at minimum I’m feeling better about one guy at our CDTA. Hopefully the feeling is mutual. Thank you and be well.

  2. We need more of you and less of the “I don’t care” people. I know what it means to you as you bike all the time and it’s very important that all people respect each other, rather it be a large vehicle or small. Proud to be your Mom.

  3. Wonderful piece! You are the greatest! I am so proud of you and so happy that you are my guy!!!

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s