Tuesday morning, I was commuting along my normal route by bicycle when a driver almost hit me in a “right hook” turn. I wasn’t especially surprised by that, which is sadly very common, but I was surprised by her reaction.
I commute from Greenbelt to Silver Spring. Generally when I bike, I ride 7 miles to College Park Metro, and park in the bike cage there before continuing my commute by Metro. Much of my route is on off-street paths or streets with bike lanes. Ivy Lane, where this incident occurred, does have bike lanes in both directions.
Ivy Lane is a short street between Kenilworth Avenue and Cherrywood Lane, near the Greenbelt Metro station. It passes through a suburban office park, but because it connects Old Greenbelt with the Metro and Greenbelt West, it is very popular with cyclists.
As I crested the hill on Ivy, I began to pick up speed. About this time, a platoon of cars released by the light at Kenilworth Avenue began to pass me. Most gave me a wide berth, moving into the left-turn lane to pass me, even though I was in the bike lane.
The first of the cars in this platoon was a silver sedan, and as we approached the entrance to 6404/6406 Ivy Lane, the car signaled and turned right without first moving into the bike lane. That car was about 2 car-lengths ahead of me when the driver turned. The second car continued straight ahead.
Then the third car, a maroon Ford Explorer, began to pass me. As the rear wheel was even with my handlebars, the driver initiated her right turn into 6404/6406. I jammed on the brakes, and swerved toward the curb. I missed colliding with her vehicle by less than 6 inches.
As it happened, the security guard who patrols this office park was waiting to turn out of the same driveway. As I was avoiding the collision, I yelled loudly, and having witnessed the near miss and hearing me yell, the guard quickly turned around and went after the motorist. I followed.
When I caught up to the guard, he had flagged down the driver and was talking to her. As I biked up, I heard her say, “I didn’t hit him.” I responded, “You only missed me by about 6 inches.”
Her response stunned me, and probably goes a long way to describing the plight of cyclists in this country. She said to the guard and me:
I had my signal on. You were supposed to stop for me.
In the first place, this is completely inaccurate. When driving on a street with bike lanes, the bike lane is considered a regular lane. You always have to yield to cyclists in the bike lane if you need to turn across it.
And the appropriate maneuver is to first merge into the bike lane before turning right. In this case, she should have merged behind me, since she did not have room to pass first.
In the second place, because she initiated the turn before she passed me, I really had no way of knowing that her signal was on anyway. Yes, cars have signals on the front, too. But as the front of her car passed me, I was focused on watching the car in front of her, because I did want to be right hooked by that driver either.
The woman told the security guard, “I really need to go. I don’t have time for this.” And I said, “I’m happy to let you go, but first I want to make sure you understand what you did wrong. You could have seriously injured me or killed me.”
I explained that she should have moved into the bike lane first. I also said that if she didn’t believe me, that she should look up the law for herself.
She said “sorry.” (By her tone, she clearly wasn’t).
I told her that I didn’t want her to be sorry. I wanted her to not do this again.
At this point, we both went on our ways. But I thought about the experience for the rest of my ride.
I wondered whether I should have acted differently following the near-miss. I did not call the police. I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that since there was no contact, they wouldn’t consider it worthy of followup. But a friend of mine who has had experiences like this in Greenbelt says that the GPD will follow up to educate a driver if a cyclist or pedestrian reports a tag number after an infraction.
It’s clear that the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration doesn’t do enough to educate new drivers about how to interact with cyclists.
But the State Highway Administration and local jurisdictions could also do more. The woman who almost hit me was probably in her late-40s. No amount of improvement to the driving test would have captured her.
In my experience biking in this section of Greenbelt, the right hook is probably the most common issue.
It seems that drivers need to be better educated about how they’re supposed to behave around cyclists. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices does include sign R4-4, which applies when a right turn lane is present to the right of the bike lane.
But the MUTCD does not seem to include any signage for when there is no right turn lane. I created a modified version of the R4-4, which could serve in situations like this. But it will likely take a while for anything new to make it into the MUTCD.
Local jurisdictions, though, could have a freer hand in situations like this. Ivy Lane, after all, is a Greenbelt city street.
The Greenbelt Police Department does have a history of doing targeted driver education and enforcement, so that’s another way the city could work toward resolving the issue.