Two days in row of the first short-sleeve riding weather!? I'll take it!
I was having a glorious afternoon ride yesterday, deciding to take advantage of the last day of spring and the second day of warm sunny weather in a row. You couldn't ask for a better day. The sky was blue and the drivers were polite and courteous at around 1:30-3:00PM while I was out. Well, most of the drivers anyway.
I would have liked to do a long ride, but the time of day and my experience with commuter traffic deterred me. I don't want to get stuck in the traffic when people are coming home from work. I know it's not New York or anything, but the roads here can get quite busy and people tend to be more impatient at that time. We live outside the city, so we get the traffic returning from their work day usually around 4-5PM (Yes! You read that correctly. We seem to have better work-life balance in Newfoundland based on that observation!).
There were a few cars that raced past me as I climbed up Topsail Road to turn left onto St. Thomas Line.
A few more cars zoomed past me and I stopped briefly at one of those signs that tells you how fast you're going because I saw a few people blowing through that sign with their speeds reaching between 50-60kph despite the road sign indicating 30kph maximum.
Interestingly, when I stopped and started filming, most people slowed down a bit more (although, significantly, none of the vehicles that passed me managed to actually obey the speed limit).
This is interesting because I have heard people state that speed cameras don't work and that is the justification for having these signs instead (the ones that simply display your speed). In my experience here in Newfoundland, nobody actually slows to below or at the maximum speed even when they see that they are speeding. This method of traffic calming does not appear to be working here.
The revenge-pass happened soon after I took the above photos.
The photos above are taken at the St. Thomas Line x Paradise Road junction.
When I approached this section, I did a head-check over my left shoulder to see that a car was following behind me at a safe distance. I managed to manoeuvre around the potholed section of road and immediately pulled back over to the right side. As you can see from the photos, these roads are fairly narrow with gravel lining the edges as well as some deterioration of the tarmac.
As I pulled back to the right side, the car following me stepped on the gas and proceeded to pass me at less than the 1 metre required by law at a high speed. This was happening as we took the bend (see photo above). It startled me, but I held onto the bars and continued at my pace.
The driver then immediately put on the brakes to make a sharp left into a parking lot in front of some mailboxes. This left turn came seconds after the close-pass.
I made the decision to follow the car into the parking lot as I thought it might be a good opportunity to let her know about the laws pertaining to sharing the road in our province.
Her window was down and I could see by her face that she was angry. So politely and calmly, I started the conversation which went something like this:
Me: Helloooo. I just wanted to talk to you because I'm not sure you're aware that cars need to give at least 1 metre of space to cyclists and pedestrians here?
Driver: Well, when you're out in the middle of the road... [now out of the car and checking her mailbox].
Me: Yes, and even when a cyclist or a person is in the middle of the road, it is still important that we all stay calm and observe the law. I noticed that you passed me rather aggressively and sped up when you passed. You also passed far too closely which is very dangerous. I just wanted to let you know about the law in case you weren't aware. It's not safe to pass so closely and you really scared me.
She refused to speak to me and wouldn't make eye contact. I wished we could just have a polite conversation, but I know it must be difficult to be confronted after being seen doing something wrong, no matter how friendly the other person is trying to be.
What made her so angry in the first place, though? Just because I was on the road? Because she had to wait a few extra seconds to get to the mailbox?
During our conversation, I noticed a teenage boy in the passenger seat who looked slightly amused. I wondered what he was taking away from this situation.
So many children grow up watching their parents and other adults drive aggressively, mutter or shout obscenities at other road users, and adopt this intolerant car culture long before they get behind a wheel. This is something we should be paying attention to.
I truly do not like to confront people on the road. I would prefer to just continue with my ride. However, my only thought yesterday was what if, in her anger, she had hit me? In this case, she didn't, but revenge-passing after feeling you've been inconvenienced is exactly the type of aggressive driving behaviour that leads to collisions, injury and even death.
As I made my way home after this incident (and a few tough efforts on the steep hill on Hickey's Rd!), there were a few more close-passes, particularly on Topsail Rd that got me feeling a bit nervous. Many of these occurred in a 30kph school zone.
I think it's important to state that MOST of the drivers here are patient, courteous, and demonstrate that they understand the rules of the road.
What really concerns me though are the few who fit into other categories:
- people who seem to be unaware of the rules for sharing the road,
- people who flagrantly break the law,
- people who become very angry and aggressive behind the wheel,
- people who don't seem to know how wide their vehicle is,
- people who don't know how to drive (i.e., don't use signal lights properly, don't know how to merge safely, etc.)
- people who are generally in a panicked state behind the wheel and could probably benefit from some support (like a taxi or public transportation)
Some of these people belong to more than one of these categories!
We need to address these issues if we are going to create the conditions for safe use of our roads by everyone - especially vulnerable road users. Is there some driver education that is missing in our province that we can address? Not just for new drivers but upon renewal of our license or when we violate the law? I was shocked when I learned that there are people driving on our roads who have tens of thousands in traffic violations who will never have to pay what they owe! In fact, there is $37,000,000 owing that for some reason has been deemed "uncollectible" - this astounds me! I am mortified if I have so much as an overdue library book. I can't understand how these people are not held accountable for their serious and flagrant disregard for our laws, but I digress.
Maybe it's just ignorance. I am getting the impression in many cases that drivers are not aware that they have to give space by law. I even wonder if they know they are allowed to (and must in some cases) cross over the centre line to pass safely. This requires them to wait patiently until there is no oncoming traffic. Instead, yesterday I experienced a number of people trying to "squeeze" by, seemingly unwilling to cross over the centre line, and therefore putting me in harms way, particularly given the size of some of the potholes I encountered.
What can we do here? What's already been done?
Since I've just moved here in November, I would welcome a conversation with anyone who is already engaged in advocacy for road safety, what the local police are doing to enforce the existing laws, and how the public are staying informed about the rules and etiquette for sharing the road.
I just want to be able to ride a bike and get home safely. I believe we are all mature and smart enough to do that. We just need to do a bit more in the way of education, awareness, and enforcement. Who's with me?