Learning from a near-miss

Article by Nigel Swytink-Binnema

A near-miss can be frightening and sometime result in an altercation between those involved. Bike Calgary received an email from a motorist about such an incident involving one of our downtown intersections. Our Intersection Design Team (part of our Infrastructure group) immediately jumped into action and visited the location at 12th and 9th.

Here’s our review:

Have you ever come up to an intersection like this on your bike and been surprised by a left-turning motorist?

12th Ave S intersection with 9 St W where motorists cross the bike lane while turning left.

Have you ever come up to an intersection like this in your car intending to turn left and been surprised by a cyclist who seems to come out of nowhere?

Both of these situations have happened to Nigel. And the second one happened to a cyclist and motorist as they were heading to work. The motorist is not a Bike Calgary member, but they wrote to Bike Calgary to share their uncertainty about this particular intersection, which is 12 Ave S at 9 St W. Here is some of what they had to say about the experience.

————

When turning left from my one way street onto a two way street, it gets very challenging because you are trying to watch both directions of traffic but there is also the bike lane next to you.  This morning I had a green light and made my left turn but a cyclist I did not see nearly ran into my car.  I stopped but he swore at me and kicked my car […] and then rode off. 

As I had mentioned, it gets very challenging to watch both directions of traffic and the bike lane.  Often cyclists will be almost a block away but if I have to stop and wait a bit before making my left turn, the cyclist may be in a hurry, speed up, and then suddenly cross the intersection like this morning.  Since he was farther behind me and could see my signal light that I was going to be turning, could he also not have used caution and slowed down in anticipation that I would be turning?

————

Here at Bike Calgary, we certainly do not condone swearing at motorists nor kicking their cars. But our motorist raises some common questions, so let’s take a step back and look at this situation from both perspectives.

An advance left turn for motorists was removed from the intersection in 2019 as part of the 12 Ave S cycle track extension into Sunalta. The advantage of the new configuration is that cyclists continuing straight along the path and motorists turning left now both have a longer time window in which to complete their maneuver. They are both permitted to do so as long as the signal is green.

This differs from the intersection one block East at 8 St SW. There, cyclists and pedestrians can cross 8 St before motorists are permitted to turn left, followed by a priority left turn for motorists. This setup can be safer because each road user is given their moment of priority. However, each user also has to wait longer before they’re allowed to enter the intersection.

One-way 12th Ave S intersection with 8 St W where wheelers continuing straight have a priority green before left-turning motorists.

So what can cyclists and motorists do to help make intersections like 12th Ave and 9th St SW safer? Here are some tips for motorists and cyclists.

Motorists:

  • Shoulder check before coming up to the intersection and before starting your turn.
  • Put on your turn signal well in advance of the intersection
  • Watch out for those “yield to cyclist” signs.
  • Remember that you have blind spots and it’s your responsibility to compensate for that.
  • Be aware that cyclists have the right of way in these intersections.
  • Remember that we share the intersection with everything from pets to skateboarders to pedestrians to scooters to cyclists. As the fastest and most physically protected road user, more of the responsibility falls on the motorists shoulders than on the others’.
Pay attention to these signs, and remind yourself to shoulder check for cyclists before crossing the path

Cyclists:

  • Watch for left turn signals on cars in the left lane.
  • Keep in mind that if you are matching the speed of the vehicles beside you, you may stay in their blind spot. This can frequently happen in playground zones.
  • If you’re unsure of what a motorist will do, coast up to the intersection and keep your hands on the brakes to allow for those last-minute maneuvers. Making eye contact or giving a friendly wave can help, too.
  • Remember that, while bikes are great because they’re small and zippy, that also makes us cyclists harder for motorists to see. Bike lights can help with this, especially outside of daylight hours. Having it on flashing mode in the City (where its primary purpose is not to see where you’re going) will help.
  • Keep in mind that any uncertainty you may be feeling is likely also felt by motorists.

Bike Calgary is grateful to the member of our community for bringing this near miss to our attention, and also for the respectful and curious tone taken in their email. Dedicated cycling infrastructure is a boon for cycling, but we still have a ways to go on intersection design. We can’t put every Albertan training every time there is a change to designs, nor can we rely exclusively on every road or pathway user to navigate perfectly 100% of the time. So engineering and system design approaches are essential to removing ambiguity in these intersections. Consistency in terms of design can also help, as constantly changing intersection priorities do not help users learn.

……….

This post is the first from the newly minted Intersection Design Team here at Bike Calgary. We believe that intersection design is a critical part of our infrastructure. At intersections, essentially by definition, we have multiple users and multiple user types who are interacting. This creates much more possibility for confusion than between intersections. How can we make these multi-user interactions smoother? How can we remove ambiguity at intersections? How can we protect the more vulnerable road users at intersections?

Get in touch if you’d like to be part of the team to help answer these questions and make our city more livable at connect@bikecalgary.org.

3 thoughts on “Learning from a near-miss

  • Kelly

    The intersection at 5th st and 3rd ave sw is also an unusual one with the right hand turn on red still being allowed and the beginning of the cycle path on the left of the road in dashed paint.

  • Grant

    Agree that 12th at 9th is challenging, as well as the much dreaded Safeway Carnage – from both car and cyclist perspectives.
    I try to get eye contact or some type of acknowledgment that I’m there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: