Go With the Flow

13 Mar

This will probably undermine my cred as a cyclist, but I confess I had not heard of the term “salmoning” before Phil Riggan mentioned it in a recent Why Richmond, Why!?! piece on Richmond.com. To me the term makes riding the wrong way on a one-way street sound much more natural and innocuous than it actually is. A little rant against this may be preaching to the choir in this forum, but it might help you convince someone else to stop doing it.

Riding against traffic is one of those things that a few cyclists do that gives us all a bad rap, and it’s just dumb. Why? Mainly because drivers and pedestrians will not be looking for you. What drivers actually see is determined a lot by what they expect to see. A large number of crashes between bikes and cars happen at intersections, and riding the wrong way makes those crashes a lot more likely. You might also find yourself in an unintended game of chicken with a cyclist going in the right direction.

The same goes for riding on the wrong side of a two-way street. Someone once told me that he rides that way because he can see what the cars are doing and react more quickly. I can see how he could come to this conclusion, but it’s flawed. It creates the same problem as the one-way street situation. It’s also wrong and dangerous to assume that you can anticipate the actions of drivers who are having trouble anticipating your actions. It may feel like you’re in control, but avoiding crashes is as much or more about helping others not crash into you as it is about anticipating what others will do.  There’s also an easy solution if you want to see what cars behind you are doing: get a mirror. Bike shops sell mirrors that attach to your handlebars, your helmet, or your glasses.

Going with the flow on a bicycle is one way of acting like a vehicle. That encourages drivers to treat us as fellow vehicles that belong on the road.  I know, it’s tempting to ignore the rules because some drivers do not treat cyclists like they belong. But being unpredictable and a jerk to boot makes it even less likely that we’ll be accepted.

As Tom Vanderbilt points out in Traffic (a great book that I’ll no doubt come back to again), roads are social spaces that require a lot of cooperation. At the same time, our ability to communicate with others on the road is severely constrained. One way to communicate with people encased in a couple of tons of steel and plastic when you’re on a bike is to speak the standard language of the road: to go along with the basic conventions that, like so many others, allow us to get through the day without more collisions. There are conventions worth flaunting; the flow of traffic isn’t one of them.

For the full Richmond.com piece, click here.

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One Response to “Go With the Flow”

  1. Lance Jacobs February 8, 2013 at 6:55 AM #

    Some diagrams and thoughts on riding against traffic: http://wp.me/p30v7X-3n

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