Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bad cycling, Vehicular Cycling - Healdsburg edition

I saw some bad cycling in Healdsburg today.

I was walking out of the (fantastic) Taqueria Guadalajara and saw two cyclists headed South on Healdsburg Avenue towards the US-101 onramp. This is a pretty sketchy chunk of road - the typical path for cyclists from the corner of Mill St and Healdsburg Ave to points south is to follow Healdsburg's own little version of San Francisco's Wiggle , following Mill Street East and then taking every right turn you can to get to the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, where you re-enter Healdsburg Ave, cross the bridge to the South and get onto the reasonable bike lane on Old Redwood Highway headed out of town.

When I first started riding up here, I - like any novice - just looked at the map and followed Healdsburg Ave instead. As you get to the intersection with Exchange Ave, the road has three lanes, the left onto Exchange, a straight lane on Healdsburg Ave that ends up at a stop sign at the crossing of the freeway offramp from US-101N, and the right hand lane which is the entrance to US-101S. I usually stayed on Healdsburg Ave. Now, I take the wiggle route, unless I am headed to Guadalajara, after which I wiggle over on Exchange back to Healdsburg Ave on a section which while not great, doesn't have a freeway interchange interleaved in it.

I watched these cyclists to see where they were headed. They were pretty close to the onramp and still hugging the right hand shoulder, which is the one place you don't want to really be, because well, it's the onramp to the freeway. They then proceeded to pass a big rig on the right hand side. Not good.

They sort of realized the pickle they were in and hung out there for a moment. There is a crosswalk from the gas station at that intersection to the opposite side, where they could make a box turn onto Exchange, but if they wanted to head SB on Healdsburg Ave that wouldn't work, and unless they *knew* that they could bypass it via Exchange, they wouldn't try. Eventually they made a really strange maneuver, which I caught on long distance video.

They sort of figured out that they needed to get across the onramp to get to the SB Healdsburg Ave continuation. They went through a light cycle or two, and then when the light turned green, they veered left in front of the lead vehicle in the offramp lane and into the SB HBG Ave connector lane. The big problem with this is that the SB traffic on HBG Ave also has a green and they just veered in front of it blind to that traffic's viewpoint, and the road narrows into a little slot lane to get to the crossing of the NB US-101 offramp.

This is the sort of odd behavior that drives a lot of the crazy internet comments. The ironic part is that these vitriolic comments are thrown at people in bike coalitions, clubs, and advocacy groups. Generally, the members of said groups have moved past such confused maneuvers. What was going on here? The cyclists I observed had rental bikes - Wine Country Tourists. Most of their route is straightforward, but the last little jog into Healdsburg is a bit confusing, and if they make a wrong turn they end up in a chunk of infrastructure that is not intutive to an inexperienced cyclist.

Me - if I am on that chunk of road, early on I check the traffic, move to the SB through lane or the left turn onto Exchange, position myself center lane, and do a tiny bit of "Vehicular Cycling". I don't really adhere to the consider riding for miles in the center of high speed roads "because we are a vehicle", but in this sort of intersection, the VC theories are correct - in places where you are pinched, assert yourself or get pinched worse. Even though those riders probably own cars, they don't assert their position because it isn't even something they comprehend.

What's the action item? We'd want better infrastructure such that inexperienced cyclists don't end up in pinch spots like this, but redesigning an intersection like this would be very expensive with little ROI. Healdsburg should probably start with some BIKE ROUTE signs at Mill and Healdsburg to keep people who are simply lost from entering that trap when a simple, more pleasant, and SHORTER alternative exists (not to mention that that alternative is where the bike rental shops are!). They could even promote the route - call it something neat like say... "The Wiggle". Then work on education, for drivers and cyclists. Fortunately drivers in Healdsburg proper tend to be overtly aware of cyclists and very accommodating, probably because everyone either is a cyclist, knows a cyclist, or makes their living from selling stuff to cyclists.

It's a non-trivial problem, for sure.