Do you ever have commutes where you feel like you are in the middle of an urban obstacle course? Dodge this! Veer around that! Watch out for the crazy driver! No one is following the rules!
As I rode through the post-work milieu today, a particularly gorgeous early summer day in the city, I realized that over the years I have learned to anticipate many of the actions of those around me. That anticipation helps me en route to my destination, especially on days like today when tons of people are out and moving in every direction.
Even though there are traffic rules designed to control the chaos on the roads, there will always be people disregarding them, people not paying attention, or situations that the rules do not cover. That is why the skill of anticipation is so critical for us bike commuters.
I can usually tell if a pedestrian is going to venture out into the middle of a street by their body language. They may be engrossed in conversation with a friend. They do not look around at their surroundings to see what else is going on near them. They move forward, unaware. This is particularly common with tourists, most of whom are easy to spot. We’re on vacation! We have no idea what’s going on!
While I do not drive much in the city, I have developed a sense of what cars will do in certain places/situations. For example, I know that drivers love to run the red along 14th Street where it intersects with the National Mall. You can often see the red light running coming just by looking at the momentum of a car on a stale yellow. Red? What red?
At the intersection of Rock Creek Parkway with Ohio Drive going south I can anticipate that some cars will go straight even when they are driving in a “left turn only” lane. It’s an area where signage is more akin to a suggestion than a rule. Arrow? What arrow?
Cars preparing to leave a parking spot along Ohio Drive between the Lincoln and the Jefferson Memorials may pull out into the traffic flow but they may quite possibly make a U-turn, even if I am right behind them. Cyclist? What cyclist?
I did not learn to anticipate overnight. When I first started riding, I did not understand that I was one piece of a commute puzzle, one that is more complex than the written rules. I solely focused on managing my bike and trying to get from A to B.
Now that my bike skills are improved (most days, anyway), I have an opportunity to see more. Day after day of riding in the city has gradually taught me the complexities of the commute and the importance of anticipation. I’m still learning and there’s no way that anyone can anticipate every move of every puzzle piece that constitutes their environment.
But many aspects of the commute I can anticipate pretty well. It’s like a Spidey sense that certain bike commuters develop and hone that, combined with their own bicycling skills, helps keep them safe on the road.