Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Some time in August, I noticed some strange paint on the road attached to my driveway.

Markings on the road are strictly regulated, lest traffic control devices become confused and non-standard. Uniformity across regions enhances public safety.

These curious marks appeared about every one hundred feet from the north end of FM 1722 to the bridge across Lake Clark. Surveying stakes and cryptic messages appeared at various spots. Something was afoot!

So one day, I spotted a survey crew doing what surveyors do, and I stopped to ask them what the project was. They said that it was the first step for adding shoulders to the roadway. Well now!

I took their pictures with their permission, but alas, those photos are trapped on my crashed hard drive. (I mention this not to whine, but for the opportunity to use "alas" in a sentence.)

So I ask myself, "Self, why would they want to put an improved shoulder on this road?"

One purpose of an improved shoulder is to protect the roadbed from eroding. An extra two to three feet of pavement beyond the normal travel lane will reduce the frequency of requiring repairs. Could this be the reason shoulders are being considered for this road?

As you can see, there is evidence that a shoulder would be helpful on this road to preserve the integrity of the travel lanes.

In conversation with one of my neighbors, they reckoned it was because of the four or five drive-off wrecks that occurred in the past few years. I know for certain that two of them were a result of DUI and another involved a teenage driver. There has been considerable evidence of automobiles leaving the roadway without wrecking as well.

So the theory they propose is that shoulders are needed to make it easier for incompetent drivers to stay out of the ditches. I hope this is not the motivation to add shoulder to this road. We need to get incompetent drivers off the road, not further along it. We need to expect that automobiles be steered with at least enough skill that the vehicle stays within its lane. It is expensive and wrong to accommodate the incompetent.

As a society, we have the wrong attitude about near-misses. When we drop a tire off the edge of the road, when we just miss side-swiping another vehicle, when we inadvertently swerve into the oncoming lane, these should be warning flags. We should see them as a bright red sign that we have a skill deficit that needs to be addressed.

Also, we ought to be ashamed.

We should pride ourselves in the skillful and safe handling of an automobile.

We should scorn those around us who fail to demonstrate such skill. We should despise those who fail in their duty to exercises due care. Those who have poor driving ability and poor judgment, why do we tolerate it? If we make the roads safer for them, will the roads be safer for us?

An awful lot of people have died this year in automobile wrecks. More than an awful lot of people have been injured in automobile wrecks. The amount of property damage inflicted by automobile wrecks is greater still.

We have tried to make our roads idiot proof. How high must the cost be before we admit that idea is a failure?

We need to look in a mirror. We need to prize superior driving ability in ourselves. We need to stop seeking a hardware solution (Safer roads, cars and devices.) for a software problem. (That stuff between the ears.) We need to have the courage to face the ugly truth: It is not the roads that are dangerous, it is us.


  1. "If we make the roads safer for them, will the roads be safer for us?"

    That's a keeper! Perfect quote.

    Shoulders to protect the roadway surface from erosion. But sadly, they also encourage motorists to drive faster. They also facilitate inattention by creating a buffer. The sentiments of your neighbors illustrate the psychology at work there.

    The more "forgiving" the road appears, the more people risk-compensate and allow themselves to focus on things other than driving the car.

    You're right. We need a change in attitude.

  2. This was a thought-provoking read. I know that many cyclists judge whether a road is "cyclable" based on whether it has shoulders, but what you describe only highlights the folly of this.

  3. Greetings Filigree! You have a great blog, I have been stopping by there regularly for some time now! I would suggest her blog be bookmarked by both of my other readers.

    Your nice complimentery comment (I think I am blushing) reminds me of what I failed to include in my post, and the very purpose for talking about the possible changes to this road! I am astonished that I didn't even bring it up. Thank you for nudging me back to that point.

    If they construct shoulders on this road, it will make my travels on it less pleasant.

    Those who operate automobiles on this road will be annoyed that I will be traveling in the lane, in their way (Impeding them! Oh my!) rather than on the shoulder "where I belong- out of their way".

    When shoulders are present, I get a lot more angry responses from motorists than when I ride on roads without them.

    A common piece of advice given to enhance the safety of cycling is to wear high visibility clothing. I say pish-posh to that! I say, ride where you will be seen. Directly in front of the motorist in their lane. That will make you visible, and get their attention too.

    I am less interested in being visible than I am of being noticed.

  4. Ironically, erasing the paint that's already there would make things nicer for everyone. I find narrow roads with no lines at all to be nicer than the double yellow "control the motorist" type roads. Thinking DOES lead to better driving. Better driving is good for all road users.

    I find the post over at "Let's Go Ride a Bike" to be an interesting counterpoint. Autos are part of what keep the roads free of debris and help tie to interesting destinations. For me, I'd hate to see cars gone, though there are a few pinheads that I'd happily do without.

  5. Based on my conversations with cyclists - both in person and virtual - your view would probably not just be in the minority, but would be considered radical and "bad". The shoulder and bike path really do encourage an almost magical perception of safety.

    During my admittedly short but frequent (daily) experience with vehicular cycling in both city and suburbs, I've noticed one disturbing thing among cyclists: They tend to switch into auto-pilot mode and not pay as much attention to what they are doing when certain safety markers like bike lanes and shoulders are present. This worries me, especially since I have now seen cyclists get almost-doored and hit by cars coming out of driveways because of this. A shoulder does not mean you are invincible; there is no fence between you and the road - and neither there is a fence between you and parked cars in a bike lane.

    But I ramble. Thank you for your comments re my blog; I follow yours wit interest as well and I find your "extreme VC" view informative.

  6. Yes, ChipSeal the radical! :) I am either way out ahead or really far behind... In other words, out of step!

    I posted an article over at CycleDallas -a blog by another Texas radical- where I tried to bring in these other neglected safety issues of riding on the shoulder.


    If a cyclist wants to ride on the shoulder, I am fine with it as long as they understand the safety trade-off between the different positions. Few do, however.

    The dangers encountered in traffic by the law abiding cyclist are predominantly forward, not from behind. And I hasten to point out that even scofflaw cycling is statistical safer than taking a shower, but "best practices" make it safer still. And in my experience, less stressful.

    To turn a phrase--> I've noticed one disturbing thing among motorists: They tend to switch into auto-pilot mode and not pay as much attention to what they are doing when certain safety markers like bike lanes and shoulders are present. This worries me.

    I find it funny how different that sounds by changing just one word. And yet, both versions are accurate. Sigh.

  7. Once thing Chipseal has said a number of times is that he makes drivers deal with him. This is something few cyclists want to do. Avoidance (staying out of the way) seems so much easier.

    With increasingly inattentive drivers, I think our safety is more and more dependent on making drivers deal with us — being in the lane and making them pass deliberately by changing lanes. For those of us who know that, the addition of shoulders or bike lanes to a road makes us feel as uncomfortable as the average cyclist feels on a road without them. With this addition, we have to choose between the best-practice we have found safest (riding in the lane) and a less comfortable position that will avoid harassment and abuse (riding in the shoulder). Additionally, for the truly tuned out motorist, we must be concerned that he recognizes we are not actually in the shoulder when his brain may subconsciously place us there.

    ... I agree with Steve about removing all lines entirely.

    ... I loved reading Filigree's insights/observations. Thank you.