Bike 0: Van: 1

Tonight, on my bicycle commute home from work, I was hit by a van. That’s it and its driver, below:



Now, let me be upfront: I wasn’t hurt, the bike wasn’t damaged.

However, the incident is typical of the sort of thing that I’ve encountered in 14 years of bike commuting in Vancouver.

This time it was above mentioned van going the wrong way through a traffic circle. The City of Vancouver uses traffic circles as traffic calming measures on bike routes and in other areas. A traffic circle is a small circle with a single lane that goes around it in the middle of an intersection, often used to replace 2-way or 4-way stops. Traffic circles are to be treated the same way as roundabouts: Slow down, yield to traffic already in the circle, yield to traffic to your right about to enter the circle, and enter the circle when you deem safe. Traffic flow is COUNTER-CLOCKWISE.

In my opinion, they are largely a failure when used on the bike routes. My experience is that most motorists speed through too fast, typically treating the traffic circle as a chicane. They almost never yield to traffic on their left, particularly cyclists. And occasionally they go the wrong way through the traffic circle. By occasionally, I mean that I typically see it at least once a week.

In short, I hate the traffic circles. They are only slightly less dangerous than 2-way stops on the bike routes where the cross-traffic has the stop signs. Those are dangerous because often motorists assume that the cyclists have stop signs too, and cross through the intersection while the bikes are bearing down on them at 30 kph.

This evening, it was a van. It was wet, but not particularly dark. I wear a bright orange jacket and had a strobe headlight and tail-light going because of the rain. The van was travelling north on Blenheim St in Kitsilano about to turn left on 8th Ave, which is the Off-Broadway bike route.

The van took the traffic circle reasonably slowly, thankfully. Unfortunately, he took the traffic circle in the wrong direction, choosing to turn left through the oncoming lane. Unfortunately I was in that oncoming lane.

Don't do this

I saw the van begin to take the illegal turn, hesitate, go a bit further and then come to a stop with me inches from its front bumper. By this point I had gone from “Oh no, he isn’t!” to letting out some reasonably offensive and not very creative expletives.

After looking at me, the driver did something that shocked me. He put his foot on the accelerator and proceeded to bump me out of the way with the van. He literally hit the front tire of my bike and used his vehicle to push me. I was shocked. And raging. My tirade continued and I slammed my left hand into his drivers-side window and rear window as he pushed me out of the way and drove by.

I couldn’t believe it. Shocked. The bike wasn’t damaged, I wasn’t hurt, but WHAT THE FUCK?

He pulled over to the curb on the north side of the street and got out of his van. And started coming towards me. After having just been assaulted with his vehicle, I wasn’t going to stick around to see what else he was going to do, so I got on my bike and headed down the bike route. I noticed a car that had pulled over and observed the whole thing. The driver, apparently seeing that I wasn’t hurt, drove off.

I hadn’t quite made it down another block when I decided to turn around and at least take a photo of the van and its license plate. As it happened, the driver was back in the van. He got out as I took the photo and started coming at me again. Again, given the fact that he’d already tried to drive over me, I put space between us. We were having a bit of a conversation at that point, mainly me venting at him.

And here it turned a bit surreal. Somehow we ended up reasonably close to each other and dude just wanted to talk. He apologized and seemed contrite. He was also clearly stupid, saying he tried to drive over me because he had no other option. What was he going to do? Back up into traffic? Not a word a lie, that was his reasoning. I don’t understand how backing up into non-existent traffic is worse than running over a cyclist.

And he didn’t like my language, tone, or the fact I had beat on his windows.

But he did say he was sorry. He apologized many times. He didn’t see me he said. He saw I had lights, bright jacket, etc, all his fault. He swore that he saw that he did something stupid and wasn’t going to do it again.

And, somehow, over the course of the 5 or so minutes we were talking, he managed to calm me down a few notches. We’d also drawn a bit of a looky-loo crowd.

In the end, I just drove off. Coursing with adrenaline, dripping wet, fury still coursing through my veins, but no longer leaking out of my mouth.

So. Motorists: Slow down, yield to traffic already in the circle, yield to traffic to your right about to enter the circle, and enter the circle when you deem safe. Traffic flow is COUNTER-CLOCKWISE.

Don’t be stupid. Next time, the cyclist you don’t see mightn’t be unhurt.

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    • soundy on 2011/04/04 at 11:16 pm
    • Reply

    I don’t blame traffic circles for this kind of stupidity… I blame the fact that they’ve been randomly implemented over the last several years, with no attempt to actually TRAIN drivers in their proper use.

    Out here in the burbs, we’re seeing massive recent proliferation in full-on roundabouts, and I too witness stupidity and a complete lack of understanding of their protocol on a DAILY* basis. People will stop before entering, even when there’s no other traffic (except me, stuck behind them)… they’ll enter the roundabout, THEN stop and wait for the guy on the right to go – the person who’s supposed to be yielding to THEM.

    In Abbotsford, there are more and more of the big two-lane ones, and apparently people forget the rules about lanes when they get into the roundabouts (and seem equally incapable of reading the big pictures on the signs leading into them), and do all kinds of insane things… like try to go straight from the inside lane even when there’s someone beside them in the outside lane trying to go around.

    Again, it’s all lack of training. These things have been used in Europe for decades, and they work great, because people know the proper use and protocol. Here, road designers have just jammed them in and apparently assumed people are able to figure the things out on their own. The extent of “education” on them, last time I checked, was a whole one page in ICBC’s driver training booklet.

    1. Agreed, somewhat. Training is sorely lacking. But it’s pretty clear what the correct way around one is. And it’s also pretty clear that once you’ve done something boneheaded, you don’t compound it by doing something asinine. Pushing me out of his way with his van crossed the line from “ignorantly dangerous” to “intentionally dangerous”.

    • chris on 2011/04/05 at 12:05 am
    • Reply

    I know the route and that intersection well (although there are now many like it). I have to agree with @soundry and admit that I really like them while driving, but the problem is ignorance of the procedure. I see drivers come up to roundabouts and honestly have no idea how to turn left. As a cyclist, to preserve myself, I assume they will all go the wrong way, and I can’t see that changing soon.

    You have every reason to pursue an assault charge, let alone traffic charges. It would be tough without a witness contact, but it may bring some attention to some of our issues with motorists.

  1. Found your blog after someone RT’ed your tweet!

    In the 7 or so years I’ve been riding around Kits, I’ve luckily never had someone go the wrong way around the RAB at the same time I was entering, although the worst part of your incident seems to be the hitting of the accelerator after coming to a stop.

    My biggest hazard I find is cars running stop signs without barely slowing down. I don’t like it when I see bikes doing it either, but at least the bike isn’t going to kill anyone. Living at such an 2-way stop intersection in the neighbourhood, several times an evening I’ll hear a car horn from when two cars approach the intersection at the same time, and one goes through the stop-sign failing to yield. That’s probably my biggest hazard on Off-Broadway, so I got an AirZound which seems to help, as I captured up the hill on Off-Broadway: But it won’t help against willful hazards, like someone hitting the gas after seeing you!

    1. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting one of those. The main reason I haven’t is that my “outside voice” is sufficiently loud to get drivers’ attention. Also, I’ve had countless problems with that same intersection you showed in your video. Did you just *happen* to be recording at that time? I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a helmet cam just to keep a record of commutes, just to show people the shit that cyclists have to deal with on a regular basis.

      1. I got the camera mostly for documenting bike routes around the city for people to learn about them, but just leave the camera on for most commutes. It’s about the size and weight of a helmet-mounted headlight so is easy to deal with so I record most rides to/from work just to get whatever interesting things I can.

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