Dogs and intersections are a bit alike. To bicyclists, both deserve watching . . .
I often take an early morning spin along any one of several loops of lettered state highways and county roads. The other day was typical; about two miles along the way, two dogs suddenly came dashing out in front of me from a driveway on my left. I’ve seen them before; one is a small and gangly looking chocolate lab, perhaps still growing, and the other was a white and black dog, just a bit smaller. I just talked to them and they both stood and watched me go past, their tails wagging. A few miles farther a little terrier started barking on my left and running toward me. Its larger partner was a dachshund, closer to the road and apparently startled by the sudden barking. It ran parallel to me, ducking for cover under a trailer. Doing so, I think unintentionally, the dachshund’s body blocked the terrier which delayed it long enough for me to get well beyond and pursuit was out of the question. A mile further I passed the house where two years ago a dog ran under my front wheel and knocked me down. I’ve ridden this way a few times since. Sure enough, once again, it came out barking but was well behind me and gave up the chase after a few dozen yards. Two more miles and one more dog came running but it was penned behind a fence. A quarter mile beyond a large home is well set back from the road. A large chocolate lab started barking and running across a large field towards the road, but it was all perfunctory; he’s a friendly dog and knows me.
On other rides along different routes, there’s one particular dog who watches and sees me from the distance and I can see his tail start wagging at about 1/8th mile. As I get closer, he dashes out “to greet” me. He snarls and shows his teeth as he runs at my side and I watch him carefully as I steadily pedal on, talking to him, sometimes yelling commands like “stay” and “go home”. He and I have been going through this routine for years now. He runs alongside to the end of the property line and just stops.
Along yet other routes, I have come across packs of up to a dozen dogs. I stop and chat and watch carefully. Most stay back as usually only one or two approach. After a few seconds, though it feels longer, they calm down. Their pack makes them feel safe and comfortable, too. I slowly start walking or pedaling and watch as a few tend to tag along while most don’t even bother, having lost interest. Just keep going slowly; until the last ones quit, and then I’m on my way.
My personal observation about dogs: An attacking dog does not bark; it rushes up and tries to take you by surprise. A dog that is barking while running at you is more interested in playing, though it might still have a mean streak in it, and it might attack if it gets excited or you do something to threaten it. If things get ugly, stop and keep the bicycle between it and yourself. Then, once it’s calmed down, slowly walk or ride away. You can often outrun dogs but stop if they get up alongside and are threatening.
Back to the morning ride; Car at a “Stop” sign. This takes much longer to describe but it happened in mere seconds. I was coasting downhill along the state highway. It was winding and hilly and I was enjoying gravity’s effect. At the bottom of a gully to my right was a county road with a “Stop” sign. A vehicle reached the junction and stopped. I saw the driver’s head look my way but I never made eye contact with him. I watched him creep forward while looking to his right, away from me. This told me that he was going to turn left, directly in front of me. Never mind the bell; I hit the brakes and started slowing. He rolled out fully across my lane before he again looked my way and suddenly, finally saw me there right there in the lane he’d blocked. And yes, I was wearing a bright orange shirt!
My personal observation about vehicles at intersections: Rural drivers are not used to and do not expect to see bicyclists. This driver stopped and glanced my way and did not see what he was expecting to see, a car or truck. Unfortunately, if he even saw me, I likely registered in his mind as a pedestrian and of no immediate concern as I was still far away, in his mind walking at 3 mph. Satisfied that his left was clear, he then focused on watching for traffic from his right as he turned left onto the state highway. Only after he completed his turn did he look left again, actually forward, now, and realized his mistake, that I was a fast moving bicycle.
I had the right of way, but that is never justification for crashing, even if within the protection of an automobile. No, watching ahead and seeing the danger unfolding, I yielded and the crash was avoided.
Drivers need to pay attention at intersections. That quick glance just doesn’t do it. They need to look both ways repeatedly, before they begin and while they go through an intersection.
Bicyclists need to always watch for telltale signs of what vehicles are going to do next and NEVER ASSUME that they’ve been seen. A driver might look right at a cyclist and yet it simply doesn’t register, mistaken for a slow moving pedestrian.
And regardless of right-of-way, when in doubt, YIELD.
I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try. Perhaps we’ll meet soon. I’ll ring my bell.