Gear Prudence: Sometimes I’ll find myself first in line at a red light. If there’s not a bike lane, I usually take the lane so drivers don’t try to pass me unsafely when the light changes. Often (at least a couple of times a week), a driver behind me will honk because they want me to get out of their way so they can turn right on red. I just ignore it. But I’ve also encountered people who are not rude about it—they’ll lean out the window and say, “Hey could you scoot over a bit so I can turn?” Sometimes they even say please! I don’t want to be rude, [but] I also don’t want to have a long conversation about safe bicycling practice, and I really don’t want to put myself in a position where I’m in danger of being right hooked or passed unsafely. What should I do? —Should Cyclists Oblige Overt Turners?
Dear SCOOT: You’re in a tricky spot. On one hand, scooting seems like a reasonable ask, and you would seem like a rude jerk if you ignored it. On the other hand, it would be remarkably difficult to explain in a succinct way why you’re declining the request and furthermore why you shouldn’t be obliged to sublimate your safe travel to their desires for a quicker turn. On the third hand (this question has nearly as much complexity as Goro from Mortal Kombat), grabbing your leg, yelling “ah, my trick knee!”, and falling to the ground in fake agony would preclude any further expectation of action on your part. But writhing until the light changes and then suddenly hopping back up requires a level of gall and chicanery not even present in Serie A.
If you feel obligated to respond to a direct question (and politesse suggests that you should) and you really don’t feel like trying to move out of the way, buy yourself some time by asking them to repeat the question. Nod along, and then say, “Oh yes, definitely. But I’m going straight, so I can’t. Sorry.” Don’t be overly dramatic. The vast majority of drivers will understand, and if your demeanor is sufficiently pleasant, the chances of them escalating the situation are small. And then hope that the light changes soon thereafter. After all, right-on-red isn’t a constitutional right. It’s a thing that happens when the circumstances allow, and when they don’t, oh well.
If you do feel the desire to move out of the way, never put yourself between the car and the curb. If you scoot, scoot forward, but don’t block the crosswalk. Then again, you could save yourself this trouble if you never stop at red lights. GP wouldn’t recommend that though. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.