Thursday, September 2, 2010

Suburban Stoplight Hell

When learning to ride, stoplights are the bane of existence.  Like there isn't enough to think about with downshifting and proper braking without the added pressure of remembering how to stop and start gracefully, so as not to make a complete ass of myself yourself.

Just yesterday I witnessed someone stall their bike in a busy intersection as the light turned green.  He sat astride it, fumbling with levers and nobs while duck walking his bike across the intersection.  Nothing more flustering!  At least the people behind him were semi-patient and weren't honking the horns yet.

One of my own experiences hearkens back to one of my first long distance trips...of 10 miles. :)  I can advise new riders not to attempt to take off on a green light in third gear.  You do not have the experience to slip the clutch that much.  I tried that and I survived the crushing embarrassment.  Ok, not so crushing or embarrassing.  I didn't care what the yahoos behind me thought...I just didn't want them to run me over.  I had enough momentum before stalling to quickly coast across the intersection and get out of the way.  

But one thing I have noticed while riding and learning to ride...I am the stoplight QUEEN!  I collect red lights.  I am a magnet for them.  Ride with me and you will experience the utter frustration and annoyance of having to stop at just about every single red light imaginable.  And I'm not talking about pulling up and having to sit behind cars because it is halfway through the intersection cycle.  I'm talking about having to make the split second decision of braking or running a red light because the light just turned yellow at that crucial moment when a decision is necessary.  So making the legal decision results in having to wait through an entire cycle at that intersection!  Now don't talk to me about "anticipating" a light change when approaching an intersection, like they teach in basic high school drivers ed.  I do that and I think that is what gets me into so much trouble: because I actually ride sanely and legally.  Crap!

Now, some intersections have a fairly quick cycle and are only taking a minute of wait time.  But start adding up a minute for every light...and how often I am waiting at each light...and we are talking some time here being spent watching other vehicles moving while I sit.  Yes, I have had some time to think about this and actually calculate wait times and light cycles.

Now add in that I live in a large metropolis.  Yes, I live outside of the "big city"...but so does everyone else out here and there still isn't much room to breath or drive.  I was jealous of my other friends learning to ride that had large, curving lanes to glide down.  My learning grounds were riddled with stoplights, stop signs, hard turns/intersections, uphills and railroad tracks.  My head had a lot to keep track of.  Sometimes it succeeded and sometimes it didn't.

One of the most frustrating occurrences that made me want to scream and just sit and cry was the day of my ERC (Experienced Riders Course).  The location was exactly across town from my house.  And start time was 8:00...with required early check-in and bike checklist/inspection.  I needed to be there by 7:30.  Through morning rush hour traffic in Atlanta??  No way!  Luckily I had some friends on that side of town that let me spend the night before.  One even rode over with me in the morning to show me the way since the new-to-me bike hadn't been outfitted with the GPS yet.

The problem wasn't to the was on the way home.  After class, I was back at my friends house to wait for traffic to die down.  They were going to follow me home and get together with Mr. Oilburner for dinner as a Thank You for letting me stay.  The 18 miles distance between our houses has (had, actually, since more have been added) 23 stoplights.  And I literally had to stop for  And this time I had witnesses!

The point was driven home again when another friend was learning to ride.  Mr. Oilburner and I would take him out, flanking him for protection.  And he had the angels on his side...because all he had to do was approach a light and it would magically turn green.  No stopping, barely slowing.  Argh.

Where is this going?  I don't know if you live in the metro, suburbia or lonely country lanes.  But I really hope you are not cursed with red lights.  Last week we decided to attend a new Bike Night a town is trying to start.  It is a mere 18 miles of side-streets away.  How hard can it be?

When riding with me?  Extremely hard!  There are stoplights here.  It is just a fact of life.  Freeway distance would have been about 33 miles in heavy rush-hour traffic.  So side-streets is really the only option.  But do you know how many stoplights can be installed within 18 miles?  You might be surprised.

To give you a guessing chance, work and home are separated by a measly 9 miles.  There are 12 14 stoplights and 3 stop signs in that distance.  My old swim club was 10 miles away and had a whopping 22 stoplights along the easiest route.

So I recorded my progression along the roads to this Bike Night for you.  18 miles...45 minutes...mainly because of stoplights.  Can you count the number of lights?  Maybe now it is easy to understand why I don't commute to work on the bike.  Note to Riepe: take a look at all those friggin minivans!!

Suburban Stoplight Hell from Love Of A Motorbike on Vimeo.

And even sped up, look at how long I'm sitting at some of those lights??  Crank up the volume.  I like the music.  Wish I had been listening to this.  Might have made the distance and time a little easier.  Nah...

Happy travels to you and may all your lights be green!

Correction: I had to add two more lights to my work commute.  Forgot a couple...  :(


  1. Yeah - can see your frustration, truly.

    Of course, I can't ride, and don't even drive any more, so ... am happy. :)

  2. Lori:

    I'm not so sure you hold the record for stop lights or stop signs. I'm going to have to start counting but I loose track after 20 as I don't have any more digits.

    Well, 21 if you count that one

    I am also a red light magnet. It seems every time I get to the decison point it decides to change too. Same for parking spots. When I get anywhere, there is no where to park. Others go right to the front and there is usually a spot for them. I

  3. Hi David! If you are still riding the bicycle I am sure you are still encountering some of the same frustrations I remember you writing of before. Where mine are cars and stoplights, yours are pedestrian and stoplights. And I don't even want to think about pedestrians with leashed animals! :) -Lori

  4. Hi Bob!

    OK...we might have a problem if we ever get the chance to ride together. I can imagine one of three things happening:

    1) Our luck will cancel each other out and we will be afforded every green light in the city.

    2) Our luck will combine and traffic will slow to a crawl in our path.

    3) Our luck will interact in an exponentially negative fashion, gravity will suddenly become heavier and whichever stoplight we are sitting at, the earth will spin off its axis and we will be sucked underground in a rare black hole.

    I'm hoping for the first one! :)

    We can always have a contest, attaching a little pad of waterproof paper and pen to the tank or dash. That we just flip it open and record each stoplight we sit at. Face it, we usually have enough time to accomplish that. :) That way no digits need be invovled in the counting process. ;) -Lori

  5. Mr. Oilburner just chimed in with the suggestion of clicker counters attached to handlebars. Want me to hit him for you? :)

  6. Don't cycle in Glasgow any more - it's too dangerous, too wet, and takes me just as long to gear up and park as it does to just walk it. So, we sold them.

  7. I hate stoplights as well and consider myself lucky that there are only two on my commute and they are almost always green. A couple of stop signs as well but not much traffic.

    Just ran into your site from comments on Bobskoot's site.

    Richard My blog

  8. Hi Richard!

    Two stoplights?? Lucky duck. But was is the distance to stoplight ratio? :) I am glad that your commute is not riddled with them, or traffic.

    Thanks for taking a look at my site and commenting! I hope you found it interesting. And I hope you have a great trip to Oregon/CA.

    Happy Journeys!


  9. David! I think that would be a great way for you two to travel for a weekend getaway! Rent scooters. :-)


  10. I have stoplights and lots of three-way and four-way stops. What I notice is the higher the temperature the more lights I have to wait for. And, you can be sure if it's in triple digits, I'll hit the big long three just as they change and have to sit there and sit there and sit there and sit...

    Nicely written.


  11. Dear Lori:

    When I first roll out of the driveway (in the morning), the arthritis in my joints is so bad that I dobnot want to put my feet down. Naturally, that's when I hit every red light. At the end of the day, when my joints are screaming to straighten out on the pavement, that's when they are always green.

    Your blog gave me an idea for an interesting story this week.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  12. Hi Keith! You are correct...the warmer the temps, the more lights to sit at. And sweat at. And melt at.

    Love your scooter!


  13. Dear Jack,

    Do you have any stoplights near the driveway exit? I hit them just around the corner...blech.

    Encountered your same issues coming home on Monday. Tons of saddle time, needed to stretch the legs...and had green lights... I think we need to start running them. ;)


  14. Your posting inspired me to count all traffic lights in my daily commute of 17km (10.5mi): 43 traffic lights, and I usually get stuck at every second, which easily makes 45min out of a 25min commuter time. ARRGH!

  15. Hi SonjaM,

    Inspired you? It sounds like you might have been cursing me by the end of the count/commute. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Now that you know about it you might start really thinking about it whilst sitting there waiting for them to change...

    I can't believe you have even more stoplights in such a short distance!!!

    My 9 mile commute is the same as your 45 min. I have fewer stoplights, but crossing the main flow of traffic. So they are never in my favor and sometimes I even sit at the same light through multiple cycles. I really hope you don't have to deal with that too.


  16. Dear Lori

    Great video and music - I wish that I had your talent..

    In England we are mostly cursed with things called "ROUNDABOUTS" , but on balance they are better than stoplights as a skilled motorcyclist can use her/his anticipation, agility and acceleration to dart round these things (watching out for diesel spills).

    nick aka mr nikos

  17. Γεια σας Mr Nikos!

    I'm starting to see a few pictures come from your trip and can't wait to see more.

    Thank you for the kind words on the video. Means a lot when I know it actually took me two days (!) to create it. Some software/hardware problems...but more user error then most. :)

    We have very few roundabouts here. And none in busy intersections. What you think could be a roundabout, they put a stoplight on one end. LOL. Hence the stopped traffic in Cleveland on the "Summer Over" post.

    Do they have as many transmission fluid spills over there as we do here? Luckily we don't have diesel on the road generally, but we have plenty of other oils all over that makes up for it.

    Happy trails!


  18. Lori

    So you can speak Greek as well as dismantling a motorycle - I'm most impressed!

    Yes we have lots of trouble here with diesel fuel spills and there has been a big campaign against it (kill Spills) - and this is not BP related!


  19. Hi Nikos,

    I Babel fish Greek really well...LOL. Greece has been on my wish list travel locations since I was a kid. But I haven't been knocking anyplace off of that list quickly.

    So how is all of this fuel spilling on the roadways? Leaking fuel tanks in autos or fuel containers in vehicles? Farm equipment? Are many vehicles diesel there? The ratio of vehicle to diesel here is quite low. Tho I do drive a diesel myself. I've never realized how slippery it is and how it doesn't evaporate the same as auto fuel until I started reading face plants. -Lori