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Navigating East Side Drive @ the I-393 Ramps - Part One

I've been thinking a lot about this intersection lately. It's the most stressful part of my evening commute. Between 3:30 and 4:30 PM, cars can back up on Hazen Drive, waiting 3 or more traffic light cycles before they can make the left hand turn onto East Side Drive. In my experience, the amount of time one has to wait for a traffic light seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of patience one has for a bicyclist.

The image above illustrates what I see after I make the left turn from Hazen Drive. At first, as one proceeds North on East Side Drive, there are two lanes of travel. The far right lane provides the option of going straight or make the right onto I-393 East. The middle right lane is for traveling straight, i.e. North on East Side Drive. As you pass through the light at the I-393 East traffic light, the far right lane becomes a right turn only lane for travel onto I-393 West. While the middle right lane, again, is for traveling straight.

With this image, you can also see that those traveling South bound on East Side Drive have a left turn only lane for travel onto the I-393 East ramp, as well as a lane for vehicles traveling straight, i.e. South on East Side Drive. Just north of the left turn only lane, is a non-lane, demarcated with double yellow lines on both sides. So, even though the road width does not change, from the I-393 West ramp, to the start of this left turn only lane, the road is demarcated, from left to right, with a southbound lane, a non-travel lane, a northbound lane and right turn only lane.

One final piece of background information. This route is listed as a bike-friendly route on many sources. Google Maps shows it has part of a bicycle friendly route. The NH Interactive Bicycle Map lists it as a preferred bicycle route. Etc.

Why is this segment of my commute so stressful? There is no shoulder to the far right. Cars travel fast, at least faster than me. So, what are one's options for traveling through this area?

Well, ask 100 bicyclists and get 100 different opinions. Here are three.

Travel the sidewalk on the West side of the road. Riding my bicycle on the sidewalk is technically illegal. By law, I should dismount my bike and walk the sidewalk if this were my choice. Also, readily observable in the above image, I'd have to cross two drive-ways and a side street. Generally not a good idea, especially when I'm riding against the flow of traffic.

Travel as far to the right of the road as possible and then cut at or just before the on-ramp to I-393 West. This is challenging. Because of the limited shoulder, I'm forced to be in the right lane. The right lane, technically, North of the I-393 East ramp, is for right turns only. Cars overtaking me have to squeeze over to the middle right lane and cars travelling in the middle right lane aren't aware of me to figure out that they have to move over to make room for cars overtaking me. And this strategy sorta begs the question, when do I navigate to the far right? WIth this strategy, it probably makes sense to do that immediately after making the left from Hazen Drive. However, for the short segment between Hazen Drive and the I-393 East ramp, it probably makes the most sense to take the middle of the far right lane to avoid the right turn cuts from vehicles trying to get on the I-393 East ramp.

My preferred strategy is to take the middle right lane. I put myself right in the middle this lane, so there's no question of my intentions. I'm comfortable here until I just pass the I-393 East ramp. At this point, cars can gain some significant speed. While I believe there is plenty of room to overtake me on the left, I find that most vehicles are reluctant to cross the double yellow line. Crossing a double yellow is legal, providing its safe to do so and you have a reason for doing the same, like overtaking a bicyclist or navigating around an obstacle. Some cars wait for me, which is nice. Some cars accelerate around me to the right, which is kinda stressful. And some cars just lay into their horns, accelerate around me one way or the other, gesture and then move back into the lane I'm travelling in quickly and dangerously close to me. The latter are the bad apples.

At the this year's National Bike Summit, I reached out to Jamie Gaskill-Fox. Jamie works for the City of Fort Collins (Colorado) and runs their Bicycle Friendly Driver Program. While I didn't make it to one of Jamie's sessions, (so many to choose from), I had heard they were excellent so I tracked her down during one of the breaks. I wanted to find out from her how best I should navigate this intersection. After grabbing a beer, (it was a break after all), Jamie and I sat down at her computer and pulled up this Google Map image (above). Her immediate reaction was "Oh my. This is anything but a bicycle friendly segment." (Remember this thought for Part Two in this installment).

Jamie confirmed that the absolute safest way for a bicyclist to navigate this area is what I've listed as my preferred strategy. In future installments, I'll highlight some of the ways this segment could be improved.

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