Monday, September 19, 2011

How Drivers Can Endear Themselves to Cyclists....

In response to one of my blog posts a couple of weeks ago, one of my regular readers, my dear friend Maggie, asked for some tips for non-cyclists to help them get along better with cyclists. I've been writing this post in my head for the last several times I've been on my bike. This probably isn't everything a driver needs to know about the idiots on bicycles cyclists he or she might come into contact with, but it might be useful information. Some of this is based on the law in Georgia, and it might be different in your state.

Slow Down - The most comforting sound I can hear from behind me is a car engine decelerating. Not only is it safer for drivers to be going slower, but it lets me know the driver has seen me and is not hell-bent upon killing me. I promise it won't be the end of the world if you lose seven seconds out of your life while you wait for the chance to pass me.

Treat a Bicycle Like a Slow Car - In my case, a VERY slow car. If there is enough room to pass, and there isn't an approaching car, feel free to go around. No need to honk; I know you're there. If a car IS approaching, then wait behind me (at a safe distance, please) until it has passed. Please don't feel the need to squeeze past between me and the other car. Like a woman did on my way home from school today. She was clearly in a hurry to get to the middle school and wait in line with a jillion other people trying to get into the football game. (A middle school game causing traffic problems? Really?) She was still in the turn lane when I got to the middle school, so I rode past her, made eye contact, and held up three fingers. "Three feet! Three feet!" I don't know if she knew what I was talking about, but it sure made me feel better.

Allow Enough Room When You Pass - A new law in Georgia regarding bicyclists and motorists went into effect July 1st of this year. It states that motorists must allow three feet of room when passing cyclists. (It also said that cyclists can now wear cleated cycling shoes and signal turns with their right arms, both of which I have been doing for years. Who knew I was breaking the law?) The old law, which may still be how it's worded in other states, said simply that a driver had to allow a cyclist "sufficient" room (or some such term) when passing. The three feet law gives us something specific. It doesn't mean drivers will abide by it, but my family members can use it in court when a driver kills me. Just kidding. Sort of.

Headlights Are a Huge Plus - My favorite kind of cars are the ones with daytime running lights. You wouldn't believe how much headlights on cars help cyclists. Most of us ride with some sort of mirror, either attached to our helmets or our handlebars, but they aren't the best in the world. They are especially deficient when it comes to determining how far away a car is behind us. Seeing headlights makes it much easier to judge the distance. It also makes the car more visible. It is amazing to me how many cars appear to be the same color as the road, even in bright sunlight. And most of us don't have a lot of time after hearing a car approaching from the rear to make a decision, such as whether or not it's safe to make a left turn. The headlights are wonderfully helpful.

Don't Honk - I've mentioned this before, but drivers who honk out of anger not only piss us off hugely, but they put us in danger. One sudden movement could throw us into the path of a car, or into a ditch. Depending upon how deep the ditch is, that could be just as bad as the car. Unless your engine is completely silent, we know you are there. A friendly beep from a hundred yards back is okay, but it's still not necessary.

Careful Making Right Turns - Again, treat a bicycle just like a slow car. You wouldn't pass a car, then slam on brakes and turn right in front of it. At least, I hope you wouldn't. Don't do it to a cyclist either. Wait a safe distance behind until the cyclist clears the intersection, then make your turn. It won't cost you more than 15 seconds out of your busy life.

Don't Assume We Are All Rude Jerks - You might be one of those who think bicycles don't belong on the road. If that's so, please contact your legislator. As long as the law allows us to ride on the road, cyclists have all the same rights, rules, and responsibilities of drivers. I realize there are some cyclists who don't serve as good ambassadors for cycling, just as there are some drivers who aren't poster children for safe driving practices. Please don't kill me with your car just because three days ago a group of cyclists hogged the whole road and made you late for your dental appointment. We aren't all like that.

Give Us the Right to Avoid Things You Can't See - There might be a sliver of pavement just outside the white line, but it doesn't mean it's safe for cyclists to ride there. Particularly in cities, the space outside the driving lane is fraught with hazards. Sewer grates (wheel gobblers, they are), potholes, and all kinds of debris hide there. We aren't trying to be jerks by riding in the middle of the lane. Even where there's a right-hand turning lane, we are likely not to get in it if we are going straight. This is especially true around my neighborhood, when there might be a turning lane into a subdivision. If I get into the turning lane to allow cars to pass, then the lane runs out, I am hung out there in no-man's land. I have given up my right to the lane, and it's dangerous for me to make my way back into the flow of traffic. As nervous as it makes me, the safest thing for me to do is hold my own line among the cars and hope they get a chance to pass me safely.

If you are a cyclist and can think of something I left out, please feel free to leave a comment letting me know. And if you're a driver and wonder about a particular situation, feel free to ask. If I don't know the answer, I'll find out.

Happy driving and happy cycling!


Kelly said...

Thanks for a very informative post. I'm happy to report I usually follow most of these guidelines.

Evil Pixie said...

I like this post. Very thoughtful. Very balanced.

Cycling around here is a very big deal, but I have to say most of the cyclists I come into contact with have entitlement issues. It isn't about sharing for them (at least the ones I've come into contact with on and off the road). And while we have bike lanes on about 70% of our roads, most of the bicyclists don't use them, nor do they get over when a driver approaches. It's frustrating, annoying, and rude.

That said, I always have to remember I'm in the car. I'm the one who can do the most damage, even in the most slight, unintentional circumstances. And because of that, I bare the responsibility of ensuring the situation is as safe as possible - even when other parties (i.e. drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, etc.) don't seem to care who or what is in their surroundings.