EC Notebook #33 Part 2: Responsible Cyclists Are Predictable, Follow the Rules of the Road

by Crystal Allred, ECI #571

Motorists frequently complain that they can’t predict where bicyclists are going. The more predictably we cyclists behave, the easier it is for motorists to share the road with us.

Bicyclists have the right to ride in the appropriate travel lane. Because bicycles are narrow, it is often possible for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely share the same lane. Where this is possible, the bicyclist must keep far enough to the right to enable faster drivers to overtake. Where this is not possible, the bicyclist is legally entitled to the entire lane. Sometimes we forget this and assume the “bicyclist’s inferiority complex.” Problems arise when we forget that we have all the rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers.

Where roadways have paved shoulders to the right of the travel lane, bicyclists often assume these are bike lanes. They are not. Paved shoulders are there for us as a safety net just as they are for motor vehicle drivers.

At a recent out-of-town ride, I had the opportunity to see how and where “experienced” cyclists rode and the reactions of the motoring public to the riders’ actions. Whenever possible, I rode at the end of a paceline to observe bicyclists ahead of me. While riding on roadways with paved shoulders, every bicyclist opted to leave the travel lane and ride to the right of the paved line, on the paved shoulder–demonstrating that even experienced cyclists don’t always know the safest way to ride. One group of riders, all in single file, frequently had to move out into the travel lane to avoid debris. Each time the bicyclists unexpectedly moved into the travel lane, motorists overreacted, moving sharply into the opposing travel lane and then swinging sharply back if there was oncoming traffic.

When the paved shoulder curved to the right of a turn lane, the bicyclists either stayed on the paved shoulder to the right of the right turn lane or rode in the right turn lane. From there, they proceeded through the intersection and onto the paved shoulder or, when the paved shoulder ended, into the travel lane.

On one occasion, a motorist entered the turn lane, unaware that the group had intended on continuing forward through the intersection. The group had to stop quickly, jog to the left, and then continue across the intersection to reach the paved shoulder. Because of the squirrelly motions of the bicyclists, several motorists swung wide to the left (overcorrecting) to avoid them. Some bicyclists also overcorrected and entered the travel lane in front of moving vehicles. It was no wonder that several bicyclists complained about the traffic. I am sure several motorists had the same complaint about the bicyclists.

A similar situation occurred when the same group of cyclists rode in an area designated for on-street parking. When the group of bicyclists approached a parked car, confusion abounded, with several bicyclists opting to stop while others attempted to merge into the travel lane.

The confusion and potential for collisions arising from both of these situations were totally avoidable. When a bicyclist acts as a driver of a vehicle and rides in the travel lane, motorists are aware of our location. This holds true even on busy multi-lane roadways. If the lane is not wide enough to safely accommodate both motor vehicles and bicycles, then the bicyclist should command the lane (that is, ride far enough into the lane to prevent motorists from passing dangerously close to the bicyclist). In this situation, the motorist reduces his speed and chooses a safe time to pass.

To be responsible vehicle operators, bicycle riders must be predictable and give dear intentions to other drivers of what we are doing and where we are going. This is a matter of being a safe vehicle operator.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to www.bikeleague.org.

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