As a man who cycles for primary transport, with a track record of pedaling pretty far, automobile drivers often pinhole me with complaints of reckless cyclists, while cyclists regale me with the injustices of folks behind the wheel. Like all conflicts in our divisive society, we’re more inclined to point out the other guy’s yoke rather than clean up the egg on our own face.
The rules of the road are simple: bicycles are supposed to follow the same procedures as motor vehicles; cars and trucks are supposed to accommodate bicycles. Great in theory; difficult in practice.
Bicycles. Cyclists are iconoclasts with an independent streak. We buck the trend of a world that celebrates all things fast and fossil fueled. We chafe under rules designed for larger, more dangerous machines. Most cyclists I know operate under the assumption, “If I can glide through that Stop sign or pedal through that red light without a problem, I will.” We rationalize this makes traffic run smoother, though in fact, we just like flaunting rules.
“I will because I can” is an egotistical stratagem. It assumes nothing will go wrong (like the bike slipping in the intersection), and ignores the uncertainty errant cyclists inflict on vehicle drivers. Better, I think, to operate on the assumption, “I will, only when no one is affected.” I don’t run a red light against an oncoming car, even if I know I can make it, because I don’t want to cast anxiety on the approaching driver.
Automobiles. Please, just treat us with the same rights as any other vehicle. Give us three feet when you pass. If the road is narrow or lined with snow, and we claim a full lane, slow down behind us. Drivers that pass too close are dangerous. So are drivers that abandon the rules of the road under the auspices of being nice.
The most dangerous situation I encounter sharing the street with cars is when drivers who have right-of-way yield to me. I understand, in theory, they’re benevolent. In reality, they create confusion and danger. The diagram illustrates the awkward place I find myself at least once a week.
I want to turn left. I am in the left lane, with my signal arm out, waiting for traffic to clear. The approaching car stops and waves me in front of him. But his vehicle blocks my view of anyone in the right lane. I wave him on because I don’t want to turn into a blind spot, even as I’m a target for any traffic coming up too fast behind me. The driver trying to be nice thinks I’m an a@#hole. Everyone is annoyed.
How to resolve this dilemma? Follow the rules of the road. Altering the hierarchy of right-of-way for a bicycle makes things less safe, not more. Yield to a bicycle exactly the same as you would for a car. If the driver opposing me moves on, I can see what’s ahead and make my left turn more quickly and safely.
There was a time when our public streets were a confusion of horses, pedestrians, trolley cars, and motor vehicles. Then the cars took precedence. Now, more and more cyclists vie for space. Drivers resent vehicle lanes cut back to create bike lanes.; it’s hard to give up something you think you own. But the streets are for all of us, and the more we share, follow the same rules, and accommodate each other’s differences, the better off we will all be.