How drivers can share streets with cyclists

Many of the more than 14,000 people signed up for Friday’s Bike to Work Day will be inexperienced bike commuters looking to get started by traveling in a convoy with other cyclists.

M Street bike lane markings
Most Bike to Work Day cyclists won’t be able to ride in separate lanes. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

There’s safety in numbers, up to a point. Cyclists need to obey traffic laws, just as motorists do, but motorists have a cushion of steel to cover their mistakes. These are some tips for drivers who care about all of their fellow commuters.

  • The Capital Weather Gang’s forecast says Friday might as well be Wear a Life Jacket to Work Day (which, in fact, it is, but the gang is focused on the heavy rain approaching the D.C. area). This will limit visibility for drivers and cyclists, and make everyone wary of puddles.
  • A cyclist doesn’t see the roadway the same way a driver does. A small rut that’s a minor inconvenience for a driver is a potential wreck for a cyclist, so anticipate more slowing and maneuvering on the part of cyclists.
  • Watch for cyclists when making right or left turns. Cyclists are taught to be especially wary of a driver’s “right hook,” a right turn across the path of an oncoming cyclists. When making lefts, drivers sometimes watch only for cars, somehow rendering oncoming cyclists invisible.
  • Check for bicyclists along the edge of the traffic lane before opening car doors so as not to cause a collision when exiting the vehicle. This type of accident is so common that cyclists refer to it as “dooring.”
  • Allow at least three feet of passing space between your vehicle and the cyclist.
  • Be patient. The number of cycling lanes is increasing, but coverage is far from complete, so many bikers will be in the regular travel lanes, where they have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. (And they shouldn’t be on the sidewalks in the District’s Central Business District.)
  • Pay special attention to blind spots. It may take an extra glance to spot a cyclist. Make sure your mirrors are free of fog.

See also
Your last-minute guide to Bike to Work Day
Share your bike to work day experiences
Rosslyn’s “Intersection of Doom”
Why you should always wear a bike helmet, in one chart

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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