Bicyclists, motorists need to share road
By David Alpert,
I was recently bicycling down a D.C. street, and a driver honked at me. I was breaking no law and doing what bike safety advocates, such as those who teach the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s Confident City Cycling classes, say is safest, but this driver apparently had some misconceptions about how people on bikes ought to ride.
Later, I was driving, and encountered a few people biking in ways that made me want to honk at them (though I did not). We’re all told to “share the road,” but we could all share better if we understand what is legal, and safe, to do.
Here are five things drivers need to know, and often don’t, about sharing the road. Dr. Gridlock has the flip side below.
●Cyclists might be on the left side of the road. If someone on a bike is turning left, the correct and legal thing for them to do is to move to the left, just as a driver would, and then turn left from there. If a cyclist is on the left side of the road, or a left lane of a multi-lane street, don’t honk or get angry; realize the cyclist is probably getting ready to turn left or making some other necessary maneuver.
●Riding outside a bike lane is often okay. Bike lanes are great. They make many cyclists feel more comfortable on the road. They move many cyclists into a separate space so that drivers can pass without having to wait for the slower vehicle. However, a cyclist might be elsewhere on the road for many reasons, including the left turns mentioned above. In the District and Virginia, a cyclist can choose to ride outside the bike lane for any reason.
Cyclists also often ride in the left part of a bike lane to be farther from car doors that might suddenly open.
●If turning right across a bike lane, move into the bike lane first. Say you’re driving on a road with a bike lane on the right side. You want to make a right turn. What do you do? Many people just drive up to the corner in the “car” lane, then turn from there. That’s unsafe.
The right way to turn across a bike lane is to first merge into the bike lane a short distance before the corner. Signal to move right and look over your shoulder like you would changing lanes on a highway. If there are no cyclists coming, move over, then make the turn from there. Don’t move into the lane while stopped behind a line of cars at a light, because then a cyclist can’t get past, but do it when you’re ready to turn right and have the green.
●Bicycles are faster than you might think. A bike is slower than a car most of the time, but often not that much slower. If you’re driving and pass a cyclist, give some extra time before moving back into the lane, because that bike is also moving.
If you pass a cyclist and then plan to turn right, realize that the cyclist probably isn’t still back where you were when you passed, but has moved a lot farther. It’s generally safer for all to avoid passing a cyclist just before making a right turn, because the cyclist can end up in your blind spot.
Don’t honk. Some drivers think that it’s a courtesy to honk to tell a cyclist they’re coming. Trust me, they know. Cars make a fair amount of noise. Horns make an enormous amount of noise.
Horns have a volume level sufficient for drivers of another car to hear. To someone on a bicycle right outside a car, it’s almost deafening and can be very frightening. If I’m biking and someone honks, it’s so loud I often jump a bit and feel I might briefly lose my balance.
Five things many cyclists need to know — and often don’t — about sharing the road:
●Be obvious, be predictable. Drivers tend to look for other drivers. They’re less likely to see cyclists. The extreme right side of the lane may not be the safest path under some conditions, especially if it forces you to weave in and out among parked cars. Be where drivers are most likely to see you, and stay there. A few drivers might honk, but at least they saw you.
●Think like a driver. They’re operating multi-ton machines and trying not to get hit by anything bigger than they are. You’re smaller. They don’t understand the pavement that seems so smooth beneath their shock absorbers has gouges and cuts that can wreck your ride. Anticipate your own needs and avoid sudden moves a driver wouldn’t expect.
●Wait for right-turning drivers. If a driver prepares for a right turn by first moving across the bike lane well ahead of you, the driver is behaving correctly and safely. Drivers merge into the lane to avoid hitting cyclists when making the turn. Don’t rush up and squeeze to the right of the car.
●Obey traffic laws. Good traffic laws aren’t about determining who should get the ticket after the crash. They’re about avoiding the crash by sharing expectations. Drivers don’t expect to see you riding toward them in the same lane, or coming at them from the side of the street. Ride with the traffic.
●Respect pedestrians. Think you’re vulnerable to cars? You should see how a fast-moving bike looks to someone on a crowded sidewalk. Bike riding is banned on sidewalks in some areas, including the D.C. central business district. Like drivers, walkers don’t necessarily react the way you want them to. Vocalize your intentions or use a bell to warn of your approach, but don’t startle them. Remember what it’s like to get honked at.