[Nothing on this blog should be confused for legal advice. I am not a lawyer, public official, or officer of the law. You, the reader, are liable for your own behavior and knowledge.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Decision Tree

Here is a simplified decision tree for motorists who find themselves driving near cyclists:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Driver's Ed

Why didn't I learn all of this back in driver's ed?

That's a good question. Chances are you did learn some of it and, like most of what we all learned back then, have forgotten it. Unfortunately, though, most driver's education curricula focus almost entirely on how motorists should behave around other motorists, ignoring pedestrians, cyclists, and others whom motorists will inevitably encounter while on the road. If you are a person in a position to affect this kind of curriculum--which, hint, includes all of us as voters--keep in mind all that you've forgotten.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Night Rider

I just saw a cyclist riding at night. Isn't that unsafe?

Not necessarily. Most municipalities require cyclists who are riding any time between a half-hour before sunset and a half-hour after sunrise to have lights. These should be a solid white lamp in the front of the bike and a flashing red light in the rear. Beyond that, and irrespective of the time of day, it is best for cyclists to make themselves as visible as possible by dressing thoughtfully. At the one extreme is neon yellow and at the other is asphalt gray. Always keep an eye out.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Distracted Driving

Is it OK to text while I'm driving near a cyclist?

It is never OK to text while driving whether one is near a cyclist or not. Driving is an endeavor stocked with risk, and any distraction (e.g. eating, talking on the phone, etc.) increases the likelihood of disaster. Keep your focus on the road where it belongs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Turning in Front of Cyclists

Is it OK for me to turn right at a stop if a cyclist is to my right?

If a cyclist is to your right at a stop sign or traffic signal, one of three things is going on. First, the cyclist could be in a designated bike lane in which case the law and safety require that you yield to the cyclist and wait to turn. Second, it's possible that you overcame the cyclist as s/he was approaching the stop which was discourteous and unsafe of you; you should have waited your turn. Defer to the cyclist. Finally, it's possible that the cyclist overcame you at the turn which was rude and dangerous of the cyclist; regardless, since the cyclist is more vulnerable, you should wait for the cyclist to proceed before turning.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Pullover (No, it's a cardigan, but thanks for noticing.)

If a cyclist knows that I'm behind him waiting to pass, why doesn't he just pull over and let me go around? I'm in a hurry!

Cyclists do not interrupt traffic; we are a part of the traffic! Image if you had to pull your car over on a freeway every time a faster motorist approached you from the rear. You'd constantly be pulling over and would never get anywhere. Consult the Car Analog Rule.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Pass and Turn

When a cyclist is behind me, do I need to worry when I make a turn that I might hit her or him?

If a cyclist is behind you, it is the cyclist's responsibility not to run into your car as you slow, stop, or turn just as it would be for any car that might be behind you. However, it is not OK to pass a cyclist and then slow down in from of them to make a turn, in effect cutting him or her off. Think about the Car Analog Rule, again. Would you pass a car only to slow down and turn? No. That would be rude (and likely unsafe) so don't do it to a cyclist. If you know that you're approaching a turn while you're waiting to pass a cyclist, do the safe thing, and simply wait to make your turn.

This often becomes a problem with bike lanes. Instead of recognizing cyclists as a part of traffic, bike lanes can give motorists the impression that bikes are separated and negligible. Unfortunately, this means that motorists will often forget to check that they are not cutting off cyclists who are behind them when crossing bike lanes to make right hand turns. Driving with the appropriate vigilance reduces these kinds of dangers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Passing with Oncoming Traffic

Is it OK to pass a cyclist with oncoming traffic?

This is one that happens pretty frequently. The answer is no. On two-lane roads with traffic traveling in opposing directions, motorists should never pass a cyclist if there is oncoming traffic. If the motorist gives the cyclist a safe passing berth, it almost invariably means that the motorist has entered into the path of the oncoming motorist. The equally poor alternative is to buzz the cyclist. Even more, imagine what would happen if the cyclist should swerve or, even worse, fall. There simply isn't enough room for forgiveness. The motorist has the impossible choice of veering into oncoming motor traffic or hitting the cyclist. It is best to wait until the oncoming traffic has cleared to pass. Be patient. Be safe.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Signaling a Turn

How do I make sense of the hand signals that cyclists use to signal a turn?

In the past, cyclists would signal a left hand turn by extending the left arm parallel to the ground and a right hand turn by extending the left upper arm parallel to the ground and the forearm perpendicular to the ground forming an uppercase L. That was the past. This system started in the early days of cars, before automobiles had electric turn signals. Obviously, a driver in a typical car, old or new, is unable to reach his/her right arm out the right window so the L signal was created. Cyclists have two arms that are equally visible and equally capable of signaling turns so most cyclists will simply extend the left hand to the left for a left turn and the right hand to the right for a right turn. Occasionally, some cyclists use the antiquated system so it's still worth understanding.

Another signal that can be useful for motorists to understand is when a cyclist extends his/her hand down with the palm facing back. There are variations on this, but they all mean "I'm slowing," "I'm stopping," or "Stop! Do not pass!" Of course, there is also the easily interpreted "go around" wave.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Riding Further Left

Why do cyclists ride so far into traffic? Couldn't they get further to the right so I can pass?

Often, the first parts of the road to experience weathering and wear are the places that cyclists are supposed to ride, the right side of the road. This is the first place that potholes and bumps usually appear. Remember that most road bikes do not have suspension systems. (Those are typically reserved for mountain bikes.) Every knock, bump, and rattle is absorbed by the cyclist's butt, legs, and arms. It can often be grueling, and many of us have the bruises and saddle sores to show for it. Because of this, when we can, cyclists will try to ride a little further left, into the lane where roads tend to be in better shape. The big asterisk here is that cyclists should only do this when traffic allows.

One area of shared interest for both motorists and cyclists is in the condition of our roads. We can work together to improve these. Contact your local, state, and federal elected officials, and encourage them to support legislation and policy to regularly maintain our roadways. Vote for laws and referenda that increase funding for road construction and repair. Stop complaining mindlessly about how unreasonable your taxes are without first acknowledging the benefits--like quality roads--for which your tax dollars pay.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bike Lanes

Why don't cyclists just stick to the roads with designated bike lanes?

The same problems that arise with shoulders often accompany bike lanes (e.g. dangerous debris and a false sense of separation). In many municipalities, bike lanes--if they exist at all--do not cover enough distance to facilitate rides of any effective distance. Moreover, bike lanes are often intermittent, disappearing when the road becomes too narrow to accommodate them, like on bridges or at intersections, forcing cyclists to weave unpredictably in and out of traffic. Bike lanes can be good for cyclists who ride relatively short distances for transportation in areas with otherwise intimidating levels of motor traffic, but they come with risks. Ultimately, bikes belong on the road.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Constant Speed

Should I speed up or slow down when passing a cyclist?

Neither. Like passing other cars on a freeway, you should maintain your current speed if possible. Revving your engine can be intimidating, and there is certainly no need to go slowly; it only increases your contact time. It is often necessary for motorists to resume a normal speed after waiting behind a cyclist, but even in these cases, motorists can resume speed gradually and safely.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Approaching Stop Signs and Lights

Is it OK to pass a cyclist when approaching a stop sign or a traffic light?

Think again about the Car Analog Rule: Would you pass a car when immediately approaching a stop light/sign? Of course you wouldn't! It's just plain rude. In order to discourage this practice, many cyclists hedge further into the center of the lane as they approach stop lights/signs. Take this as a hint to wait your turn.

Correspondingly, cyclists should not pass motorists who are queued at a stop sign or traffic light. Many cyclists assume that because they can pass on the right, they should. This, however, violates all three of the General Rules. All of us should be patient.