Friday, September 16

Wanted: Better Understanding Between Motorists and Cyclists

Being fully cognizant that many motorists use scofflaw cycling as an excuse to harass and endanger cyclists I have been trying to be on my best behavior to portray cycling as a lawful activity. I've never been the kind of cyclist that just blows through stop signs or traffic lights in busy intersections. I'm just not that dumb.

I will freely admit that if I'm on a lonely road with no visual obstructions and I come to a four way stop with a good head of steam and I cannot see another soul for seven miles in any direction I will probably not slow down or stop for the sign. Many may not agree with that, but I think in some rare cases the laws of physics trump a traffic law that doesn't apply. I'm not a situational ethics kind of guy, but sometimes I am.

CGinAKR posted a good piece on driving your car near bicycles yesterday. I've been wanting to tackle this subject for a few weeks and I've been wrestling with it and just can't seem to find my line.

But in response to her post I will add a few of my own pairs of cents, not really to correct anything she said, but to add my own thoughts on the matter. And my problem in addressing this topic is that I can't seem to pare away my anger towards reckless motorists long enough to compose a "friendly" post. So be forewarned.

Primarily I use my bike as a vehicular tool. It is only secondarily an entertainment piece. I need my bike to function properly in order to continue to effectively provide for my family. While my wife does work, I am still the primary breadwinner for our family. We could not get by without my income, and we live fairly modestly.

So when careless, reckless or antagonistic motorists threaten my health and my property with their behavior I take it kinda personally. Poor traffic etiquette on their part endangers the welfare of my family. I take safety while cycling very seriously. I do not ride recklessly, even when I ride my mountain bike to work and detour on trails, I am careful and conservative in my own behavior. I am always vigilant while riding. I do my best to maximize my visibility within the confines of the law and I am as consistent as I can be so as not to confuse my fellow travelers.

I want my personal space on the road. I need space to be safe and to be comfortable. Regardless of whether motorists agree with my presence I do have a right to be there which is granted to me by the laws of this state. The law also grants me the space I want and need.

Colorado state law allows:

(5) (a) ANY PERSON OPERATING A BICYCLE UPON A ROADWAY AT LESS THAN THE NORMAL SPEED OF TRAFFIC SHALL RIDE IN THE RIGHT-HAND LANE, SUBJECT TO THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(I) IF THE RIGHT-HAND LANE THEN AVAILABLE FOR TRAFFIC IS WIDE ENOUGH TO BE SAFELY SHARED WITH OVERTAKING VEHICLES, A BICYCLIST SHALL RIDE FAR ENOUGH TO THE RIGHT AS JUDGED SAFE BY THE BICYCLIST [the motorist gets no legal input in this situation] TO FACILITATE THE MOVEMENT OF SUCH OVERTAKING VEHICLES UNLESS OTHER CONDITIONS MAKE IT UNSAFE TO DO SO.
(II) A BICYCLIST MAY USE A LANE OTHER THAN THE RIGHT-HAND LANE WHEN:
(A) PREPARING FOR A LEFT TURN AT AN INTERSECTION OR INTO A PRIVATE ROADWAY OR DRIVEWAY;
(B) OVERTAKING A SLOWER VEHICLE; OR
(C) TAKING REASONABLY NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS TO AVOID HAZARDS OR ROAD CONDITIONS.


And then:

(III) (b) A BICYCLIST SHALL NOT BE EXPECTED OR REQUIRED TO:
(I) RIDE OVER OR THROUGH HAZARDS AT THE EDGE OF A ROADWAY, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO FIXED OR MOVING OBJECTS, PARKED OR MOVING VEHICLES, BICYCLES, PEDESTRIANS, ANIMALS, SURFACE HAZARDS, OR NARROW LANES; OR
(II) RIDE WITHOUT A REASONABLE SAFETY MARGIN ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE OF THE ROADWAY.


I love that Colorado puts in provisions that give the cyclist the right to make decisions (in a sensible way) that give them more safety. I know most motorists don't understand the bicycle safety bill, and I know many do not agree with what it allows cyclists to do. I know this because many of them scream at me when I exercise my rights under the law.

I've said it before, and it is fundamentally true: I can crash my bike into the side of a car as hard as I possibly can, perhaps even hitting speeds of 30-40 mph before slamming headlong into the vehicle... I can say with almost complete confidence that unless my body goes through the glass of the vehicle there is very little I can do to physically harm the occupants. On the other hand, if a motorists just nudges me as I ride on the road I can be seriously hurt or even killed as a result.

Whether a driver intends to harm a cyclist or not, the consequences for the cyclist are serious in a car vs. bike encounter. That's why I'm uber-careful when I ride and that's why I typically choose less busy routes.

As a society we need to stop penalizing the victims of crimes such as distracted driving. I realize sometimes cyclists are at fault in car vs. bike encounters, but the fault should be investigated, not just assumed to be on the person who suffered the worst in the incident.

Since we have laws allowing cyclists on the roads, perhaps we should use those laws as a standard when assessing fault and prosecuting careless operators, whether they go on two wheels or four.

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