“What the fuck are you doing in the road? Get your ass up on the sidewalk! You know there’s a bike lane over here, right? You’re gonna hold up traffic! Get the hell out of the road!”
These words were recently yelled at me from two lanes to the right while I waited on my bicycle in the left turn lane for the red light to change so I could make a safe, perfectly legal left turn. The sad reality is that for cyclists, this is nothing out of the ordinary, and if you ride a bike around much, I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. An even sadder reality is that if you are the driver of an automobile and never a cyclist, I’m willing to bet you have been tempted to yell something like this out the window at one time or another. The yelling, though, is just the beginning. Far worse exchanges between motorists and cyclists are fairly commonplace as well, but I won’t go into detail on that here.
The frustration and animosity many drivers hold toward cyclists has for some time been rather perplexing to me, but I think I have come to realize that most of it stems from a widespread misunderstanding of traffic laws regarding bicycles. As such, I feel as though I should take a minute to state a few of the basic ideas here.
1. Cyclists are legally supposed to ride in the road rather than on the sidewalk.
When I lived in Chicago, there were many places where this was actually posted with the threat of a fine or arrest for offending cyclists. Sidewalks are for walking – plain and simple. This is why they are not known as “siderides” or something of the sort. The basic rule I think everyone should realize is that a pedestrian is just a person. As such, pedestrians should have the most rights and the least responsibility when it comes to traffic. The moment a person chooses to bring some sort of transportation device into the equation, things become a bit more complicated. This is why, legally, cyclists are supposed to ride in the road. So get used to it, drivers. Cyclists shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk any more than you should drive on it.
2. When a bike lane is provided and it is reasonable to do so, cyclists should ride in the bike lane. However, cyclists are not legally required to be in the bike lane when doing so is unreasonable.
What do I mean by “reasonable” or “unreasonable?” Well, imagine, if you can, a world where bike lanes are full of broken glass and potholes and traffic cones and illegally parked cars and road kill and horribly maintained, dangerous sewer grates and other such obstacles, and while you’re at it, imagine that people might need to turn left from time to time. Okay, now stop trying to imagine it, and just accept it as the way things are. Life is not perfect, and neither are bike lanes. When is the last time you saw a left turn bike lane? Yeah. That’s what I thought. So when I’m on my bike, and I need to turn left, guess who has to cut across a couple lanes of traffic? Try thinking of it this way: bike lanes are not so much designed to keep me out of your way as they are to keep you out of mine. That’s right! Cyclists in bike lanes can legally cross into regular traffic lanes when they need to do so, but cars are not allowed in the bike lane. More power (and a metal cage around you) means more regulation.
3. Just because you are in a vehicle that is capable of traveling at the posted speed limit, this does not mean that you deserve or should expect to move at that speed limit at all times.
You want to race? Go to a racetrack. It’s not my fault that you’re running late for work or whatever. I know we’re all spoiled with our smartphones and microwaves and what not, but seriously, get it together. It’s not going to kill you to wait 10 seconds until there is an opening wide enough to safely pass by me with your family-friendly armored tank. It might, however, kill me if you don’t. If you were driving, and a small child ran into the road ahead of you, would you keep on cruising because you’re in a 35mph zone and that means you deserve to always be moving at 35mph, or would you slam on the brakes and try to avoid causing a fatality? I think sometimes people forget that speed limits are actually meant to be limits. In other words, in a 35mph speed zone, you are legally allowed to drive at a speed somewhere between 0mph and 35mph. 35 is the limit, not the expectation at all times regardless of all circumstances. I have no problem with you passing me in your car as long as you leave me a sensible amount of space, but then you have no right to get all upset when you’re stopped in traffic and I pass you by. You passed me when we were both moving. Which do you think is more dangerous? If that’s so frustrating to you, get a smaller vehicle.
Share the road. Seriously, it’s the law.
For more information on bicycle laws in the state of California, visit this link:
If you don’t live in California, please check your state’s laws.