Real Road Rules
Today our guest blog comes from Fort Myers Florida Weekly columnist Dan Moser, 2015/02/04 Outdoors post:
Anyone who rides a bike, whether it be occasionally or on a regular basis, can attest to its many benefits. Health and fitness. Social interaction. Efficient, money-saving transportation option. And, of course, fun, at least much of the time. Unfortunately, when in the public space that is our roads, cyclists are sometimes considered less-than welcome users. Being a vulnerable road user adds another dimension to the situation, one that needn’t be a negative were the laws and enforcement of them applied appropriately.
It’s no secret that I’m an avid advocate for vulnerable road users’ rights to our public space. In fact, I’m a big fan of kids (and adults) playing in the street in their neighborhoods as a way to take them back. And I absolutely believe that cyclists fare best when operating and being treated as any vehicle that’s a legitimate part of traffic, including using the full lane whenever it’s too narrow for a motor vehicle to safely share, which is in almost all cases since the vast majority of lanes are usually 12 feet or less, much too narrow for the required 3-foot clearance motorists must give to cyclists and remain in the same lane. But even though a local cyclist recently won his case in ctt court after being cited for riding near the center of a lane rather than hugging the curb (always a bad idea), there still remainsr a misunderstanding among law enforcemente ga officials, the courts, the general public and even many cyclists about what’s both safe and legal when it comes to cyclists’ road position.
Being a Cycling-Savvy instructor, League Cycling instructor, Florida Traffic & Bicycle Safety Education Program regional trainer and commercial driving instructor, I can confirm that cyclists are trained to be visible and predictable, thus behave as other vehicles, albeit slower and more exposed than most. Thus, one of the key principles taught is using more of the lane than the unknowing understand is both prudent and legal. Riding too near or within the gutter will eventually get one run into the ditch or curb or hit by a motor vehicle or its mirror. Enough close calls — or worse — will eventually convince the cyclist that it’s too dangerous to ride on the very roads they have the right to use, relegating them to the sidewalk or giving up cycling completely. In reality, delay and other problems caused by vehicular cyclists is usually far less than drivers and enforcement officials perceive it to be. As I’ve already noted but feel compelled to repeat, a cyclist needs to remain nearer the right than toward the center only when there’s enough lane width for a motor vehicle and bicycle (not in the gutter or on the fog line) to remain in the lane with the motor vehicle providing at least 3 feet of space between them. This generally means at least 14 feet, although whenever trucks and trailers are involved, a 16-foot lane is the minimum width where that’s possible. In Lee County, I can count the major roads with 14-foot lanes on one hand and none with 16-foot lanes.
Rather than hassling cyclists who are using the roads in a legal and appropriate manner, I’d like to encourage law enforcement to target blatant violators, with wrong-way riding being the No. 1 priority. Obstructing sidewalks and pathways with illegally parked vehicles is another easily enforced law, because, like wrong-way cycling, it’s so obvious and problematic that I’m baffled as to why neither appears to be of concern for enforcement agencies.
In our area, wrong-way cycling is far too common and universally explained away by those who insist on operating this way with the argument that they want to see what’s going to hit them, an astute but curious insight, although one that has a number of problems. The primary problem being that other vehicles — including law abiding cyclists — don’t expect to encounter head-on traffic in their lane. Also, operators of vehicles making right turns out of side streets and driveways don’t always look right since the traffic of concern to them is coming from the left. And being able to see only the backs of signs and traffic signals means a wrong-way rider is merely guessing at the dynamics of the roadway ahead, including through intersections.
Finally, since cyclists are usually traveling at speeds of 10 mph and more, a head-on collision with a motor vehicle is much worse than what it would be if it were in the same direction of travel. For some reason, however, these factors fall on deaf ears for many bicycle riders. Perhaps if law enforcement decided to make this very dangerous behavior a priority, the pervasiveness of it would decrease significantly. The same goes for obstructing pathways. For enforcement agencies, targeting both seems like shooting fish in a barrel to me, and something that could have a major impact on drivers’ treatment of and tolerance for vehicular cyclists while leaving the pathways clear for those who choose to use them.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.
Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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