Sharing The Road

Once I was struck by a taxicab while biking. I had just returned from leading a 30-day bike tour in the British Isles during which helmets were mandatory. On my first bike stateside, I decided to skip the helmet and enjoy the beautiful summer day, long hair streaming. Two miles from home on the return, I met the taxi. He was heading southbound and decided to turn left in front of my northbound path. I couldn’t stop. Instinctively, I turned with him to avoid a head-on. I can still remember the feeling of impact: hitting the grill, rolling up on the hood, flying through the air. In gymnastics parlance, I ‘stuck the landing’ only because I didn’t hit my head. I accrued a gash, nasty bruises, road rash, and a body twitch that lasted three days, but thankfully no broken bits. My bike was totaled which bothered me most. I was riding two weeks later. I’ve worn my helmet ever since.

Are you a bicyclist? A motorist? Both? Ever sworn at or swerved around a bicyclist while driving? Ever been hit by a car while biking? The latter gains you lifetime membership in the Car Club, providing you live to tell the crash story. The former may validate you’ve had a close call, a cyclist has not acted like a vehicle, or you just like to let it rip on unsuspecting citizens. (The last one I can’t help you with.)

I’ve been a driver and cyclist for over 40 years. Having been at the wheel and over the handlebars when sideswiped by the taxi, I have a few thoughts about the manners and rules of the road.

First up, cyclists. You can’t have it both ways. If you want cars to share the road with you and respect your space and co-create safety, act like another vehicle on the road every time you ride. This means:

-Learn and use hand signals consistently. (This does not include the bird.)

-Don’t ride double or in tight packs. It’s rude and makes it unsafe to pass. You are not in the Tour de France; you’re in Vermont and people need to get places.

– When riding single file, keep a generous car’s distance between you. This allows a car to tuck in, if needed, due to oncoming traffic.

-Respond to stoplights and road signs as if you were a car. It is dangerous and obnoxious not to.

-If a car is patiently driving behind you because of limited visibility or oncoming traffic, when it’s safe for them to pass, slow down and wave them forward. They are typically grateful and often wave back. It breeds good cyclists-motorists’ relations.

-Make eye contact with motorists before crossing the road in front of them or whenever possible. If they see you, they are less likely to hit you.

-Wear a helmet and use a bike light and mirror. The first is a no-brainer (or your potential condition, if you don’t.) Think about it. Helmets reduce the risk of serious brain injuries by 70%. Mirrors and bike lights help with seeing and being seen. Special side note to some parents: Think twice. As the safety net for your children (brain trust+care provider+role model), what’s the mixed message you are sending by insisting they wear helmets, when you don’t? You are protecting their developing brains, while ignoring the value and responsibility of protecting your own.

Second up, motorists:

-See us.

-Look twice. Remember who is bigger. We get it; you’ll always win in a show down of steel. Uncle.

-Please get off your cell phone, radio dial, FAX machine, and coffeemaker. (When did all cars become RVs? Or drivers the ultimate multi-taskers?)

-Give us space, please. If it’s hard to gauge distance, slow down and give a wide berth. You won’t be sorry. The last thing you need is a cyclist adorning your hood or smashing your rearview mirror.

-If you drive a big truck with mirrors, watch out for clipping a cyclist in the head or sweeping them off their bikes. Yup, it happens.

-Also big truckers, remember the draft potential of your weight and length. When you speed by too close, it draws bikes subtlety toward the truck body with a vacuum. We typically stay upright, but it’s really unnerving to feel like you’re riding a toothpick next to a dragon’s mouth, the teeth like 18-spinning wheels.

-Never swat or touch a biker while driving by. (Yes, I’ve had this happen, too.) They thought it was funny, playful, something. Not so much.

-When inside your car, learn to open the driver’s door with your right hand. It turns your body, so you can check for a cyclist before opening your door into busy streets. It prevents door jobs aka ‘getting doored.’

-Observe bike lane symbols and signs and watch for bikers approaching or passing on your right.

With heads-up and helmets on, let’s share the road by acting like mutually responsible vehicles and following the laws of the road and common sense manners. It’s not only sensible, kinder, and safer; it saves lives.

Besides, no one really wants to be in the Car Club.

Published July 2017 on as commentary

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