Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Response to complaint about cyclists on the road

As an instructor of bike courses developed by the League of American Bicyclists, including Traffic Skills 101, I teach students how to decide where to ride in the lane when riding on the road. Too often cyclists ride too far to the right, inviting motorists to try to share a lane that is too narrow, and as a result, they tend to pass too close to the cyclist.

If a lane is less than 14 feet it cannot be easily shared with a motorist. When both vehicles are traveling at the same low speed, it may be possible to safely share a 12 or 13 foot lane where there is no on-road parking, but that is rarely the case. When the lane is less than 14 feet (see the AASHTO bike guide), cyclists need to ride far enough from the curb that motorists must pass safely. If they can't do so, they need to wait until either the lane is wider or then can pass safely.

This behavior is legal in all states. Most motorists don't understand the law as it applies to bicyclists, and as a result are frustrated that we are "blocking traffic." The corollary question is "Why don't you ride on the sidewalk/trail?" In a blog post at WABA, Jim Titus, WABA Board member from Prince George's county, discusses this topic as it relates to a complaint received by the Maryland bike coordinator. See his response in That’s safe cycling, not arrogance, says MDOT:
Is it right for the bicyclists to force sharing a non sharable road when they have a trail right there?... Perhaps we organize a campaign to put up road signs stating (no bicycles, use trail). Yes, I ride that trail on bicycle almost every Mon, Wed, Fri and Saturday and drive that road every weekday.
Your concerns are commonly shared by many members of the public. However bicycling has a lot of counterintuitive truths.

Under Maryland law bicycles are vehicles and bicycle vehicle operators have generally the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Bicyclists are legally entitled to use most roadways in Maryland including Jones Mill Road. Toll roads, interstate highways and travel lanes with posted speed limits of 55 mph or higher are places where bicycling is prohibited...

Why Do Bicyclists Insist on Exercising Their Legal Right to Use Roadways Adjacent To Trails?

Another counterintuitive truth is that generally roadways are safer than trails. Trails have higher crash rates than roadways. While certainly a car/bike collision can lead to serious injuries and fatalities, unfortunately serious injuries and fatalities occur on trails. Bicyclists run into each other, run into fixed objects or simply lose control and fall.

Trails often cannot safely accommodate the speeds that skilled bicyclists can achieve due to relatively narrow widths, tight curves, limited sight distances and sometimes worse overall pavement conditions than adjacent roadways. Another complicating factor [is] the presence of pedestrians, including children, dog walkers, and less skilled bicyclists. Often these folks are less predictable in their movements than motorists. Common speed limits on trails are 15 mph, a speed easily exceeded by skilled bicyclists. However a cyclist rarely exceeds the legal speed limit on a roadway.

Finally roadways often provide a more direct route than the adjacent trails which have a tendency to meander. So due to improved safety, less hassle with pedestrian conflicts, higher speed limits and directness often bicyclists prefer roadways over adjacent trails...

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Bruce, thanks so much for sharing Jim's response. I read it earlier in the week. Lots of great talking points there.

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