Our Turn



It seems even the Henderson Bridge is more crowded these days and this morning was no exception.  As I pedaled across the bridge, cars were backed up well onto the bridge.  It felt so great to go flying by them all as they sat in traffic waiting their turn.

As I road past the cars, it occurred to me that I apply a very simple rule… I’ll pass a car on the shoulder if I can leave as much empty space as I would like them to leave for me as they pass, about three feet.  As I approached Patterson St, where the road narrows, I stopped passing cars and waited my turn to make a quick jog onto Patterson.  My thinking here is based on one of my fundamental principles, treat the cars with the same respect that I would like them to have for me.  Believe it or not, it’s quite possible to startle a driver by whizzing by them really close, just as cyclists can become startled when cars pass to close.  Startling a driver does little to promote bicycle rights, more than likely it just puts a bad taste in another driver’s mouth.

I’m sure there are plenty of alternate opinions about this very topic, feel free to share them, just be nice 😉


  • Sep 4, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    First off, the proper place, according to law, for riding a bicycle is IN THE TRAVEL LANE. As for a motor vehicle, you are not allowed to ride on shoulders or sidewalks.

    Second, no road users are allowed to pass on the right. You must pass slowed or stopped vehicles on the LEFT.

    Third, bicyclists have just as much (if not more) right to use roads as motorists. If bicyclists are going slower than motorists, they should stay well to the right. But, often, cyclists can proceed much faster than cars or trucks; then motorists should stay to the right. Obviously, as a survival tactic, cyclists must pull over and let motorists drive at excessive speeds or occupy the shoulder illegally.

    Respect flows from OBEYING THE LAW, as described above, not by cowering along road edge. If motorists find this disconcerting, suspend their licenses and send them back to driver's ed.

  • Sep 4, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Sorry Alan, but I disagree with a few of your points here:

    First off, the proper place, according to law, for riding a bicycle is IN THE TRAVEL LANE.

    Actually, § 31-19-6 of the law reads

    Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.

    I guess it all comes down to how you define "roadway". I, and I suspect most other people, define it as the entire roadway, including all areas covered by pavement. When practicable, this is the key, I think it is safer for cyclists to ride in a nice wide breakdown lane; it is like an extra lane on the roads just for bicycles. The nice thing about how this law is actually written is that it leaves it up to the cyclist to decide what is practicable.

    Second, no road users are allowed to pass on the right. You must pass slowed or stopped vehicles on the LEFT.

    This isn't actually true. It is legal in Rhode Island for a car to pass another car on the right, when the stopped car is waiting to take a left hand turn or when traveling on a multi-lane road. As for whether it's legal for a cyclist to pass on the right comes back to your definition of roadway. Using my definition, I see nothing wrong with riding past cars on the right, using the shoulder, as long as you respect the motorists and don't ride so closely that they are spooked. The traffic in this situation was parked along the approach, so it was really a safe maneuver.

    But, often, cyclists can proceed much faster than cars or trucks; then motorists should stay to the right.

    The only time cyclists are faster than cars is when all the cars are stuck in traffic. If we go back to your first point and all bikes are in travel lanes, then they will be just as stuck as the cars and unable to proceed any faster. Are you proposing that riding along the left hand shoulder is somehow better?

  • Sep 5, 2008 at 5:22 am

    You just don't want it to be true. You need to reread the laws, as have I. "Roadway" means "the travel lane". Numerous documents point to the area defined to the LEFT of the solid stripe that defines the road edge. The only place where you must stay "within 3 feet of the edge" is where the TRAVEL LANE is not defined, as typical (though an intolerable public safety nuisance) on country roads. You can't ride in parking spaces, or grated gutters collecting garbage, potholes and sand. You are only riding on "shoulders" because state and local authorities have not adequately accommodated cycling in road design, as required by law. In fact, more and more roads don't even have shoulders, which makes you wonder where you'll pull over should your car become disabled.

    RIDOT advises that bicyclists "keep a steady line" along the right side of travel lane, not "duck in and out", which confuses (sppoks?) motorists and pinches you off. If cars are parked along edge or pavement is compromised out to 4' from where it butts with dirt, the line you should be taking is 7' to 11' out, ckear of both. Yes, that puts you in the CENTER of the travel lane depending on the venue.

    Your misinformation that SQUEEZES cyclists to the very edge of pavement MUST STOP. It endangers everyone.

    Unlike Massachusetts, in Rhode Island, a bicycle is a vehicle subject to ALL MOTORING CODE. This means bicyclists pass on the left, which I do all the time, even if I only average 15 mph. In practice, if urban motorists stay out of the parking lane at, say, a red light, I might slip by on right. Otherwise, I pass the queue on left, cross lead car, and resume proper place on right, often still in front of lead car until green signal. This defeats motorists whose general tendency is to turn right at red lights, whether legal or not, without signals. There are also times when I pass between cars, e.g., Apponaug, where to be on the right means you have to turn right when you want to go straight. Thus you wind up between right turning vehicle and vehicle to its left. If however, there's no room there, I'm compelled to pass on left, assuming the 3rd lane, then crossing over as above.

    You will find that most cyclists avoid riding in cities because of these issues. That's why you need sharrows (share the lane signs painted on the pavement) on multilane one way streets, such as Angell or South Main or Waterman, or multilane divided, like North Main or Promenade (too late for Blackstone). An alternative to disentangle vehicles by type is "bike lanes" per se. Allens Ave's bike lanes are on the right, but Promenade's are on the left; makes no difference, except where it forces you close to head-on traffic.

    I find it extremely disturbing that they are just finishing up this big dig segment of Allens, and the bike lanes AND shoulders underneath have disappeared (same as Greewich Ave in Warwick and Pontiac Ave in Cranston) . This "lane multiplication" without widening road causes countless accidents, mostly among motorists. My first order of business if I ever become the mayor would be to fire the city planner and league of public works criminals who allowed and participated in this travesty of justice, the most recent of many, many others. It's only paint, after all, not such a huge expense as the half billion they just spent to rush impatient motorists around. I have no sympathy for their gridlock and resultant stress. There IS another way to get around…

  • Sep 5, 2008 at 6:17 am

    You just don’t want it to be true.

    Alan, with all due respect, please don't try and put words in my mouth. I want cyclists of all ages to be able to travel safely, that's my fundamental goal.

    Where's the harm in having cyclists use the breakdown lane when it's wide and clean? This let's cyclists stay out of the way of motorists and ultimately be safer. If there isn't an adequate breakdown lane, the lane marker is wandering in and out (as is often the case), or it's just plain dirty or filled with sewer drains, then you are absolutely correct, cyclists should be riding to the left of the white lane marker and taking part of the travel lane. I'm not advocating that people put themselves at risk, it just seems to be a waste not to make use of a breakdown lane when it's wide and safe.

    Unlike Massachusetts, in Rhode Island, a bicycle is a vehicle subject to ALL MOTORING CODE.

    Which is exactly why I find it hard to believe the scenario you laid out, with passing stopped cars on the left and crossing in front of them to get to the head of the line, is strictly legal. Let's say I ride a motorcycle or drive a mini and there is room to perform the same maneuver you describe, do you think the motorists would put up with this? I think a maneuver like this is more likely to just piss of motorists. Can you tell me you honestly pass those stopped cars on the left with as much room as you'd like them to pass you with?

    In either your scenario or mine, I doubt we are strictly following the letter of the law. Frankly, I think carefully riding by on the right sounds safer than cutting all the way to the left and then across the front of the cars. What happens if the cars start moving and you are still on the left hand side of the road?

    On the topic of sharrows, finally something we agree on 😉 I'm 100% behind them and feel they are a great solution for a city like Providence once they are officially part of the federal manual of uniform traffic control devices.

  • Sep 5, 2008 at 6:25 am

    So you call me a liar, then demand respect? You just don't know what you're talking about.

    There ARE NO clean wide breakdown lanes. Clean unbroken pavement is the bicyclist's friend… even if it's IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAVEL LANE. Obviously, you have to possess SKILL to do the maneuvers that I do. plan ahead, watch motorists eyes, judge distance and time. Without skill, you should probably stick to bikeways and select side streets.

    I don't much care what motorists will or will not PUT UP WITH. I follow the law. Many of those you're trying to placate don't.

  • Sep 5, 2008 at 7:05 am

    So you call me a liar, then demand respect? You just don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Wow, where did this come from? I went back and re-read my previous posts and I'm not sure where I called you a liar. I did challenge you on a couple of points; the definition of roadway and the legality of passing on the right. which I was told is the law by a police chief. In hindsight, perhaps I gave this police chief too much credit, but I sure hope the chief of a police department would not publicly proclaim something is law that he couldn't back up. In neither case did I call you a liar. All I'm asking is that you not proclaim to know what my beliefs are, you did so here and you've done so in past posts, so I thought it was finally time to say something.

    Back to biking…

    There ARE NO clean wide breakdown lanes.

    I beg to differ, as I ride one almost daily. There is a beautiful, wide breakdown lane on 114 starting just North of the center of Bristol all the way until the bike path crossing in Warren. It's plenty wide for the debris to be pushed well off to the edge, the storm drains are well out of the way, and still have plenty of room for a bicycle.

    Many of those you’re trying to placate don’t.

    Assuming you are talking about motorist here, something else we can agree on. I see plenty of examples of motorists breaking the law on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I also see plenty of cyclists blatantly breaking the law in dangerous ways as well. It's the cyclists I feel we can talk to and help convince to take the higher ground.

  • Sep 5, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Alan peaked my interest and I did a quick search to see how Title 31 of the RI Laws define roadway. They do so in § 31-1-23:

    (h) "Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, excluding the sidewalk, berm, or shoulder even when used by persons riding bicycles. In the event a highway includes two (2) or more separate roadways, "roadway" refers to the roadway separately and not the roadways collectively.

    So Alan is right, the roadway is technically the travel lanes of a road. However, I find it really interesting that they go out of their way to mention "even when used by persons riding bicycles". What's this for? Why explicitly mention bicycles here, especially if they are legally considered a vehicle in RI?

  • Sep 6, 2008 at 5:07 am

    You PIQUE my ire when you dismiss what I'm saying offhand. I would direct your attention to well credentialed, LAB approved John S. Allen's booklet, "Bicycling Street Smarts", which clearly promotes (with illustration) riding in the center of the travel lane (pp 13 – 15), especially when you are moving as fast as other traffic, crossing over to left for turns, and utterly reproaches "curb hugging". I've also written definitively and extensively on these topics in my own book.

    Remember, bicyclists ARE TRAFFIC, have every right to use road, and motorists ARE OBLIGATED to avoid colliding with you. However, the responsibility for safety REMAINS your own, although the estates of victims have every right to sue and easily win whenever motorists cause accidents.

    Our streets are so congested, you can even find gridlock on obscure side streets. No longer content to ply boring high speed interstates, impatient motorists think they might save a few minutes cutting through neighborhoods, now polluted with so many 4-way stop signs that nobody pays any attention to them. So speed bumps are being added throughout the city. All this does is make for quicker accelerations between, more accidents, and trouble for cyclists. Capitulating to this horror, some cyclists stay home, others enable and promote it by their timid actions.

    If you really want to increase safety and save lives, what you MUST do is enforce existing laws, REVOKE more motoring licenses for cause. Multiple offenders go freely and ruin conditions for law abiders. Get rid of the bad actors, depopulate highways, remove signs, speed bumps and speed maximums (as they've done many places in Europe). When the price of fuel spikes, collision AND crime statistics go down. Ever notice?

    Sharrows are only ONE way to improve Providence's bikenet. Years ago I contributed to the Providence Plan, which designated certain roads as candidates for signs and striped lanes. Since then, a few confusing signs have been added and controversial (unnecessary) stripes on Blackstone Blvd. The Blackstone is no more bikeable now than it was; sharrows would have been better, but the priority speaks of how snooty neighborhoods get treatment first, while economically challenged sections are ignored.

    Sharrows on Broad St, Broadway, Reservoir Ave, and Smith St are long past due. The West End needs particular attention, since it borders Cranston. Pontiac Ave is one of three biking spines through Cranston with Narragansett Pwy and WSBP, so you'd think there'd be some connections to these and the Providence Plan. But only Allens Ave's lanes line up. A short connection from Texas Roadhouse (WSBP) to Frankfort St overpass would put you into a small park close to Pontiac Ave. Likewise, lanes on Cranston St would extend WSBP into the West End. There's an abandoned right of way and underpass of Cranston St leading to Union Ave. Beyond Union, there's a city park just above Pillsudski St and Olneyville. Harris Ave would complete an on-street connection with Promenade's bike lanes.

    Bike paths, per se, require a lasting financial commitment in construction, lighting, maintenance, patrolling and upkeep. In places where there's no abandoned rail line or blocks of real estate to acquire, streets can suffice. One way designations, parking restrictions and the like can create what I like to call "bicycling corridors", i.e., unbroken spines including bikeways, bike lanes and shared road that bicyclists can gravitate to. But, as I explain in detail in my book, it's much more than that. Corridors become foci for community improvement and urban renewal. Bookshops, cafes, salons line up with museums, parks, park ' n locks, police substations, schools, transportation hubs.

    Is it inconceivable that planners from different cities actually COMMUNICATE with one another? Cranston and Warwick have on-street neighborhood bicycling networks, not much more than discontinuous signed stretches but something to build upon. If you follow their lead, you go in circles. Without markers, they don't help direct you through state. Except for accommodations at key bridges and points in various towns (Bristol, Narragansett, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth), the majority of bikenet inadequacy rests on Providence's Department of Planning and the seated mayor. I'm not fooled by his cookie cutter speeches from year to year, promising action and reiterating decade old progress. RIDOT pledged to help him 3 years ago. Where are the improvements?

    If you want to promote safety, you also have to create a bikenet that extends throughout the state. Road safety increases with less twists and turns, long smooth stretches without dangerous intersections. So, too, does bike safety, places where cyclists can ride without bad sight lines, chances for collisions. Doesn't mean that cyclists are FORCED to use these facilities, though, just that they can gravitate to them. RI is so small, such a commitment only represents a few million dollars. They just spent a billion on roads. Did it satisfy needs? Why pour money into something you won't be using when the oil's gone?

  • Sep 6, 2008 at 7:16 am

    You PIQUE my ire when you dismiss what I’m saying offhand

    It is certainly not my intent to do this. However, I will challenge statements presented as fact, when no supporting evidence is provided. I try my best to site concrete sources when I imply something is a fact or I try to state it's my opinion. Perhaps I'm just reading too much into your posts…

    I would direct your attention to well credentialed, LAB approved John S. Allen’s booklet, “Bicycling Street Smarts”, which clearly promotes (with illustration) riding in the center of the travel lane (pp 13 – 15), especially when you are moving as fast as other traffic, crossing over to left for turns, and utterly reproaches “curb hugging”.

    … and this is a perfect example of supporting evidence. I have read the book and I agree with the section you cited. However, it doesn't address the particular situation we've been talking about, when the cyclist is moving faster than traffic or when traffic is moving significantly faster than the cyclist.

    In the case where the cyclist can move faster than traffic, they can do one of two things: 1) sit and wait their turn in traffic or 2) ride in one of the breakdown lanes (either on the left or the right). The point I was trying to make is that I don't believe it's unsafe to use the breakdown lane on the right, when it's wide enough, clear of debris, etc. I'm not convinced it's any less safe than riding along the breakdown lane on the left side of the road and then crossing in front of all the stopped cars. Do you have any references that discuss how cyclists should overtake vehicles in this type of situation?

    In the case where traffic is moving significantly faster than cyclists, the point I was trying to make was I don't think it's horrible to ride in a breakdown lane, assuming it's plenty wide to provide good pavement for the cyclist (i.e. clear of debris, sewer drains, parked cars, etc.). I have a hard time seeing how, given a safe shoulder to ride on, it is better for the cyclist to ride in the travel lane and potentially put themselves in the path of fast moving cars. Certainly, in the case where there is no good shoulder (i.e. it doesn't exist, is filled with debris, includes sewer drains, etc.) then the cyclist should be riding in the right portion of the travel lane.

    I’ve also written definitively and extensively on these topics in my own book.

    If someone is interested in reading this book, how can they get their hands on it? I did a quick search on a number of the online book retailers can came up with nothing.

    If you really want to increase safety and save lives, what you MUST do is enforce existing laws, REVOKE more motoring licenses for cause. Multiple offenders go freely and ruin conditions for law abiders.

    We actually had an interesting discussion at the last advocacy meeting about the DA's apparent lack of response to recent cases. The question was raised whether the laws needed to be changed, so that the DA could effectively prosecute these cases. Is it possible that their hands are actually tied and there isn't enough latitude to prosecute these type of cases or do they just feel it's unlikely they could find a jury willing to prosecute? If the former, then we should lobby to get the laws changed. If the latter, then it truly is a sad state of affairs.