So Where Should We Ride?



So Where Should We Ride?

Okay all our motoring brethren, it’s your chance to give us some feedback.  A recent article in the SouthEast Missourian discusses opposition to a proposed bike lanes, if it means eliminating on-street parking.  This got me thinking about one of my pet peeves.  Here’s the problem:

  • motorists are annoyed by slow moving bicycles and want cyclists to keep out of their way
  • most cyclists try to accommodate motorists, whenever conditions allow, by riding in the breakdown lane
  • motorists frequently park in break-down lanes

Therein lies the problem.  Cyclists who take the lane seem to annoy drivers.  Motorists parking in break-down lanes force cyclists to take the lane.   The reality is our roads are a limited resource and need to be shared.  In my mind, this means cyclists should stay out of the way of vehicles when they can, riding in clean break-down lanes is a perfect example of doing just this.  But it also means, motorists need to stay out of the way of cyclists when they can.  How?  If you need to park your car and off street option exists, use it!

There are places where I pass the same cars, parked in the break-down lane in front of a private residence.  This forces me to move out and take the one lane of travel, slowing down motorists.  I for one am tired of being yelled/honked at for taking the lane, when I’m forced to do so by a parked car.  Shouldn’t these motorists be annoyed with the person who is using the public roadways as their private parking lot?


  • Apr 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    You're right, Mark. The motorists _should_ be annoyed with those who park in the breakdown lane, but that thought is so far away from their mindset. The cyclist is in "their way" and the parked cars are just doing what they are supposed to be doing. I'm just glad that we have an overnight parking ban in Providence or else every single street would be lined with parked cars (ever been to Cambridge?) The scenario you describe sounds like Hope & Rochambeau on the east side. If on street parking is "free" and available, people are going to use it and not think twice about it.

  • MattyCiii
    Apr 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Most of us cyclists also drive a car. All I can say to a cyclist-driver is to use your car as a moving "traffic calming measure" when you do have to drive. Watch your speed. If you catch yourself doing 40 on a 35 mph road, throttle back and slow down. Follow all the laws, brake for yellow instead of gunning it.

    Often when I drive up on a cyclist on US 1 or Warwick Ave, I slow way down and drive behind them awhile. I figure, let the other drivers be pissed off at that jerk driving slowly in the van. Most don't even see the bike. And that's OK. A hit to my rear bumper will leave a dent, not a death. Also, those behind me actually change lanes to go around my ride. Would these drivers change lanes to pass the cyclist?

    Where should we cyclists ride? I face the same tough decisions Mark describes when I ride. We've all gone over our limited options in our head a thousand times. We constantly re-evaluate. I can't give a good answer here, now.

    But when I'm driving, I think I personally have more influence by making simple changes to the way I drive. Some of my behavior it is over the top. I'll give cyclists something like 12' when I pass. I drive a full sized van after all, if I cross the double yellow other cars yield to me. My hope is my exaggeratedly wide passing of a cyclist will demonstrate to others it's OK to give cyclists room when passing. I suggest we all drive similarly when we find ourselves behind the wheel.

  • Apr 2, 2011 at 4:11 am

    I like what you're saying, Mattyciii. I still drive occasionally (rental, zipcar, borrowed cars), and I've noticed that I'm much more likely to drive the speed limit and give cyclists plenty of room (than when I owned a car). I think that reading Tom Vanderbilt's _Traffic_ influenced my reformed driving style as much as cycling has. I think that patience is the key. I expect the motorists to have a little patience with me, and in return, I try to exercise patience as well by obeying stop signs, traffic lights, etc. I also have forgiveness for the motorists who make an effort to avoid me. Those who don't, I don't really let them get me down anymore (well, most of the time).

  • Labann
    Apr 2, 2011 at 4:33 am

    A glimmer of recognition… but it will go nowhere. If you rethink your role as victim, you might come to the proper conclusion: Big Oil, DOTs, insurers, motorists, municipal/state/town engineers and planners and whoever else enables them by commission or omission are a menace to society.

    By law, roads/streets are public space, not just motoring thoroughfares. Complete Streets FIRST accommodate wheelchair users (ADA), then, IN ORDER, pedestrians, cyclists, commercial/emergency vehicles, and, LAST private vehicles. In routine illegal practice, it's private vehicles ONLY, which has created an revenue monster that directly kills 1.3 million people annually/globally, not to mention indirectly causes cancer and cardiovascular diseases, collectively $0.5 trillion in losses. On average there are 40 million accidents in USA alone every year. Over the last century, OIL is responsible for more deaths than every other way to die combined, including ideological warfare, fact not opinion.

    Hard to imagine how society would survive when private motoring inevitably becomes impractical/prohibited over the next 20 years, but "ghost trains" between airports and cities, industry and public transit hubs, will begin to fill up and gratefully get used. Forced together without the shell of isolation, aggressive/destructive behaviors will finally be dealt with actively instead of enabled passively. Bicycling is the easiest solution, but only one among many to develop. Yet civil and industrial engineering hardly draw students, since you cling in vain to the dying paradigm of unsustainable blacktop laid over the dead to the tune of $1 trillion/year.

    Must rethink $7 trillion/year of GNP that comes from oil related products and their use but results in $8 trillion/yr in defense spending and as much in environmental despoilment required to remediate later. The net loss goes right into the existing $14 trillion in national debt with which you should be concerned.

  • Dennis
    Apr 2, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Again, how should we ride on the roads?

    My introduction to the roads was in a car, so I view the roads as a driver(or user). When I'm on my bike I try to imagine what I must look like from behind as drivers come up to pass me. This leads to two possible snippets of a bicyclist.

    First, you have the bicyclist that is trying not to be a burden to the motorists. She tries to ride in the breakdown lane, riding around those cars parked there. Aside from the trash, sand and glass that she rides through, what does this look like from 100 ft behind her? Motorists see someone swerving into the traffic lane and disappearing back into the breakdown lane.

    Second, you have someone "taking the lane". She rides three feet inside of the right lane, clear of doors and clearly in the traffic. If a pot hole arises the dodge is rarely outside of the lane and the bicyclist never disappears.

    As a motorist I'm going to be frustrated by both bicyclists because they are both in my way, slowing me down. As a Cyclist, I appreciate the "lane taker" because her behavior is consistent and smooth. I always know there is a bicyclist right there.

    Bike lane? I really don't care if there is a lined (lol.. right! In Providence?) bike lane. I'm going to use my bike for transportation and I deserve the same piece of road on Canal Street as I do on North Main Street, whether someone painted lines or not. The more important thing is for all of those folks using the roads to know HOW to use the roads so that we are all on the same sheet of music. Education is clearly more important than paint.

    I'm just some old guy on a bike, probably a crazy, tree hugging lunatic. I'm an extremist. When I try to tell my story people lose interest and wave me off as a fringe element. Funny how the attitude changes when I use the same situation and replace the Crazy Old Guy riding to work with Your Teenage Daughter riding to school. Try that the next time you have the conversation with someone and watch the expression on their face change.

  • Apr 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    @MattyCiii you make some great points! My driving has certainly changed since I started putting more miles on my bike in a year than my car. I rarely speed anymore and suffer the wrath of other motorists all the time, just smile and wave. This is certainly a message we should be working to spread, remind cyclists that when they get back into their cars they shouldn't revert back to bad habits.

    @carfreepvd also some good points about patience. I actually realized a few years back that I effectively started treating my bicycle like a car. By this, I mean I lost site of many of the things that first drew me to cycling, when I cam to realize it was a better mode of transportation, i.e.: actually seeing the world around you, interacting with other people as you travel about, stopping and smelling the flowers when they are in bloom. My focus became getting the bike from point A to point B as fast as I could and it just took the fun out of the journey. It's taken me a few years to get that sense back and I plan to never loose it again. I ripped off every speedometer I had on a bike, replaced clipless pedals with flat pedals on a couple of bikes, started wearing regular street close for the majority of my rides, and started riding a fixed gear bike that has a relatively narrow sweet spot for cycling speed. I'm happy to report that cycling is a lot more fun now and my patience is WAY higher than it used to be. I'm back to thoroughly enjoying the journey.

  • Apr 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Funny how the attitude changes when I use the same situation and replace the Crazy Old Guy riding to work with Your Teenage Daughter riding to school.

    I've tried this a few times and invariably the response I get is "I would never let my child ride to school on a bicycle!". The only thing I can say to them is "isn't that sad".

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  • mattm
    Apr 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    There are a couple of interesting anecdotes in this blog post about the other side of the coin for car drivers… their fear that they're going to injure us, and that because of the weight/size/speed disparity its for our own good to not be on the road.

    Fearful Motorists

    To paraphrase what I was told: “If I’m driving along at 65 mph, and I see a bicyclist in the road, I might hit him!”

  • MattyCiii
    Apr 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    When I was back there in Driving School, there was a person there who put forth the proposition, that one should never operate their vehicle beyond the bounds of control. Beyond the bounds of control! Meaning: If conditions are foggy… SLOW DOWN. If conditions are slippery… SLOW DOWN. If the engine sounds funny… SLOW DOWN!!!

    As caged in as today's drivers are, what with their five-star rated safety cages, all-around air bags and the like – there is one thing they are not insulated from is peer pressure. There are many who think 40 MPH is too fast on some roads, but press on to 40 and beyond because peer pressure. Other drivers badger them with lights and horns, making them speed up. The don't feel comfortable or in control at that speed, but they do it. Then along comes a bike…