Saturday, July 23, 2011

Open letter to drivers about bikes

     This is not going to be a rant against drivers. The purpose of this post is to educate about and discuss safe driving practices around bikes. I think as far a bikers go I'm pretty lenient about what I consider acceptable driving around me. That said, there is one area where I have no flexibility:

My life depends on it
I don't care if you're young or old, put the phone away when you're behind the wheel. Whether the law says so or not, you are controlling a deadly weapon flying down the road. Respect that your car can easily kill a person on a bike, a pedestrian, somebody stuck with a flat tire, somebody's dog or any other person or animal that happens to be near the road. If you need more convincing watch the disturbing video below, if you believe me you can scoot past the video into the meat of this post.

Section 1: Passing on a straightaway

I don't ask for much...I don't even ask for the requisite three feet as long as you pass carefully. However, on most roads drivers can give bikers on the shoulder three feet without crossing the yellow center line.

The amount of room you give a cyclist is
proportional to the speed you are traveling.
So, if you want to pass a cyclist at full speed I recommend you take the opposite lane as if you were passing another car.  Why? you ask do I need so much room as a cyclist. Bikes have two wheels, which makes them inherently unstable, especially at slow speeds. It's not that we can't ride in a straight line, but you have to keep in mind our vehicle is very different from yours. Obstacles that may seem insignificant to you in your car are substantial to a cyclist and may require a quick swerve that takes us off the shoulder and into your lane. If you are passing very close at a very high speed and the cyclist needs to avoid an obstacle this can be a deadly situation.
      Another alternative is to pass close but slowly. And I open the floor to other cyclists and drivers in the comments because I don't expect every cyclist to agree with this point. I don't mind if cars pass extremely close (down to a one foot buffer) as long as they do it very slowly. The reason I'm okay with this is that I can see it coming and can plan accordingly. If there is oncoming traffic there often isn't much option besides waiting behind me.

Section 2: Curves and Hills

     Curves and hills reduce visibility and increase danger to my life and limb. I've often had cars head across the yellow line on a blind curve to pass me. I tell you what, this scares the crap out of me, and I'll tell you why. If another car comes around the blind curve the car passing me will forget altogether why they are in the opposite lane and swerve right back...into me. It's not that the driver is malicious, it's just physics and self-preservation, oncoming car or bike? 
     My advice for passing on curves or hills is to avoid doing it unless you can stay in your lane. As a cyclist I am very aware of cars in my vicinity. I am also aware of your visibility issues. Generally, if I'm riding in front of a car, my visibility is better than the driver's. 

On a blind left my sightline for oncoming traffic
is better than a car behind me.

The same is true when cresting a hill.
   In cases like the two illustrated above, I try to signal to drivers when it is safe to pass.  However, as a driver, in the end, it is your responsibility to not get in an accident. I may also give a signal that it is not safe to pass when oncoming traffic is hidden from your view. 

I have been known to let cars know
when the coast is clear for passing.
     The conclusion to this section is just to not pass bikes on blind curves and hills unless you are absolutely sure it is safe. Some cyclists, myself included will signal if we can see a clear route for you, but it is not our duty to do so, I just consider it a courtesy. And even if you get a signal from a cyclist, the curve or hill should be treated with extreme caution, until your visibility is clear.

    I don't hate cars. I share the road with them every day. For the most part drivers are courteous and kind. There are exceptions, some drivers are just too confident with their driving and think passing a bike fast and close, or where they have no visibility is ok, others are straight up assholes that yell and honk as they pass. The assholes I'm pretty sure can't be cured, I'm reaching out to the overconfident with this post.

      I welcome comments of agreement or argument, especially from other cyclists and drivers that pass cyclists on a regular basis. 

1 comment:

Chandra said...

Hi Tabb,
Nice, useful post, Tabb. I also signal cars behind me, not to pass me, if the coast is not clear. I think that is a great idea. I don't ride on many hilly roads here, but I believe your pointers for hilly conditions will be useful to many, as they are to me.

Good on you to post this, PSA type post!

Peace :)