• Letter: Bicyclists on the road should move over a bit

    by  • May 22, 2011 • Education • 2 Comments

    The following (very polite) letter was published in the Wilmington News Journal:

    Bicyclists on the road should move over a bit

    I think it’s a good thing that more people are riding bikes.

    But why, with an 8-foot-wide shoulder, do you ride the white line as close to the travel lane as possible? I would think that for your safety and that of the motorist, you would move over.

    – Bill Mellon, Newark

    ——-

    It’s a forgone conclusion that most bicyclists who ride to the left of the shoulder do so to avoid glass shards and other debris tossed from the windows of cars. Gravel is also a chronic problem, often the result of loosely secured dump trucks or other construction vehicles. These two, along with other sharps often fill the rightmost 3/4 of the shoulder, and motorists do not see it.

    Letters to the editor, in response, can be emailed to: letters@delawareonline.com or use this on-line form. Make sure to include a full time phone number so they can verify you as the writer.

    Debris, even cigarette butts fill the shoulders through intersections like this one, on Red Mill Road and Rt.273.

    2 Responses to Letter: Bicyclists on the road should move over a bit

    1. johnbare
      May 24, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Should Bicyclists on the Road Move Over a Bit?

      Thank you, Mr. Mellon, for the recognition that more people are riding bicycles. That recognition is one of the first steps to making the nation’s roads a safer place for all users. However, your question about “why, with an 8-foot-wide shoulder, do you ride the white line as close to the travel lane as possible,” perfectly illustrates the challenge between motorists and bicyclists. The fundamental guideline, espoused by John Forester, the founding guru of Effective Cycling, is “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

      Riding on the shoulder, at all, puts bicyclists at an assortment of real or perceived risks and are, in practice by most bicyclists, balanced against the real or perceived risks of riding in the roadway. In reality, and in law, the preferred and safest place to ride a bicycle is on that portion of the road to the LEFT of the white line (the travel lane), not to the RIGHT of the white line (the shoulder). The second-class citizen syndrome has been enforced by most of the motoring public, accepted by most of the bicycling community, and reinforced by the highway engineering departments. Sadly, this combination puts bicyclists in direct conflict with the law and with safe, effective cycling.

      Due to a combination of poor highway design and second-class citizen syndrome, bicyclists are caught between a rock and a hard place (or perhaps a glass-strewn gravelly place). While bicyclists may use a shoulder as a travel lane, motor vehicles may not. However, poor highway design creates two major problems. First problem: shoulders, and most bike lanes, come and go. Shoulders disappear as roads narrow; shoulders disappear when they are usurped for right-turn lanes. Nevertheless, suffering from second-class citizen syndrome, most bicyclists will choose to ride illegally rather than ride legally and risk annoying motorists. Illegally? Riding straight in a right-turn lane, common practice for many bicyclists, is not legal. The normally preferred position to ride, especially in an intersection, is toward the right side of the right-most travel lane going in the intended direction. That does NOT include the shoulder or right turn lane. Second problem created by highway design: creation of a wide shoulder, with the implied intent to get cyclists out of the motorists’ way and provide them with a “safe place to ride” is inferior to a wider travel lane with narrower shoulder. Wider travel lanes encourage all users to “Share The Road,” instead of encouraging hostility among all user groups about who is supposed to be compartmentalized where.

      In addition to the legal limbo invoked by traveling on the shoulder, the fact is that the shoulder is a hazardous place to ride. The obvious hazards are glass, gravel, etc. The constant road sweeping by motor vehicles keeps the roadway clean and the shoulder strewn with debris. In addition to the mere inconvenience of punctured tires, these objects are one of the leading causes of crashes. The need to make a sudden avoidance maneuver to miss a hazardous object on the shoulder can easily cause a cyclist to suddenly swerve from the shoulder into the travel lane, in front of a motor vehicle driver who had compartmentalized the bicyclist onto the shoulder. And with deadly consequences. Riding predictably in the travel lane, where the bicyclist can BE SEEN and BE PREDICTABLE is far superior to riding unpredictably on the shoulder. Unfortunately, poor highway design contributes to the problem rather than the solution.

      “Should Bicyclists on the Road Move Over a Bit?”

      My answer would be, “Yes, to the left of the white line.”

      Remember, “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

      John Bare

      League Cycling Instructor #1023

    2. Anonymous
      June 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm

      I feel that the key here is courtesy. It does no one any good if we are riding in a group and everyone wants to bunch 2 & 3 abreast while there is a line of cars behind the group. The motorists will become angry at the lack of regard for their timely passage. It is fine to double up if the road/shoulder can allow. But on a more narrow road we should ride single file in a steady & predictable manner which is more courteous to those we share the road with.
      Like it or not, we need to help with motorists perceptions. Laws can change, and if enough motorists get fed up with discourteous riders… they will start passing laws the prohibit bicycles from certain roads. I read recently that in the midwest this is being considered. Some suggest legislation requiring bicyles with more than 3 gears be licensed by the state. This may come with some sort of training which may not be a bad thing.

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