Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dear Drivers: Share The Road

I was riding my bike one morning last week on a designated bike route when I had a really off-putting experience with a driver that I wanted to share. I was approaching a stop sign when some older man in a truck pulled up behind me and started honking his horn. Repeatedly. 

Before I continue, I want to point out a few things. Under Tennessee law, bicycles are considered vehicles and have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as other traffic. Additionally, Tennessee law allows cyclists to take up an entire lane, which is what I do if I am riding on a street without a bike lane for several reasons. The first reason is that taking the lane forces motorists to pass you in the other lane. If you ride too far to one side of a lane, some motorists will try to pass you in the same lane and for me, that is too close. 

I also prefer to take up the lane to avoid cars parked on the side of the street. There is a phenomenon called being "doored" that happens when someone parked on the street opens their car door without checking for cyclists. If the cyclist is too close to the car when the door opens and they do not have time to brake, they crash into the door. A lot of people suggest that cyclists ride at least 3 feet from parked cars to avoid being doored and on a narrower street that means taking the lane. The final reason I prefer to take the lane is that if you ride too close to the curb in the right lane, there is nowhere for you to go if a car tries to pass too close. Being trapped between a curb (or a ditch or a railing) and a car that is crowding me seems more dangerous than riding in the center of the lane with flashing lights on my bike for added visibility. I'm sure some cyclists would disagree, but for me, taking the lane feels like the safer choice.

Anyway, back to the other morning. This guy starts honking his horn and since I was on a quiet side street with next to no traffic there was no reason he couldn't just go around me. I kept peddling and motioned for him to pass me. Instead of just going around me like every other car I have encountered since starting to ride on the road, this guy decided to pull over and lecture me about riding "in the middle of the street."

I was absolutely livid. I tried to explain to him that bicycles are considered vehicles and I had the same rights and responsibilities on the road as him. I told him that if I was too slow, he could just go around me. That's not right, he said. That would put him into oncoming traffic he told me before finally driving off. Apart from the fact that there was no oncoming traffic on that tiny side street, it really upset me to encounter a driver like that on a designated bike route that was clearly marked as a designated bike route. It didn't help that I'm a recent law school graduate who takes the bar in a few weeks and this idiot was arrogantly spouting off misstatements of the law to me like I was a child and wouldn't have the sense to call him on his shenanigans.

As someone who is both a cyclist and a driver, it doesn't make sense to me when drivers behave as though cyclists shouldn't be on the road when the law makes it clear that they belong there. Drivers may not like that the law allows cyclists to share the road with them, but harassing cyclists on the street is not going to change things and real talk: it just makes you look like an a**hole. If you are a driver who doesn't want to share the road with cyclists, why don't you try talking to your local government officials about putting in better bike infrastructure--separate and ideally protected bike lanes on every street that will allow both cyclists and motorists to get where they are going with minimal friction. And until that becomes a thing, drivers, please be courteous. Going around a cyclist is no different than going around a car that is moving slower than you. You may not like it, but that's the law.

***Although this post discusses some Tennessee traffic laws, it is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. If you need advice regarding your local bike laws, please find an attorney in your area.***

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