Wednesday February 13, 2008

You can learn to drive: Part 5 (dealing with bicycles)

bike in traffic

So there you are, driving merrily along, minding your own business, and suddenly there’s a cyclist in the road in front of you. The lane is narrow, the street is busy, and dude is like two feet out from your lane’s right line, and he’s not moving over to let you pass. Wtf??

Well, you know what I’m going to say, but hear me out anyway. I’ve been at this situation from both sides, so I understand your frustration. The first thing to realize — and believe me it is a realization that is very far from universal — is that cyclists have as much right to the road as cars do. We’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic, as the Critical Mass folks say.

Okay, so here’s the law: The cyclist can be as far out into the lane as he feels he or she feels necessary. That means out of the way of parked cars who’s doors can fly open unexpectedly, out of any road debris potholes, and in the case of narrow lanes, just out in the middle of the lane. If you can’t without giving the bike a few feet of space, don’t. (Update: Commenters indicate that 3 feet is the legal minimum!) I know it’s frustrating sitting there with a row of cars behind you, but trust me: the cyclist isn’t any happier about it then you, and he’ll give you a chance to pass as soon as possible. Note that honking just shows you’re an ignorant moron, and in my case at least will make me move farther over into the lane before you try squeezing by and killing me. (Which, btw, thank you to everyone’ who’s passed without killing me — I really appreciate it!)

Four way stops: Yes, cyclists often run four-way stops. Yes, there are situations where you have to stay stopped for a couple of extra seconds, but trust me, it’s better for everyone this way. Imagine you get to the stop sign a little after a stopped bicycle; now you’re waiting much longer, because these things take a while to get up to speed. If you’ve come to a complete stop, and the bicycle is a few car-lengths away from the intersection, go ahead. Otherwise, exercise a little patience. Momentum is a beautiful thing.

Stop lights: Kind of a similar situation; bikes sometimes run red lights. When they cut it a little too close, a gentle tap on your brake is considered more polite then a honk of the horn. Oh, speaking of horn honking — do NOT honk at a bicycle to let them know you’re behind them and getting ready to pass. This is annoying, and may require the bike to move further out into the lane, so as to prevent someone clearly clueless from passing too close. Urban cycling is exiting enough without drivers going out of their way to make it more stressful. If you’re waiting to turn and a bicycle is passing, sit patiently — no inching up, please.

Special note to cell phone users: Look, sorry, but you swerve all over the road, ok? I know you don’t notice it, but that’s because you’re on the phone. If you’re trying to pass a bicycle and you’re on the phone, give the bike lots and lots of space to leave room for your swerving. Be extra careful. If you’re not going to hang up, at least stop talking. Thank you to everyone who hasn’t killed me yet!

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  1. Eddie Suarez    Wed Feb 13, 09:02 AM #  

    Thanks for the article. I am one of those who has been at both ends as well. And may I give a finger to the 2 drivers who buzzed their side mirrors within inches of me while I rode across the Tuttle this past Sunday. I was doing about 18 to 20 mph, they must have been going at least 50.

    And the law for passing or overtaking a cyclist is to allow for 3 feet of space.

  2. kingofrance    Wed Feb 13, 09:28 AM #  

    I also think it’s important for cyclists to acknowledge drivers that give us some space or wait and let us get through an intersection. I usually try to do a quick wave or something.

  3. Alex    Wed Feb 13, 10:14 AM #  

    3 feet of space. That’s important to add.

    One extremely annoying habit of drivers and dangerous as hell is to pass you when they are going to make a right hand turn at the next intersection. Now he’s cutting you off. I have had most close calls his way, especially because turn signals apparently are decorative.

    Also getting off parking lots. The foot or so of road they take before they stop and look at incoming traffic, it’s the foot of road where I’m biking.

    Re. mirror buzzers: many car mirrors fold in. If you catch the mirror buzzer at an intersection later, you could be kind and fold it in for him/her. The car it’s obviously too wide for them with the mirror out.

    (Can I also say please stop it with riding the bikes on Lincoln Road on the weekends. There’s a zillion people walking around. It can’t be fun.)

  4. alesh    Wed Feb 13, 10:35 AM #  

    Alex~ There is no joy greater then catching up to an obnoxious asshole at a red light, and the possibilities are endless. The mirror folding is brilliant, but maybe a little too obscure for them. I’ve gotten into a few confrontations like this a few times, and they’re pretty satisfying, but the sad fact is that the car is usually gone for good. I suppose jotting down license plates is a possibility?

    king~ There’s a whole positive angle to all of this, which maybe i’ll get into another time. But yes. Sometimes a wave is impossible, but a nod, at least.

    Eddie~ 3 feet. Got it, thanks!

  5. Guv    Wed Feb 13, 10:43 AM #  

    Question: On the subject of urban commuting, how goofy would you consider a folding kick-scooter (not a kids’ razor, but one designed for adult commuters)? Pretty dorky, right? I still want one…

  6. Darren    Wed Feb 13, 10:45 AM #  

    What ever happened to riding your bike on the bike paths they put in years ago? Like the one almost all the way down Old Cutler road. Maybe I’m wrong but more bikers should use that.

  7. Harryhood    Wed Feb 13, 11:14 AM #  

    I like how you mention that bikers are traffic, and then approve of them running stop signs and red lights! They are vehicles and can be pulled over for not obeying traffic laws…I have seen it happen.

  8. alesh    Wed Feb 13, 11:25 AM #  

    Guv~ I’m not sure i know exactly what you mean, but if it has a 2-stroke engine (which it probably does), just be aware that the emissions out of those things are worse then the biggest SUV. Very bad for the environment. And I’d still get sweaty on one of those, so for me it doesn’t make sense.

    Darren~ It’s out of my way, but I’ve riden that bike path. It BITES. Pavement full of holes and root-bumps, windy, and dangerous intersections. They should have just made the road a little wider and done a bike lane, which is much safer.

    Harryhood~ Yes, I’m aware of the contradiction. The short answer is that bikes are saving the planet, so cut them a little slack. More later. (You’re right that we’re subject to traffic laws, but I’ve run red lights (safely!) right in front of cops and they’ve been cool with it.)

  9. Guv    Wed Feb 13, 02:38 PM #  

    I am talking about the old-school leg-power push scooter. That’s where the potential for extreme dorkiness comes in. The one I want is made by a company called Xootr. Sweatiness is part of the deal, but since I am mainly trying to avoid using my car/gasoline for my ~1 mile gym/grocery store/shopping trips, not so big a deal.

    Didn’t know that about the mini-scooter emissions, though. Interesting.

  10. alesh    Wed Feb 13, 04:51 PM #  

    Oh. With a hand brake? Yeah, that is pretty dorky. Too, where do you put your groceries?

  11. Guv    Wed Feb 13, 09:20 PM #  

    Ha! Yes, I still have not decided whether I am woman enough to deal with the dork-factor, scooting around with a purse/bag of groceries.

    I’d bike, but how does one keep one’s bike from being stolen on South Beach?

  12. Alex    Thu Feb 14, 12:02 AM #  

    For maximum dorkiness, get the Trikke

  13. Carol R Hill    Thu Feb 14, 08:44 AM #  

    In the very first place when I was growing-up you had to go class to learn how to drive a bike. You had to earn a licence to drive a bike there was a hand book that you had to read take a road test and all of that before you even got to ride in the street. Second if there was a sidewalk there is where you rode and if you did not and a cop was around you got a ticket for getting in the way of car traffic. Third when you rode in the street you had to be facing the traffic not your back to it and again if you did not and a cop was around again you would get a ticket. Bikes really scare me and that is a fact.
    I just wish people on bikes would first of all wear more protection and be careful but they think they own the road and they don’t, nobody ownes the road. Everyone should use their brain and be careful no matter what you are riding or driving and that is a fact.

  14. Crumbs    Thu Feb 14, 09:50 AM #  

    In heavy traffic w/ a substantial amount of A-holes, I’m not afraid to ride with one key in hand, arm out towards cars. People seem to fear their paint being keyed more than killing someone – so if that gives me my 3 feet, so be it. When in Rome…

  15. alesh    Thu Feb 14, 10:44 AM #  


    No wonder you’re scared of bikes — you were taught how to ride one all wrong!! I don’t know where you grew up, but we now know that riding in the direction of traffic and in the street is the safest for everyone.

  16. Mickey    Thu Feb 14, 11:34 AM #  

    Why is it that so many bikers do not have a bell? It is a law in Dade County, so what gives? I often ride the bike paths, and pedestrians are so grateful to get a little warning when I come along. My husband just got an electric skateboard. It goes pretty fast, and, when combined with the metrorail, he can get all over the place quickly. I have also raised his life insurance policy.

  17. IJ    Fri Feb 15, 12:14 PM #  

    Interesting article….maybe we should forward it to our City Officials :)