Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Staying Safe: Cyclists and Drivers

Last month, I put up a survey regarding road safety for cyclists and drivers.

That post was inspired by my third "close call" of the year while riding. I was riding on Baxter Boulevard here in Portland, in the dedicated cycling lane. I was coming back into town from Veranda Street. A car made a left turn into the parking lot for Payson Park, pulled a U-turn, and came directly back out into the travel lane.

Which, if you get the hint of this story, would mean he was directly turning into my path. I swerved far left, but he kept moving out further and further into the lane. I slammed on the brakes, prayed I wouldn't eat asphalt, yelled out for him to stop. I managed to not eat it. He managed to not stop and stomped on the accelerator away. A bunch of pedestrians came over, made sure I was OK, and went on with their day.

I don't begrudge that driver; everybody makes mistakes while driving. If I were a car, the result would've been an accident; he just didn't look. Or didn't judge my speed. Or...

At the end of the day, it didn't matter that I was a cyclist, or a runner, or a vehicle. It was the lack of attention or clear judgment that was the issue.

This is why that survey was created: to see what kinds of responses I would get in terms of awareness, judgment, and knowledge of the rules of the road. I biased the questions towards the state of Maine, simply because it's where I ride.

The questions, for those that were wondering, were as follows:

  • According to Maine state law, a cyclist must ride where?
  • A cyclist is considered a _______ for traffic law purposes:
  • To legally pass a cyclist, a driver must give this amount of room on the road:
  • When approaching a stop sign or a red light, a cyclist is to:
  • Which statement best describes a typical day of driving: "It was unusual because there were a lot of cyclists on the road today" -or- "It was unusual because there were no cyclists on the road today."
  • What kinds of roads do you find unfit for cyclists?
  • If a driver has a right-of-way in a particular traffic situation, and a cyclist approaches, what should the driver do?
  • What changes to the law, or best practices, would best improve conditions for both cyclists and drivers.
  • Have you, as either a driver or a cyclist, had a close call situation? If yes, describe.
  • Additional feedback, if seen fit.
The Correct Answers
Please remember that these are only for the state of Maine.

According to 29-A §2063(2), a cyclist is to ride as far to the right as is practicable, except when it is unsafe to do so, or when necessary to avoid hazardous conditions. Hazardous conditions include avoiding glass, potholes, other cyclists, pedestrians, parallel parked vehicles, or if the lane does not include enough width for a vehicle or a cyclist to safely occupy the same lane. This is often why you will see cyclists not on the shoulder of the road, even if the road has a substantial width to that shoulder: if it's not safe, a cyclist will move out further into the lane of travel. Correct responses: 81.8%.

For traffic law purposes, according to §2063(5), a cyclist has all the rights, duties, and considerations as a motor vehicle, unless otherwise excepted. Correct responses: 81.8%

To legally pass a cyclist, a driver is required to give a MINIMUM of three feet to pass a cyclist. This is codified in §2070(1-A). A driver may only pass is a no passing zone when it is safe to give this amount of room to the cyclist. This is a relatively new change to the law, enacted in 2009. Correct responses: 81%.

As talked about above in §2063(5), a cyclist has all the same duties as a motor vehicle. So if you're coming to a stop sign or a red light, you must stop, just like you would in a car. This does not mean "roll through." This does not mean, "well, I'm taking a right hand turn, so I'll just keep going." This means you STOP. Sure, it's going to take an extra 15 seconds for you to accelerate back up to speed. But it's what needs to be done to keep you safe out there! Correct responses: 95.2%.

Drivers: when you have the right of way, and a bike approaches, you still have the right of way. Although I appreciate you trying to be nice by letting me go ahead of you, etc. I don't know what the car behind you is going to try and do. He may try to swerve around, wondering why you aren't going anywhere. Predictability in your actions are the key to keeping everyone safe. Correct responses: 90.9%.

The Opinion Questions
To be honest, this was the part of the survey that I was most interested in: to see what people had to say in regards to what kinds of roads they felt were unsafe, close calls, and what to do to help keep people safe.

There was a small, yet very vocal, contingency that would like to see bicycles only on dedicated pathways or for there to be taxes levied against cyclists in order to be on the roads. This was attempted previously, as I wrote about in this piece on this blog. In 2011, House Proposal 880 would have instituted an additional 2% sales tax on bicycles, for the purpose of establishing bikeways. Bikeway, though, meant "for use by cyclists and pedestrians." It received death by committee last May with a unanimous "ought not to pass" vote.

What of pedestrians on roadways? Are they, too, not paying their own way to be out on the roads? Where is the public outcry against runners or walkers on the shoulders of roads? How is riding a bike different? As somebody who drives, rides, runs, and walks on many of the same paths and roads...I would rather pay more as a driver to help subsidize healthy activities like cycling, running, and walking. And then try to make those activities as safe as we can on public roads.

Both cyclists and drivers alike have had their fair share of close calls. Awareness of the laws, on both sides, is imperative. Cyclists: do what you can to be predictable in your actions. Give hand signals. Don't act like a squirrel. Be visible. Be bright. Drivers: know the rules to pass a cyclist. Personal pet peeve: do not, do not, do NOT pass me to then make a right hand turn in front of me. Odds are I will be introduced to your bumper. I can't stop that quickly, especially on downhill slopes. Give us a fighting chance here.

I think the most telling response of all was to the "which best describes your day of driving" question. The majority of responses said that "it was unusual because there were a lot of cyclists on the road today." This means that, much like this piece on Slowtwitch noted, it is still unexpected to see a cyclist out on the roads. That's problematic when you're trying to keep everybody safe when you don't expect to see a person out there riding; you don't know how to react.

Which leads me back to the original point of awareness and paying attention: please, be aware that cyclists are out there. Cyclists, be aware that you're responsible, too. You're not entitled to act as you please out there; you're still bound by the law, too. But when you're riding within the rules of the road, you should have an expectation that drivers will take care of you, too: offering the same amount of respect as they would owe to a fellow driver.

And finally: we are all people. We make mistakes. We screw up. Drivers are going to occasionally forget to look. Cyclists are going to occasionally jump out into the road when surfaces change abruptly (I'm looking at you, Route 115 in Yarmouth.) It doesn't make either party an asshole. It means they made a mistake. Forgive a little bit. If you get to have a conversation with them about it, it helps make everybody aware. But we've all got families; we're all just trying to make it home to them. And remembering that, no matter what we're doing, will go a long way.

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