By John Marsh
First off, thanks to all who took the time to comment last week on several of our articles, in addition to my piece on intersections: Jim Langley‘s Tech Talk looking at rim brakes vs. disc brakes, and the Question of the Week about rear flashers. (Click the links to see those articles again, and to read the many comments.)
Your comments, as always, were insightful, based on your in-depth real world experience, and added to the conversation.
Which brings up a couple of quick points I want to make:
- We sometimes write articles as a response to something we’ve witnessed or read about some aspect of cycling: Jim’s piece last week was just such a response to the Outside article he referenced; and my article on intersections was a response to an event I witnessed on a ride.
- When we’re writing about a very specific incident or a specific article, we may not be intending to cover all the aspects of that topic but rather keep it focused on that one incident or that single article.
- That doesn’t mean that we don’t have broader-based opinions on such topics, but sometimes it’s just not feasible to discuss every aspect of an issue in the context of one focused article. (I’m typically working on 7 or 8 articles each week; there’s just not enough time in the day.)
- Sometimes, sitting in the Monday Morning Quarterback chair, though, we do wish we had maybe broadened the scope a bit, or made this or that specific point in a certain article. Such was the case with my piece on intersections, so I’ll take just a moment to do that now.
Intersections and Safety
Many of you pointed out that where you live, it’s legal to roll past traffic in the road up to an intersection, or that you can do so in a bike lane, or that you have a “bike box” or similar designated zone at intersections to use. And some pointed out that it’s also legal in your locale to ride through a crosswalk.
By all means, take full advantage of your legal rights as a cyclist. Know what your state and local laws are that govern cyclists’ rights. (As part of this process, I just re-read Georgia’s.) And do what you feel you must do to stay safe.
A couple of commenters mentioned the “situational ethics” inherent in road riding. Indeed, all of us roadies experience situations specific to our own rides, locations, laws, etc., that influence our actions.
Just to clarify the specific situation I was describing last week: The road in question is a narrow 2-lane road with no shoulder, no extra space on the right at all for cyclists to get past cars queuing up. The ONLY way to skirt the traffic in this situation was to roll through the adjacent parking lot and then up a sidewalk. It was a clear-cut “stay in the road” or “roll through the parking lot” choice. There was no other way to get to the intersection.
Personal Safety Rules
I believe that safety trumps everything else. If you don’t feel safe sitting in a line of traffic waiting to cross an intersection, or you don’t feel safe riding across a particular intersection, then do what you feel you have to do to stay safe. I adhere to a succinct set of safety rules when I ride:
- Do what you feel you must do to keep yourself safe while riding
- Don’t do anything that could potentially harm a fellow rider
- Don’t openly flout the rules of the road simply out of expediency
That last bullet brings into play the “situational ethics” of road riding. If you feel you need to roll through a stop sign (in a place where it’s not legal) to stay safe, it’s your call. Same for rolling past a line of traffic at an intersection.
But, personally, I do not discount the rules of the road just because it’s faster to get through an intersection, etc. If I have to wait for a couple of cycles of the light (as I would behind the wheel), and it’s not endangering me to do so (and I’m not holding up traffic behind me), then so be it.
I’ve witnessed group rides weave through lines of cars at intersections to get to the intersection first. And I’ve witnessed cyclists roll up to a red light at which a group of cyclists is waiting, and then cross the intersection on red as everyone else stayed behind until the light changed. I would chalk up those and other actions I’ve seen as things I would never do.
I fully understand the need to not in every single instance follow all the rules of the road, for reasons of safety, etc. (situational ethics). But at least do your best.
We roadies value our rights to ride on the road, as well we should. If we want to be treated as equal users of the road, then I suggest (unless it’s legally permissible not to) that staying on the road whenever possible (and whenever safe!) and following the rules of the road is the best course of action.
I just wanted to mention one other potential law that may be in your area. I know that in some states it is legal for a bicycle to pass cars on the right side at a traffic signal or stop sign unless that vehicle has its right turn signal on. This makes a lot of sense in most cases. Generally, there is room on the right side of the road for a cyclist, but not always. Passing a car on the right with its right turn signal on is a very dangerous proposition, as they may only look left at the front of the line and suddenly turn into the cyclist.
Darell Dickey says
[quote=Eric]I just wanted to mention one other potential law that may be in your area. I know that in some states it is legal for a bicycle to pass cars on the right side at a traffic signal or stop sign unless that vehicle has its right turn signal on. This makes a lot of sense in most cases. Generally, there is room on the right side of the road for a cyclist, but not always. Passing a car on the right with its right turn signal on is a very dangerous proposition, as they may only look left at the front of the line and suddenly turn into the cyclist.[/quote]
In CA, it is legal for a cyclist to pass on the right if there’s room to do it safely. It is NOT legal for a driver to turn right without first looking to make sure it is safe to do so. It is also not legal for a driver to make a right hand turn if he or she isn’t first close to the right edge of the road (thus preventing a cyclist from passing on the right). All of this is independent of the driver using a turn signal. Cyclists may pass on the right if it is safe to do so, and the person wishing to change directions must yield to those going straight. To turn right when there is a bike lane on the right edge of the road, a driver is required to yield to cyclists in the lane, then merge into the bike lane before making the turn. Most folks skip all that, and turn across the bike lane at the last moment, creating the famous right hook.
“If we want to be treated as equal users of the road,”
If a driver ever break the law (speeding, right-of-way violation, etc), I wonder if we should stop treating all drivers as equal users of the road. Honestly, I don’t see how abiding by the law affects equality of users, though I hear this repeated regularly. In fact, it is when I’m following the letter of the law that I am apparently most annoying to other road users. And that’s if I’m in my car adhering to the speed limit, or on my bike coming to a complete stop, or merely riding in the center of the lane.