Chief Blogs About Sharing the Road

Thanks to Andrew for sending this.

It’s always nice to have law enforcement remind the motoring public of our right to the road and their responsibility to pass us safely… even if they have to wait a second.

Today’s post in the Lincoln Nebraska Police Chief’s blog is about sharing the road with cyclists. It’s pretty good.

Sharing the road is not just polite, it’s the law. Bicycles essentially enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles on the public streets. Motorists need to accord bicycles the same right of way, following distance, and passing protocol that they would another automobile. I see a lot of impatience here. Some motorists view a slower-moving bicycle as an obstruction. Any avid cyclist has their stories of Beavis & Friend flipping them the universal peace sign, crowding them to the curb, making a right turn directly in front of their path, launching a Big Gulp grenade, and otherwise pestering them with obnoxious and dangerous behavior.

Note that Lincoln has more restrictive laws regarding bicyclist lane position than we do. Cyclists are not allowed to ride 2-abreast and there is no exception to the far right law for a narrow lane (however, I would argue the word “practicable” covers this, too… it is not practicable to allow a motorist to squeeze past in a narrow lane).

He covers “practicable” better than most:

Crowding the curb is a safety risk for a cyclists, so a couple feet to the left is generally what is practicable… The seam where a concrete curb joins the pavement is prone to cracks, crevices, and pot holes, so a wider berth may be needed. Some roadways have drainage grates that will swallow a 1″ tire and wheel. A row of parallel-parked cars is risky, and cyclists generally need to move out to the left by the approximate length of a 1972 Monte Carlo’s door. The right-hand side of the roadway is impractical when you are preparing a lane change, a left turn, or getting positioned at an intersection to avoid right-turning cars from cutting across your path. Moving away from the right side in these circumstances complies with the “close as practicable” rule in the law, and motorists just need to deal with that, treating cyclists with the same respect as any other vehicle.

And then…

Trouble is, some motorists don’t treat any other vehicle of any kind with respect.

I have said this before, other motorists harass me way more in my car than they do on my bike. I can’t go anywhere without the grill of an SUV filling my rearview mirror or people angrily speeding around me because I’m going *gasp* the SPEED LIMIT! Impatience and lack of civility is an issue that affects the entire community, not just us. More on civility in a future post.

6 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    This is an amazing piece of writing, considering it’s coming from a law enforcement officer. I applaud his presentation. He either is a cyclist, or has studied quite thoroughly the world of road cycling.

    How long is a ’72 Monte Carlo’s door? 🙂 I’m figuring it’s probably three feet minimum. It’s too bad he didn’t reference safe passing clearance in his message, but one must start somewhere.

    Keri, I would also argue that “practicable” qualifies in a narrow lane, regardless of the “far right” law. I’m reminded of the luxury of Florida Statute 316.2065 whenever I read of other state laws. The wording for the statute mentions that a cyclist can occupy the entire lane when it is unsafe for a bicycle and vehicle to operate side-by-side in the same lane safely. That “safely” has to be determined by the cyclist, not by the person in the steel encrusted cocoon. I don’t recall the state now, but somewhere in our wonderful land, there is a state law that specifies increasing passing clearance based on increased speed limits. Such genuinely intelligent legislature gives me hope for the world.

    Such intelligent law enforcement officers gives me hope for Nebraska and the world too!

  2. Keri
    Keri says:

    What the narrow lane exception does is make it explicit for people who don’t understand what practicable means (sadly, many law enforcement officers don’t and the media gets it wrong almost always – remember the piece in Daytona where there dumb reporter substituted possible for practicable). But even with that exception I know of people who have been ticketed and those citations upheld by judges substituting prejudice for law (fortunately don’t know of any here). The best thing we could do is get rid of the far-right law entirely. It’s discriminatory and redundant to the slow-moving vehicle law.

    New Hampshire just passed a 3ft law that increases by one foot for every 10mh over 30mph. I think there might be one other state that has written the law this way. It’s definitely better than a 3ft law that doesn’t specify, but ultimately it’s no more enforceable than the safe passing laws that have always existed.

    And yeah, the Monte Carlo door is a cute reference, but I say 5 feet between your body and parked cars. That way a swinging door of any size will never hit you or startle you into swerving.

  3. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    Keri, I too want to talk more about courtesy and civility. Not enough of it gong around these days, I’m afraid … but as cyclists, I think we can do more to promote it. How? Well, let’s talk about that ……


  4. Keri
    Keri says:

    That’s a good idea! How do all of you think cyclists can promote civility and improve the traffic culture?

    There is a civility initiative developing with the financial support of the Winter Park Health Foundation. I promise a complete story about this soon.

  5. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    This could take a while …..

    Let’s start out with a premise — “as long as safety is not an issue, think of others first”

    Let’s apply that premise — first on a sidewalk or a bike trai/MUP.

    On a sidewalk/MUP, the pedestrian gets the gold treatment. If you happen to be riding a bike on a sidewalk especially, you should be riding at slow speeds (10mph or less) for a variety of reasons (safety being the key one) but upon approaching a pedestrian (a) slow down more, (b) determine if you should stop or vacate the sidewalk in order to let the pedistrian pass. If you are coming up from behind, (a) slow down more (b) let them know you are there by announcing via voice or bell and (c) then determine if there is sufficient room for you to pass on the path, or if you need to vacate the path in orer to pass safely.

    I’ll add one more comment that I think applies to civility. I always try to catch the eye of the person I am passing, nod, smile, and perhaps say “Good Morning”. To me, catching their attention by doing this breaks down barriers. I am no longer “someone on a bike”, I’m “the tall, older guy with the beard who rides that black and silver bike and smiles a lot”. Seeing this person again, doing the same thing again reinforces this … and pretty soon, I’m expected, even looked forward to seeing again (especially for those I see on my commute over and over again).

    As for crossing streets from a sidewalk/MUP (no lights) and see traffic approaching, I again (a) slow down further (b) catch the eye of the motorist and try to determine intent. I get waved through a lot … I proceed through the intersection (safely! looking in other directions, etc.) but I als wave to the person and mouth a “Thank you!” to them.

    Now, let’s apply the premise to the street ….. and add a second premise: “If you want to be treated as “vehicle of the road” then you need to act like one.

    Starting with the second premise first … nothing makes a non-cycling motorist madder than to watch a blatent ignorance of the traffic laws by a cyclist. Best example of this — running red lights. I know and understand all the arguments, and how it’s actually legal in some states — but here it is not, so DON’T DO IT!! That’s showing your understanding of the traffic law and that you will act and abide by the law.

    Most of the folks reading this are familiar with the term “vehicular cycling”. I understand most of the concepts (read Forrester’s book, other readings as well, would like to take a class) and agree with the concepts for the most part. Where I think things break down is the insistance of a cyclist to ride in the lane at a speed significantly slower than traffic where the traffic has a tough time to get around the cyclist. I have a part of my commute that fits this description — 2 lane road, narrow, double-yellow line, no curb, speed limit freguently surpassed by traffic, especially at my commute times. Do I have the right to “take the lane” in rush hour traffic? Absolutly! But should I, when an (albeit slower) alternative is availabe (yes folks, the dreaded sidewalk!). Perhaps this is where the first premise comes to play, thinking of others before thinking of yourself.

    Before I get bashed for promoting unsafe sidewalk riding, I have spent time examining the arguments and (in my opinion!)I think they are somewhat overblown. If you ride (a) at pedestrian speeds and (b) practice vehicular cycling or defensive driving techniques when encountering roadways or intersections I think sidewalks can be safe enough for short rides.

    Well …… Keri, you asked …. so there you go as a start.

  6. Keri
    Keri says:

    Good comments Andrew. Very nice points about treating pedestrians with respect. Pedestrians have a much harder time in this town that cyclists, they should at least be able to travel hassle-free on the sidewalk.

    I totally agree about traffic laws. As far as I know, Idaho is the only state which allows cyclists to treat stop signs and yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

    Another annoying behavior is the insistence on passing stopped traffic. Sometimes it’s not a big deal – especially in a wide lane. But several times in the last couple weeks I’ve watched cyclists squeeze past 4 or 5 cars queued at a stop sign in a narrow lane. Then those cars had to use part of the oncoming lane to pass them (meaning they had to wait until it was safe). Would it be so awful to just get in line and wait your turn? Squeezing to the front often saves you nothing, and it creates animosity and undermines your claim to the right of first come, first served.

    You make valid points about narrow 2-lane roads with heavy traffic. I try to avoid them in my route planning. I prefer multi-lane roads. Essentially, most vehicular cyclists subscribe to the 5 car rule (if 5 cars are behind you and can’t pass, you should find a safe place to pull over).

    It’s important to keep the situation in perspective. Most cyclists feel a lot of pressure if a motorist comes up behind and can’t pass right away. But what’s the overall situation: are there left-turn bays just ahead where they can pass? what’s the speed limit/differential? are there traffic lights or stopped traffic ahead? Also, you can sometimes mitigate by choosing your method of entry onto a road – for instance: I turn right onto Virginia from 17-92 when the light turns green. I typically have Virginia to myself for almost the entire length of it, even though there may be a long line of cars stopped at the light behind me.

    As a solo cyclist, I’ve never had a situation where cars were stuck behind me for more than a few seconds. And I doubt I ever made a impact on their total travel time. The longest I’ve ever had cars behind me has been on Palmer Ave, where the speed limit is 20 and 25mph and I was probably going 18-20 (higher speeds actually make it harder for cars to pass). I have pulled over with a group twice… groups are harder to pass.

    You’re right about managing your safety on the sidewalk. And sometimes that’s a viable choice. If you are aware of all the sources of danger and keep your speed low enough to deal with them, you can be crash-free on the sidewalk. Also, a sidewalk with few cross-streets or driveways won’t have many conflicts. The main problem is that most sidewalk cyclists don’t know the risks, and many ride too fast on the sidewalk. The reason I harp on sidewalk riding is to increase awareness of the risks, so hopefully people make that choice with the information that will keep them safe.

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