Have bicyclists “rights? gone too far?
For a decade, urban bicyclists have become more brash. In some cities, groups like Critical Mass organized mass rush-hour bike rides that tied traffic in knots, delaying commuters rides’ home by minutes or hours. They are hardly tactics that will win sympathy from drivers.
In the aftermath and as their numbers have increased, bikers have become emboldened to take over the road. That is, instead of riding to the right or on the shoulder, some are now riding in the center of the lane. Two incidents underscore how the they are putting themselves in danger. One was a cyclist hit and killed by accident and the other was a motorist who is alleged to have tried to make bicyclists crash into his car on purpose:
In the first case, a driver on the way to work struck a St. Mary’s County, Md., bicyclist earlier this month and killed him, police told the Washington Post. The driver, a 20-year-old in her Honda Accord, told police she never saw the biker. But the accident might have been prevented if the 47-year-old bicyclist had riding in the right, not in the dead center, of the lane, a major contributor to the accident.
In the second case, a Los Angeles doctor is on trial for allegedly slamming the brakes on his car to cause two bikers to run into him. They did, suffering bloody injuries. The doctor, Charles Christopher Thompson, was allegedly peeved over having to slow down for three bikers blocking his path, refusing to pull to the right and flipping him off as he passed. He is on trial for having pulled in front of them and, according to testimony, hitting the brakes so that bikes were sure to hit. One biker needed 90 stitches.
For a little perspective, Drive On sought out Jeff Peel, a program specialist heading the League of American Bicycle’s campaign for Bicycle Friendly Communities. His contention is that the road is “not motorist space. It’s people space.” Bicyclists are road users too, even if they travel at the fraction of the speed of a car. In fact, he says, that’s good.
“The idea is you are slowing traffic, which may be frustrating to some motorists but making the road safer for everyone,” Peel says. “Creating safer roadways and right-of-ways for all users sometimes requires taking space away from automobiles.”
Taking space away from cars? Ouch. When late to work, it pains a driver to slow down for a bunch of bicyclists hogging the roadway. In the past, you might have tried to steer around them. These days, they are right in front of the car.
It will be interesting to see how far this goes, whether bicyclists are allowed to stay in the middle of the highway. As the deaths mount, maybe it will become clear they need ride to the right.
Here’s a breakdown from Peel about where bikers can ride in various states:
States that require cyclists to use trail or pathways when one is adjacent to roadway:
States that require cyclists to use bike lanes when present:
States that require cyclists to ride on the shoulder when present:
A 1997 bike rally by Critical Mass in San Francisco, by Sam Morris/AP