Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bikes and cars, cars and bikes...

I had a post all planned out.  Technical.  Pretty good info.  Then I read this and recalled a letter to the editor in last week's Point Reyes Light.  The link highlighted there for the Point Reyes Light doesn't actually go to the letter, just the paper's webpage.  The "this" link does go to People For Bikes' website and an article about how cyclists can be our own worst enemies.  In our quest to get along with automobile drivers on the roads, we cyclists sometimes alienate ourselves to drivers.  

The letter to the editor was titled "Assaulted By Cyclists" and describes how one 68 year old, local driver came to be assaulted by cyclists.  It makes me angry at the driver.  And it makes me angry at the cyclists.  In the letter, the writer states that there "were six bicycles riding three abreast, blocking the lane...  Then I passed - not close to the bicycles, but honking my horn continuously until I had passed.  I was expressing my dislike of rude behavior, as the Second Amendment permits."  Really, he used the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms as justification for his dislike of rude behavior?  I interpret his comment as he was using his car as a weapon to defend himself against bicyclists while he passed them blaring his horn.  That right there is a recipe for bad things to follow.

And bad things followed.  The cyclists were able to surround the car and stop it and that's where it escalated.  A lot of yelling and shouting and screaming.  No bodily contact between parties, but incredibly high tensions.  

The letter writer goes on to write:  "I have always wondered what these spandex idiots, these narcissistic sociopaths that seem to come here looking for a fight.  I am amazed that six of them would have the nerve to assault an old man in the middle of the road, in the middle of a Sunday and in the middle of town."  

There's a couple of things that I notice in that last quotation.

1.  Coming into town, the speed limit drops to 25mph.  The town of Point Reyes Station is small, spanning four short blocks.  Cars are parked along the entire stretch.  Twenty-five mph feels too fast when driving through town - that's how small it is.  There is no shoulder.  The only safe spot for a cyclist to ride is in the middle of the lane through town.  It takes about 15 seconds to ride through town if you're going at a decent clip.  
2.  The assault started with the driver of the car laying on the horn as he passed "not close."  The writer/driver even verifies that it was an assault on his part by claiming he was bearing arms as is his right stated in the Second Amendment.  
3.  I'm pretty sure that those cyclists did not head out on their ride looking for a fight.  That was brought to them.  Should they have been riding three abreast?  Probably not, but if they were doing it in town, even one solo cyclist riding in the lane could have brought on the ire of the letter writer. 

As a resident and cyclist in this small community that is part of a hugely popular route by cyclists of all varieties, I keep hearing from locals how they are fed up with cyclists hogging the road.  I agree.  There are a lot of cyclists, from big groups to a handful of riders, who do hog the road and don't or won't string out the ride to a single-file.  The roads out here are great fun to ride, but there are no shoulders.  There are no bike lanes.  There's just the traffic lane and bikes and cars don't have much room to share.  But it's possible.  And there are plenty of riders who are considerate and get along great with drivers.  I think I'm one of them.  

So, how do we all get along?  Not sure.  One thing I do know is that everyone needs to be more considerate and patient.  That situation in town would have never happened if the driver simply passed without continuously laying on his horn or if the cyclists weren't riding three abreast, but even that's questionable.  That event did not need to have ever happened.

Now here's where we get to a sticky point.  It seems that most drivers think it is illegal for bicyclists to ride two abreast in California.  The fact is, there is no law on the books that says riding two (or three) abreast is illegal in California.  The California vehicle does does state that "no person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."  If cyclists want themselves to be viewed as vehicles (I do), then this means if you are impeding traffic because you are 2 or 3 abreast, it's time to string it out single-file, or break a big group up into smaller groups.

This is what the California Vehicle Code says about operating a bicycle on the roadways:

21202.  (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
(b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

Practicable.  Able to be done or put into practice successfully.  This means that to successfully (and safely, I might add) navigate a bicycle on the roadways, it may be necessary to take the lane so vehicles do not pass in an unsafe manner.  In the Point Reyes area, I take the lane when riding through Point Reyes Station (even on my cargo bike commuter).  I take the lane when crossing the green bridge near town (there's not enough room for two cars and a bike to pass each other safely).  I take the lane when crossing other narrow bridges in the area (one down by Five Brooks, the other on Levee Road).  I take the lane when going through the cluster of businesses that make up Inverness and sometimes through Inverness Park depending on the situation of parked cars at Perry's.  Taking the lane in those situations is legal, prudent, and safer for me.

All this car/bike hate is a huge reason why I ride solo.  And that's also why I now fear the letter writer because he lives where I live and drives where I ride and now has an incredibly bad taste in his mouth for all cyclists on the road.  That's what I think about when I ride.  When I ride and I hear a vehicle behind me slowing up because it's not safe to pass me at that particular point, I give them a wave of thanks when they do pass safely.  Maybe that one act of saying "thanks, man" with that wave will be enough.  Maybe, if we all give a wave, that will be enough.  Maybe if drivers look at the group of cyclists in front of them and think "maybe one of them is my nephew, maybe one of them is my neighbor, maybe one of them is my best friend's daughter-in-law, maybe that's the guy who fixed my son's bike last week."  Maybe we can all ride on the roads together.  

(What's playing:  Neil Diamond Solitary Man - seriously, that's what's playing)


Bushpig.vrc said...

All we can do is try to lower the temperature. That said, pretty sure the letter writer was trying to cite to his 1st amendment rights, even though they aren't implicated.

Velocodger said...

I remember vividly a ride in the Gold Country a few years ago....
we were cycling, and taking up most of the road. A pickup arrived behind us. The way the driver was throttling I sensed trouble. I motioned my buddies to pull to the right and waved the driver past us. He immediately throttled down, gave us tons of room, and waved back. We ended up seeing him 3 times again that day, as we continued our ride and he did his errands. Each time he waved and gave us lots of room. The best part was when we stopped to eat and he was there too, with his Mom! He talked with us, and said he was pleasantly surprised to see us be so polite.
A little bit of respect and courtesy goes a long way.

Unknown said...

What I find sad Codger is that he said he was surprised at your courtesy.

I also live in an area that is considered a bike haven. Being both a motorist and an avid cyclist I can safely say that I've been mistreated more by cyclists than by motorists. I can't and won't stereotype the offenders because I've had all the use groups be less than stellar road partners. Roadies, MTB'rs, Urban Fixers and even Commuters have all pulled the stop sign blow, lane hog attitude, no signal turn, sidewalk blitz, and even the cell phone text/talk/no handed oblivious to your surroundings stunt. What needs to happen is to take the "share the trail" ethos and move it out to the roads.

Michael Hare said...

I'm pretty certain there is almost nothing I can add to the discussion except an observation that anyone who says or writes, "I have always wondered what these spandex idiots, these narcissistic sociopaths that seem to come here looking for a fight..." has no room in his shriveled little soul for logic or reason. He is correct on one point though. An automobile is a truly frightening weapon and anyone who choose to use it menacingly should be subject to the same sanctions and penalties as one who uses a gun or knife or club or whatever.

youcancallmeAl said...

if everyone would smarten up and buy one of your monstercross bikes the problem would be much less apparent!!

Dana said...

Johnny Cash's version of Solitary Man is very good.

I ride solo almost exclusively, almost every day, take the lane when it makes sense, wear t- or long sleeved casual shirts with my bike shorts and, for a while now, have lights on front and back in daylight. Except for the occasional kid (always with at least one other kid in the car) yelling to startle, most of my interactions with motorists are civil. I was driving a car recently behind a club (matching jerseys) of 40 or more cyclists, some riding two abreast, narrow road, not good sight distance. I could feel the tension building as cars stacked up behind me (knowing it wasn't safe to pass I just relaxed and stayed behind the cyclists) until finally someone about 5 cars back got impatient (still not good sight distance) and gunned it around us and then past the several hundred foot long string of cyclists. Fortunately, no oncoming cars. If someone had been hurt, either entity could have claimed moral superiority, in fact, neither possessed it. Problem is that both bikes and cars empower people (from different perspectives, but still) and instead of being grateful for the experience of either type of mobility, it tends to make both feel superior to the other humans doing the other thing. I'm with Velocodger, a little courtesy and respect go a long way.

Guitar Ted said...

Bushpig, I agre- We all should be trying to "lower the temperature" whenever we can. Great phrase and I'd not heard that before.

Velocodger has an excellent point as well. Be nice.

The sense of entitlement and lack of a realization that we all are in this together are things that are going to impede our abilities to get along with each other out there, be it in cars, bars, or on bicycles.

I do what I can to "lower that temperature", but every once in a while, I come across that individual that doesn't have their head on straight. That's when I'm not really sure what can be done, and the Law doesn't seem to be on our side much in this.

Anonymous said...

This needs to be read by every motorist and cyclist everywhere. Thank you for this!

Antoine said...

It won't surprise you to hear the situation is identical down here in New Zealand.
When I hear a car holding back as I take the lane for a narrow section of road I also give a friendly wave when they pass.
In NZ you can legally ride two-abreast but our roads are so narrow it is seldom a good idea. Doesn't stop the meatheads though, they are universal.
"Lower the Temperature". I like that expression but there is no reasoning with a hot-head, they're always at boiling-point - that's my main fear riding on the road.
- Antoine
Auckland, NZ