Three Foot Passing Laws and Mutual Respect

Recently a Facebook group member posted an angry response to how bike clothing manufacturer, VOmax Apparel responded to a comment on one of their Facebook ads. This particular group is a private group for former cycling industry members.  The member was aghast that a cycling company would suggest mutual respect and cooperation with drivers of motor vehicles. Sadly, a few others seemed to share his sentiment.

Here are screenshots of the VOmax dialogue.

I think that the reply by VOmax Apparel is perfect. Mutual respect is needed but far too often it is not given - nor earned. We need mutual cooperation to make the roads safer.

While the comment by the driver has some flaws in it about single file and such, VOmax Apparel's reply extends an olive branch rather than fall into a debate.

As road cyclists we often fear for our lives…and for good reason.

Deaths caused by cyclists being hit by motor vehicles are far too common. Often the driver is at fault for many different reasons; Sometimes it is murderous aggression, other times its simply distracted driving. Either way, being hit by a car, truck, or motorcycle never ends well for the cyclist.

As a reaction, the cycling community has promoted the “Share the road” slogan. Sharing. Yes, that wonderful notion of being polite and respectful. Something that we teach our children at an early age. Society works best when we share things and be nice to one another. Share your toys, don’t be greedy. Share the road, don’t be a jerk. 

However, some cyclists seem to have a political or militant stance against motor vehicles. And to be fair, some drivers have the same disdain for bicyclists.  Groups like Critical Mass do more harm than good.

It wasn’t always this way.

Before the automobile became commonplace, bicycles were commonly used by all ages. Originally paved roads in the United States were created for bicycles. Bicycling was respectable and valued enough that investing in paved roadways was deemed appropriate. As motor vehicles became more popular, they too benefited from improved roads.

Over time roads became more congested and the average speed of automobiles increased which in turn increased the danger to bicyclists and pedestrians. After World War Two and the end of the Great Depression, the automobile became even more affordable and soon became the preferred transportation method in most of the United States. Bicycles became more of a recreational pastime and less popular as a method of transportation. Even the sport of bicycle racing declined from being the number one professional sport to almost extinct in the United States.

Over time many drivers had forgotten how or never were taught how to share the road with bicyclists. By the early 1970’s, bicycling once again became a popular recreational pastime. The energy crisis of the 1970’s also rejuvenated bicycles as an alternative to driving.

Interest in bike lanes, bikeways, and bike paths (all ideas that originated from before World War Two) increased as both recreational cycling and bike commuting became more popular. The Rails to Trails movement accelerated the number of bike paths and provided a safer alternative to riding on the roads. Unfortunately, this segregation seemed to suggest to non-cyclists, that bicycles didn’t belong on the roads. Additionally most states have forgone mandatory written and/or road tests to renew drivers’ licenses. This is a missed opportunity to educate drivers about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists. This also makes for drivers who feel entitled to drive their car rather than having earned the privilege to do so. Ignorance is not bliss.

Most drivers don’t want to kill you.

Most drivers just want to get to the destination without being impeded.

Most cyclists just want to get home safely.

Bicyclists are our own worst enemy.

The cycling community needs to do a better job at educating drivers in a non-confrontational manner and not be condescending pricks. We also need to educate ourselves and fellow riders.  Most importantly, We need to ride in a manner that earns respect.

Things that bicyclists do to piss off drivers:

This falls into two categories; illegal/dangerous and uneducated.

Illegal and/or Dangerous

  • Running stop signs and red lights.
  • Passing stopped automobiles in a line of traffic. You wouldn’t do this in a car, so why do you think it’s OK to do so on a bike?  Some states do allow passing on the right under specific conditions but generally it is risky proposition and irritating to motorists.
  • Riding three or more abreast.
  • Taking the lane when it is not necessary.
  • Riding without lights after dark. There’s no excuse for this – lights are inexpensive.

Uneducated (both cyclists and motorists)

  • Unaware of their surroundings, poor situational awareness. I see this especially on group rides. Don’t be oblivious or uncaring about other humans. Don’t ride two abreast when traffic is heavy or on winding or hilly roads.
  • Most drivers don’t understand why we need to take a lane from time to time. This is an education and awareness issue.
  • Riding on the street when there is parallel bike path or trail. Yes, we are allowed by law to use either the road or trail, but motorists don’t always understand.
  • Don’t be a bike "ninja”. Wear clothing that is visible to motorists. Use lights – motorists don’t like surprises.

“Be excellent to each other.”

The bottom line is that bicyclists need to ride in a manner that is mindful to other traffic. I’m not excusing bad behavior by drivers – as a whole they have serious problems too. Cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles are all operated by humans. Let’s be more humane and kinder to one another.

The 18th annual Ride of Silence is May 20th, 2020. Let's do something meaningful to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways - Lead by example.

Be excellent to each other

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