Share the Road, Not the Lane, With Cyclists

By Beacon Staff

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding my bike up MacDonald Pass, on four-lane U.S Highway 12, on the shoulder. It was a mid-day, low-traffic time, and even though the left lane was available, a driver purposely hazed me by speeding by with his right wheel on the fog line going at least 80 mph. His mirror missed my helmet by about six inches. One minor correction to miss a rough spot on the road, and I wouldn’t be writing this.

Besides wondering if this reckless driver realizes how close he came to killing somebody, the incident reminded me of one of the first commentaries I wrote for NewWest.Net three years ago called “I Can Feel the Scorn.” I’m sorry to say that I can still feel it.

The column focused on the conflict and real-life danger road cyclists face every day out on our highways. A few months later, I followed with another column on the same subject. Many other writers have written similar commentaries.

These articles and thousands of other educational efforts have, it seems, had an impact on motorists who care; the courteous, careful majority who might not have ever been told how to share roads with cyclists, but I’m embarrassed to say, all this communication has been woefully ineffective on a small percentage of reckless, belligerent motorists who still need a major attitude adjustment.

The vast majority of motorists accept cyclists as legitimate users of public roadways, but a tiny minority not only refuses to share the roads with cyclists but tries to scare them off the road by hazing them at high speed, blasting horns, shouting insults and threats, freely giving out the universal salute and throwing lethal missiles otherwise known as beer cans. Instead, of course, they should be respecting and thanking cyclists for stepping up to the plate to do their part to conserve energy and stay healthy. After all, this works toward lower energy and health care costs for everybody.

In a time when we need as many people as possible riding bicycles for all the much overstated reasons such as energy conservation and independence and health and obesity issues, I can’t exaggerate how unacceptable such behavior is.

Some motorists blame cyclists for the conflicts, and some cyclists should more carefully follow traffic rules, just as some motorists should. Sometimes on my bike, sometimes in my pickup truck, I have rolled through a few right hand turns at stop signs, caught a few yellow lights, and even occasionally exceeded the speed limit. Am I the only one? I doubt it.

The point is, almost every driver, however inadvertently, commits minor traffic violations, as do most cyclists.

The fact is, almost all cyclists dedicated enough to go out for multi-hour rides on public highways ride carefully and courteously. They’re on constant red alert, and safety is the prime objective. You could call it “survival instinct.” Nonetheless, I guarantee you they still get hazed and intimidated by a vengeful minority needing an anger management class. It happens to me once per week at least – insulted and threatened while riding in a safe, legal manner. So, let’s not go there. Cyclists aren’t causing this problem.

Will this (or any other) plea for acceptance and respect matter? I’m not sure any amount of driver’s education could change some motorists, but undaunted, once more, here is a quick course on how to drive a motor vehicle when approaching a cyclist from behind on a high-speed highway.

• Slow down.

• On four-lane roads, move completely into the left lane when it clears and safely pass.

• On two-lane roads, never try to pass the cyclist at high speed in the same lane. Instead, wait for oncoming traffic to clear before crossing the centerline and moving completely into the left lane for a safe pass. No different than what people do when approaching other slow-moving vehicles like a farm tractor or road grader from behind. If you need help with your attitude, pretend bicycles are strollers.

The above tutorial might be lost in the wind to the road-rage susceptible who refuse to acknowledge cyclists as rightful users of public highways. But I present it regardless with the hope a few might see it and reconsider their hazardous, irresponsible behavior. If even one reads it and changes, it was worth writing.

Just in case you’re thinking it, I agree. I could just sell my bikes, stay home and ride my exercise cycle. But does that seem fair? Asking people to give up a favorite pastime and method of fighting old age because a few irresponsible drivers despise cyclists?

I know people who have had conflicts and near misses and given up road cycling. I could do this, too, but it would give a victory to the last people on earth who deserve it, so I’m not giving up. I’m back on the road at every opportunity because I know that the more cyclists we have on the roads the safer they are and the better chance we cyclists have of changing unacceptable driving behavior.

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