My recent blog on “7 mistakes that people riding bikes make and how to correct them” seemed to garner a lot of attention from people that like to ride their bikes. It occurred to me that maybe a similar blog that talks to drivers and their misunderstanding of those of us that chose to ride a bike might be helpful as well. I wondered of course how many drivers might actually read a car related blog on this website, but when we remember that most of us are drivers, pedestrians, bike riders and sometimes all of them in the same day, I figured why not?
I have written in the past that “Cyclists and drivers are not at war” and that for the most part it is about misunderstandings and in some cases lack of understanding that leads to most issues. Here are some very common “misunderstandings” that drivers have about bicycles on the road and how they too can be corrected:
1. Bikes need room too!
The Highway Traffic Act states that people on bikes are to ride “as close as practicable” to the edge of the road. This does not mean they can or should be hugging the curb. The edges of most of our roads are littered with hazards like ruts, potholes, cracks, manhole covers, and debris. These may not be a problem for 4 wheeled vehicles, but they are a significant problem for people balancing on two thin tires. When a bike is approximately 1 meter from the edge of the road the rider can maintain a straight line and avoid these hazards without weaving in and out. If they ride close to the curb they are forced to weave unpredictably to their left and into the adjacent motor vehicle traffic to avoid such hazards. As a driver, I think we would all prefer to be able to predict what that person on the bike is going to do as opposed to hoping as we pass by them that they stay where they are.
2. Bikes need room 2!
In some situations it can become necessary for a person riding a bike to move even further from the edge or curb. Bridges and underpasses with no bike lanes certainly jump to mind. We all know that the road surface at the bottom of an underpass is often very poor. Given those conditions, that person in front of you riding in the centre of the lane is only trying to avoid the massive potholes and is not just taking up the lane to be ignorant. Other situations such as construction zones or similarly narrow traffic lanes where there is simply no room to share the lane can force a bicyclist to take a bit more space. Even when it is pouring rain and the side of the road is a continuous deep puddle with unknown hazards below is a good reason for them to ride further away from the edge. Don’t assume that the person in front of you is hogging the road. Take the time to see what it is they might be trying to avoid to stay safe.
Another place where a person on a bike may choose to move further over is at intersections. When they take this position they are not only making themselves more visible to you the driver, but they are also giving themselves space to start up again when the signal changes or they leave the stop sign. Starting up on a bike requires a bit of space until the rider can build up enough momentum to maintain a straight line. Its can be a bit disconcerting to start up while you have tons of steel beside you. Just be patient and let them get started safely!
3. Bikes need room 3!
When a motor vehicle, especially a large one, passes by a bike closely it is always startling and can be downright frightening. In many places throughout North America they are adopting a 1 meter or 3 foot passing rule. This requires motor vehicles to provide at least a meter of space when passing a bike. The vast majority of our roads do not provide enough width for bikes and cars to occupy the same lane. Higher speeds (in excess of 50 km/hr) only further exacerbate the problem. When passing a bike, give them at least a meter of space, and when possible much more. If we plan ahead as we approach a bike on the side of the road it is possible to move at least partially into the next lane and give them plenty of space. Why risk it when it only costs a few seconds?
4. Bikes do not belong on sidewalks
Bikes riding on sidewalks are at more risk of collision with motor vehicles, especially at intersections, than those on the road. Riding a bike on the sidewalk (unless the wheel size is less than 16 inches in diameter) is also illegal. Let’s face it, as drivers we are not looking for fast moving objects on the sidewalk. When we add the multitude of uncontrolled intersections such as back lanes and driveways where we as drivers are not necessarily compelled to stop, the problem gets far more dangerous. In many cases poor visibility or sight lines don’t even give a clear view of the sidewalk until a driver is already in the path of those crossing it. Bikes are traffic and in many cases the road is the only place where they can get to where they are going. Don’t try to chase them onto the sidewalks, you’ll see them much better if they are on the road.
5. Multi-use paths are not for every bike
Multi-use paths are great for a casual or recreational riding, but we all have to remember that they are not bike paths, but a separated path that can be used by everyone. This includes joggers, skateboarders, people out for a causal stroll, old, young and let’s not forget about those unpredictable pets. Adding a bike to this mix is not the best option nor for the people on bikes trying to get to a destination quickly. Understand that these paths are for everyone but not for every activity and that some people will need to ride on the road instead.
6. Don’t honk your horn
In some cases a driver will choose to honk their horn at a person on a bike out of frustration, and other times it is a well intentioned warning, but either way it is very startling for a person on a bike. Remember that they are not insulated from that loud “honk” by steel and glass and that the sound of your car horn behind them can be unsettling at best. It could also result in that person panicking and losing control of their bike, which could in turn result in serious injury. Use your horn only when you really need it and never when you are behind a bicycle.
7. Don’t make someone the door prize
Most drivers understand the serious injury that could result from a person on a bike hitting an opened car door. That said it is still a common occurrence and one that is easily avoided with a simple shoulder-check before opening your car door. Many riders will ride outside the “door zone” and avoid this problem (which creates another problem) but traffic conditions and/or lack of knowledge can result in some bikes riding far too close to parked cars. There are numerous cases of bicycles hitting car doors and falling into the adjacent traffic flow resulting in very serious injuries and even death. It’s easy to check over your shoulder or use your side view mirror to ensure that there are no bikes approaching before opening the door, so let’s make it a habit!
And while we’re at it lets remember that those bicyclists that chose to avoid the door zone are not being ignorant or taking up more space than they deserve, they are just trying to stay safe. In many cases the curb lane is not very wide and forces bike riders to move into the adjacent lane to ensure that they are not in the door zone. The dangers that these riders face far outweigh the short inconvenience of time that you might have to endure.
As a final note, as a driver we all need to remember that inside your car you don’t see what a cyclist sees, hear what a cyclists hears, or feel what a cyclist feels. You can however understand why they may have to position themselves differently in varying conditions, prefer that motor vehicles give them plenty of space when passing, stay off sidewalks and multi-use paths, or prefer quiet solitude as opposed to the loud honking or your horn. Next time you see a person on a bike I hope that you take these 7 tips into account so that we can all get along better on the roads.
One of my issues as a cyclist is that I feel like I have to steel myself the entire time I’m in the right lane if it’s busy traffic (I live on Pembina, and most of my biking/commuting requires me to ride on Pembina at least for a time…especially if I don’t want to add 20 minutes to my bike ride by using the confusing “bike paths” created by signage in the neighbourhoods). I feel constantly guilty and afraid when traffic is busy and car after car has to pass me…I feel like I don’t have a right to be there and I’m just pissing everybody off and making it harder for them to get where they need to go. I’m not sure what the solution for this is that still keeps everybody safe (other than, you know, BIKE INFRASTRUCTURE, but in the meantime I need to do -something-). Any thoughts? Do I just need an attitude adjustment? Should I put up with not only taking longer to get somewhere because I’m biking, but adding extra kilometers on to my commute so that I avoid high-traffic areas? (probably not going to happen, realistically…I will just drive or bus if I have to add on significantly more time than it already takes).
I think that you need to make an adjustment in your attitude if you plan to ride on Pembina. Given the volume and speed of traffic combined with the conditions of the curb lane along that route I would take the centre of the lane too. My attitude is that I never sacrifice my safety for someone else’s convenience. Drivers may not understand but you do and you are one balancing on 2 wheels. The alternative is the longer and sometimes confusing route through the residential area. I will sometimes use this route if I have the time as it is certainly more pleasant and stress free. The chose is up to you. I do think that if you were to get familiar with the alternative route you would not find it to be all that much longer but I have never timed it. Good luck and try not to give in to that urge to drive. The bus is still a much better option than driving alone, but of course a bike is more fun.
Not wanting to change the title to “8 things” has me commenting on my own blog. Recent experiences reminded me of another important thing that drivers misunderstand about people on bikes, that being their speed. Drivers misinterpret the speed of bikes and this results in 2 different and dangerous scenarios.
The first is drivers racing to the intersection, assuming that they can beat the bike to the corner and then “right hooking” the bike as it tries to proceed straight. It is one of the reasons that I always shoulder check and realign myself to the centre of the lane as I approach and intersection.
The other scenario is when drivers pull out to pass a bike, misinterpreting the speed of the bike and the on coming traffic. More often than not the well intentioned driver pulls out to provide lots of space while passing, but then as the oncoming traffic approaches, is forced to pull over before they have in fact passed the person on the bike. In some cases they start pulling over as they are still beside the bike forcing the cyclist to adjust their alignment on the road to make room.
Either way these situations can be very dangerous and drivers need to ensure that they have sufficient space before passing a bike. It is by far safer to simply stay behind the cyclist when you are contemplating a turn at the next intersection and when passing, just be patient until there is not oncoming traffic that might force you to move over too soon.
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Thanks so much for the positive feedback. We do our best to keep things fresh and interesting.
The question of adult three wheelers has come to my attention. Are they suppose to stay on road? Are they allowed on sidewalk? Are they tied into the 16 inch size rule?
They would be subject to the same rules as other bikes. The 16″ wheel size is what separates those who can ride on the road versus those that can ride legally on the sidewalk.
Thanks for this. I would add my vote for Point 2. There are lots of reasons why bikes in Winnipeg need to take up half a lane: crumbled pavement in the curb lane, manhole covers, pavement joints that could catch (especially narrow) tires, deep puddles (that could conceal who-knows-what, or get us very wet).
I am getting tired and exasperated being honked at by motorists, side-swiped, and yelled at, or driven into the curb. It is enough to drive one onto the sidewalk at times, for self-preservation.
It is unfortunate that we don’t have better driver education as it often misunderstandings that are the reason drivers get annoyed with people on bikes. It is a 2 way street and people who ride bikes also need better education, but when drivers understand why a person on a bike would ride a bit further out, maybe driver frustration and your exasperation would be reduced.
Just remember that sidewalks are more dangerous than the road, especially at intersections. If you are driven to the sidewalk at times for “self preservation” make sure to ride slowly and be alert at all intersections (including back lanes and driveways)
I was riding to work Aug.2011 early morning and got hit by a van which was at a stop sign. I was on a main roadway and did have the right of way. So, now I tend to go on the sidewalk sometimes. Now have to deal with health issues forever because of accident.