A recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press (Bartley Kives, September 9) and some prompting from a friend started me thinking about my own simple rules to help drivers and bicycles co-exist on the roads. As both a motorist and long time bicycle commuter, I also see Winnipeg’s roads from both perspectives, but maybe a little different than Bartley. As a Can-Bike instructor and educator I definitely see some aspects that others might overlook.
I would agree with Mr. Kives’ statements that riding on the sidewalk is dangerous, the city is not overly hostile towards people on bikes and that the city still has some distance to go before it can rank as and among the best.
I would not necessarily agree that there are a lot of places that “it’s freaking horrifying to be in traffic on a bike.” With appropriate education and skills most roads can be navigated safely. While a small minority of motorists can be intolerant, the vast majority of drivers and bicycle riders are reasonable people and given the appropriate education and information, can share the road quite amicably.
Here are a few other things that motorists and people that ride bikes can do to make the streets of Winnipeg a comfortable and pleasant place to ride a bike and reduce the potential for car-bike conflict. Some are common sense, some are counterintuitive while others have simply been forgotten or never learned in the first place.
FIVE WAYS TO IMPROVE COOPERATION ON THE ROAD IF YOU’RE ON A BIKE:
1. Communicate: Hand signals are not common used by people on bikes, however they are an essential part of communicating your intentions and sharing the road. Drivers cannot read your mind! Hand signals alert drivers to what you want to do and you will be surprised how often they will let you do just that. And don’t forget shoulder checking. A simple shoulder check also communicates to a motorist that you are considering a change to your position on the road.
2. Follow the rules: In order to get the respect of motorists, you must earn it. Following the same rules will go a long way to helping drivers understand that we are not a bunch of scofflaws that follow their own set of rules. As more people on bikes begin to demonstrate fair and reasonable behaviour, motorists will in turn change both their opinions and actions towards us.
3. Ride predictably and allow space to manoeuvre: The Highway Traffic Act (HTA) states that you are to ride as close as “practicable” to the edge of the road. Practicable should mean SAFE. This means NEVER hugging the curb but instead positioning yourself at least 1 meter away from the curb to maintain a straight line while avoiding the debris, potholes, cracks and manhole covers that litter the edge of most roads. In some situation such as construction or bridges with no bike lanes, practicable may mean taking the centre of the lane. Riding too close to the curb will encourage drivers to try and slide by you in the same lane, but also requires that in the event that you need to avoid a hazard, you must move left into the traffic flow.
When passing parked cars increase this distance to 1.5 meters and stay out of the door zone. Riding too close to parked cars is dangerous and the consequences of hitting an open car door can be catastrophic. And while you are passing by those parked cars, don’t weave in the out from between them. Remember riding in a straight line makes you predictable.
4. At intersections or stop signs, take the middle of the lane: At intersections many cyclists stop beside the curb and rest their foot on it. This allows vehicles to pull up beside you and if they happen to be turning right, puts you in the perfect position for a “right hook.” If you are proceeding straight, that right turning vehicle may “hook” right in front of you. If you reposition yourself to the centre of the lane as they approach the intersection, you will stay in the driver’s field of vision and allow yourself room to manoeuvre when you start up again. Would you prefer to start up with tons of steel behind or in front of you, or directly beside you. The decision is an easy one!
In heavy traffic many people on bikes will ride up along the right hand side of stopped vehicles to reposition themselves to the head of the line. This is another habit that can result in a “right hook” or maybe even getting “doored.” It annoys drivers because they are forced to once again pass by you on the road ahead. If you want to be treated like an equal, you must act like one.
5. Get off the sidewalk: Riding on the sidewalk is illegal and statistically the most dangerous place to ride. Drivers are not looking for fast moving bicycles on sidewalks, they are looking for slow moving pedestrians. Further complicating this are all those uncontrolled intersections like driveways and back lanes. At many of these intersections the driver’s field of vision is blocked or obscured by fences and trees making it impossible to see you until they have already pulled out into your path. Sidewalks are for walking, it’s in the name.
If you ride a bike you need to remember that you are a vulnerable road user, however it is also true that with proper skills and knowledge you can easily navigate the streets safely. The keys are knowledge and skills. We can all improve our bike handling skills. Take a course that teaches actual on road riding skills, you’ll find that there is much you didn’t know and much you can improve on.
FIVE WAYS TO IMPROVE COOPERATION ON THE ROAD IF YOU’RE IN A CAR:
1. Stay alert for bicycles: Keep your focus on the road, especially at intersections. You’ll not only avoid accidents in general but hopefully you will see the many cyclists that are now using Winnipeg’s streets. Too often when car-bike collisions occur, drivers claim they did not see the person on the bike. This could be due to the behaviour of the person on the bike, but it can also be driver inattention. Regardless of who made an error, a car-bike collision will result in serious injury or even death for person on a bike.
2. Provide a safe passing distance: At speeds under 60 km/hr drivers should provide a minimum of 1 meter of passing distance. At higher speeds drivers should move over to the adjacent lane. In fact, if the lane adjacent to you is available, use it. For the vast majority of Winnipeg streets there is not sufficient space to pass a cyclist in the same lane. Plan ahead when you see a bike and reposition your car at least partially into the next lane in order to provide sufficient passing distance. It is a frightening experience on a bike to be passed closely by tons of steel and could cause a the person on the bike to panic and lose control. No one really wants to add another statistic.
3. Think before you react: In many cases drivers simply don’t understand what constitutes reasonable or even safe behaviour on the part of someone riding a bike. Let’s start with two of the most common misunderstandings:
– Bikes do not belong on the sidewalk: Riding on the sidewalk is illegal and far more dangerous than riding on the roadway where drivers will actually see a bike coming. Riding on sidewalks is particularly dangerous at intersections where you may have difficulty predicting or even seeing a fast moving bike on the sidewalk.
– The Highway Traffic Act states that bikes are to ride “as close as practicable” to the edge of the road. This does not mean hugging the curb. The edges of many roads contain hazards like ruts, potholes, cracks, manhole covers, and debris. While these don’t represent a problem on 4 wide car tires, they can be a significant issue while balancing of two thin tires. If cyclists are to ride predictably in a straight line and avoid these hazards, they need to maintain a minimum distance of 1 meter from the edge. On bridges with no bike lanes or through construction or other similarly narrow traffic lanes, there is no room to share and so a person a bike may need to take the centre of the lane. We’re not hogging the road, just taking enough space to ride safely.
4. Don’t honk your horn at me: Honking your horn, even if well intentioned, can be very startling for a person on a bike. They are not insulated by steel and glass and the sound of a car horn behind them can cause them to panic and lose control. Save your horn for times when you really need it.
5. Shoulder-check before opening your car door: Bikes should not ride within the door zone of parked cars, but traffic conditions and lack of knowledge result in many people doing just that. It’s easy to check over your shoulder before opening the door just to be sure.
Drivers need to remember that from inside tons of steel and glass you can’t see what a person riding a bike sees, hear what they hear, or feel what they feel. They are vulnerable road users, but with your cooperation they can be just another vehicle on the road.