Thursday, September 24, 2009

My bike has a right to be on the road, Dang-it! - Setting the record straight

I just got back from the library downtown. All I wanted to do was return a book and movie I'd checked out. Simple, right?

Now, as many of you know, I mostly travel by bike. I don't like to drive, Dave and I only have one car between us anyway, and biking is SO much faster than walking (and let's face it the sidewalks around here are random at best, falling apart at worst). Besides, biking is better for my body, it's better for our pocketbook, and it's better for the environment. I LOVE to bike!

I don't know. I suppose you never completely get used to drivers' rude screams about how bikers should "get off the road" or "get on the sidewalk," but it happens often enough, I've tried to take a zen-like approach and not let it upset my ride.

This morning, however, instead of the driver yelling out the window, I noticed a truck pull up along side me as we were both moving along Wm. J. Bryan Parkway. My first impression was that it must be an officer because I glimpsed a light-bar across the top of the vehicle.

He says to me, "Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to ride on the sidewalk."

Now the old Heather would have gotten on the side walk and just grumbled the rest of the way, frustrated at uneducated drivers.

The current Heather looked the guy in the eye and said, "NO."

I then explained that the Texas Drivers Handbook gave me every right to drive on the road.

He asked me to be safe, and drove off, at which time I noticed that there weren't any markings on his truck to indicate he was "official" in any capacity. In fact, I'm pretty sure the light bar on the top was yellow and not a "police" light-bar.

Either way, how about we set the record straight, because the truth of the matter is that bikes are actually safer on the road than they are on the sidewalk because they are more visible. In fact, studies have shown that bikers are at least twice as safe on the road than sidewalk (studies here and here).

Whether a driver believes that or not is practically irrelevant, however, because the Texas Drivers Handbook, Chapter 9 says, and I quote,
Bicycle Rules for Motorists
  1. A bicycle is a vehicle and any person riding a bicycle has all the rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle.
  2. Bicyclists are required to ride as far right in the lane as possible only when the lane can be safely shared by a car and bicycle, side by side. Even then, there are certain conditions that allow a bicyclist to take the full lane such as: the person is overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction; the person is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or only a private road or driveway; there are unsafe conditions in the roadway such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, animals, potholes, or debris; the land is of substandard width making it unsafe for a car and a bicycle to safely share the lane side by side. When this is the case, it is best for the cyclist to take the full lane whether riding single file or two abreast.
  3. Bicyclist are not restricted to the right lane of traffic. One-way, multi-landed streets are one example. Another instance is when the bicyclist is changing lanes to make a left turn. The bicyclist should follow the same path any other vehicle would take traveling the same direction.
  4. Motorists should merge with bicycle traffic when preparing for a right-hand turn. Avoid turning directly across the path of bicycle traffic.

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir here, but the next time you feel like yelling at a bicyclist, your energy might be more productive in demanding bike lanes from the city. 'Cause whether you like it or not, we bikers will be on the roads along side your vehicles. So get over it and give us some room!


Farmer's Daughter said...

I've seen a lot of teenagers with music playing riding bikes, and that makes me nervous because a boy at our school got hit by a car doing just that, when he crossed in front of it without looking and didn't hear the horn.

Recently, a few kids have whipped off the sidewalk and into my lane, giving me heart attacks as I slammed on the brakes so I didn't hit them.

I think drivers and bike riders have equal responsibility to be safe on the road. I've never seen it from the bike perspective, so that's just my opinion.

Heather @ SGF said...

Farmers' Daughter - You're absolutely right. Along with our right to be in the road, we have a responsibility to act safely. I alway stop at lights and stop signs, signal when I'm turning, etc. If we want people to respect us on the road, we have to follow the same rules as drivers. Unfortunately, many of the bikers out there are kids, who just don't get it yet...

Chile said...

Locally we have a little booklet with traffic information for bikes. It cites the Arizona state law allowing (requiring) bikes to be on the road, as well as the one stating bikes may use the left turn lane. I keep that with me so I can quote the ARS number if I have to!

It is illegal here for bikes to ride on the sidewalk. As a driver, start paying attention to where you look when you are driving, stopped, and making a turn. You'll quickly notice that the sidewalk doesn't really factor into your awareness. Pedestrians are going slow enough that you will see one if in front of your car whereas bikes have far more speed.

This is also why it's so critical for cyclists to be on the correct side. Drivers don't typically check for oncoming (bike) traffic if making a right turn.

My biggest fear on the bike these days are the texting idiots. I watch them drift into the bike lanes all the time. Maybe it's time for some body armor...

Heather @ SGF said...

Chile - I found a PDF of the Texas code and sent it to Dave to make a copy. I, like you, want to keep one on my bike in case some angry driver decides to pull over and talk. Hasn't happened yet, but it was closer today. I do wonder who that guy was though...

I've found the key to riding a bike here is to assume everyone is out to hit you. You have to be hyper aware at all times. It's really crazy. The texters are bad, but around here we have a lot of big trucks with though side mirrors that stick WAY out. Gotta watch and not get hit in the head with those mega-mirrors... Yikes!

Beany said...

Yeah Heather! Good on you for being firm.

Like yourself, I'm prepared every single day to die (many choices in how an automobile can kill or maime me). I've sat in the passenger seat of many a driver and the lack of attention behind the wheel is really quite astounding. For one, who made that rule that is was okay to drive 5 miles or more above the speed limit? Is that not breaking the law? By choosing to sit in a several ton liability, one needs to be 100% of the risks one is taking at all times before starting the engine. An automobile is not a toy.

The city of San Diego has boundaries that are hard to keep track of and the rule about riding on the sidewalk varies between city to city in San Diego county. I just ride on the road as I can't keep track of where it legal to ride on sidewalk and where it is not.

I've had people yell at me, throw things at me, etc, etc. In the county, bicyclists are 0.6% of the commuting population. Hardly anything to really whine about. Just pass me and go on already instead of being a pest.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - That has to be frustrating to have different rules from county to county. How in the world are you supposed to know? And I agree that people should just can it and go around us already, and it's kinda funny - the places people yell at me have always been places where there's more than one lane and they could very easily go around me. Like yelling at me is going to change anything. Sheesh!

Chile - this is the test comment (cue Mission Impossible music...) Let me know what happens...

Mariella said...

i don't get it. in New Zealand bicycles (and any wheel-based transport for that matter) are classified as vehicles and MUST be driven on the road or in bike lanes. Yep that includes roller skates and skateboards. Personally I think it's a bit ridiculous as I would SO NOT feel safe skating on the road next to cars.

Anonymous said...

Way to stand up for yourself! It's important to take advantage of every opportunity we bikers have to educate those who are ignorant of the real road rules. Keep on biking!

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts. 1) Bikes definitely have the right to be on the road. In fact, not only do they have the right to be on the road, they *must* be on the road, in some states (such as AZ) because it is illegal for them to be on the sidewalk. I am not sure what the laws are in TX though. 2) However, I would guess it might be safer for the rider to be on the sidewalk, as so many drivers are not paying attention to what is going on on the road. People are texting eating, making phone calls, etc., I think the bike lanes are the best solution, hands down.

Cibatarian said...

Hey, I'm here via Teddy Wilson. I agree completely with you. I used to ride my bike all the time before I moved here from DC, but quite honestly the Texas drivers scare the crap out of me. They ride far too close to my handlebars and such. So I've actually stopped riding. :-/

Heather @ SGF said...

Mariella - It's similar (at least for bikes) in many US states. Not in Texas, or in my town anyway - some cities may have rules stricter than state rules. We CAN bike on sidewalks (there's rarely ever anyone walking on them anyway), but it's just not safe. I don't think drivers understand that. Sounds like New Zealand is on top of things. (BTW, I love your name :)

hergreenlife - Now that I have a copy of the road rules with me on my bike, I'm hoping to pass it out next time this happens. I have another copy at home to use as my original. Plus one of the other community activists in the area saw my post and is going to suggest that our local veg*n group take up the cause of educating people about bicycle rights and responsibilities. Cool!

Anonymous - In Texas, it seems to be left up to the individual area. Here in Bryan/College Station, we are allowed to be on the sidewalk, but studies have shown that people are safer in the road. I know this from experience. Each and every one of my close calls with a car have been from me coming off a sidewalk across an intersection or driveway. Drivers are trained to look at the road. They don't expect things to come flying off sidewalks. Totally NOT safe. I think if drivers understood that (a little education needed, perhaps), they'd be less likely to yell and scream at us.

Heather @ SGF said...

Cibatarian - Welcome to SGF! We must have been commenting at the same time :)

Sorry to hear you've been scared off the roads. People here tend to go WAY around or cut it REALLY close. Go figure. I'm hoping thought that the more bikers get out there, the more drivers will have to start getting used to it and paying more attention (or start demanding bike lanes of our own).

Perhaps there are some shorting trips you can take that you'd feel more comfortable with. There aren't many, but there are a few bike lanes in Bryan and College Station. Let me know if I can do anything to help.

Chris said...

I'm glad you posted this, Heather. I had a similar experience in College Station. Funny thing is, he had to take his earbuds out to hear me declare my right to be in the lane. The way I like to think of it is: These are probably folks who are more dangerous than others, and when they complain, I know I was very visible, which is just what I wanted.

I live in Bryan now. It's a whole new game here. I cycle through a little bit of Bryan, central campus, and then south CS to get to work. In Bryan the road is basically the only option.

It is also a motivation for me to ride in the most visible place for the benefit of other, less experienced riders. There are a few folks the ride on the sidewalks in CS when there are great bike lanes all over. The more of them we can get on the road, the more awareness we will create in drivers.

In my ideal town, bike lanes would be unnecessary. A big part of successful voluntary simplicity in a city is diversity of proximity. Best case scenario, roads would have lower speed limits, and all trips would be shorter, and cyclists would be a regular sight on all roads. It's a tall order, I know.

Thanks for riding, Heather... And thanks for sharing!

Heather @ SGF said...

Chris - It's great to hear input from another biker here in town. I totally agree. The more we're out there, the more others will join us and force change. I was in China about 6 years ago and it was amazing to watch the bikes. There were so many of them that THEY controlled traffic, not the cars. :)

Holly said...

that's what i love about austin. i ride my bike all over. there are lots of bike lanes every where. thank you lance armstrong for that. and people are not only used to seeing bikes but they respect them. i always feel safe riding my bike here.

Heather @ SGF said...

Holly - Hmm. Any chance we can borrow Lance for a few years? We could use some serious biking inspiration and infrastructure here....