Cars, Get off the Road!

We who ride our bikes every day to work, to coffee and to meetings have had experiences and close-calls along a spectrum of “danger ranges.”

Not every encounter is life threatening, some are simply stressful.

The most common of these stressful experiences involves the phrase “Get off the road” or “Get on the Sidewalk.”

I don’t know if everyone thinks that just because a bike lane or trail is nearby that the cyclist must use it. There is no law in the DC Metro Area stating cyclists must use bike lanes. In most cases, the cyclist WILL use them because they are at least some space set aside. But the times I don’t are when my line of travel is taking me in a different direction than the trail “trails” and I must be ready for narrow roads or some kind of obstacle I must negotiate up ahead – an obstacle most drivers take for granted as a non-problem.

There are a hundred case-specific arguments in favor of not using the trail or sidewalk while on a bike. The most important one is that sidewalks are narrow and MUST be given over to pedestrians for their safety. Just think when the trails are ridden, say the Mt Vernon Trail, the Capitol Crescent or the W & OD, the walkers and joggers move so much more slowly than cyclists and prove to be a little challenge to negotiate from time-to-time. It’s even more dramatically different on sidewalks. It is simply safer for pedestrians and children on bicycles to be able to “own” the sidewalks. That being said, it is perfectly legal for a bicycle to ride on the sidewalk in some places even while it is illegal in others.

I much prefer to think of bicycles as machines designed for roadways (except certain highways and interstates). There should be some places that cars can also expect to get up to full speed over distance.

It is also perfectly legal for bicycles to ride on the road – either toward the right of the lane or taking the whole lane. Each scenario determines what is most safe. That is what matters mostly – safety – not impatience or perceived right-of-way by motorized vehicles just because hey are motorized. The truth is drivers of motorized vehicles HAVE NO RIGHT to yell at bicyclists to get off the road or to get on the sidewalk. They don’t even have the right to arbitrarily honk behind them as they speed by (though many drivers do choose this option). Honking creates more of a problem than just passing safely with three-feet separating the vehicle from the bicycle. Bicyclists ALREADY know there are drivers all around them. Honking does not help the cyclist.

It also does not help if the driver opens their window and screams “Get off the road” or “Get on the sidewalk.” The bicyclist may choose to ride on the sidewalk, but it is the cyclists choice. What if the cyclist yelled those same words at each car they passed or that passed them? Might this be an absurdity? In fact, with the status of bicycles in contemporary culture and their legal status as a transportation mode, it is just as absurd to yell them at bicyclists.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

Twitter: @jlibraryist

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Filed under bicycle safety, Bicycles, Commuting

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