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This One's for Us Drivers

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

Recently, very recently, one of the members of my Bicycle Club was hit by a car at an intersection. According to the rider and a witness, he had done everything right: in the bike lane, stopped with his foot down, looked both ways, let a car pass.

He was 2/3 of the way through the neighborhood intersection when his back wheel was hit by a driver who had slowed down, then accelerated on through fast enough to break his bike in two, along with his leg, ankle and heel.

The driver had probably not done anything different than what many of us do – slow down, look, see a clear way ahead and move on. It is unfortunately true that we drivers look right through cyclists (and pedestrians) because we are concentrating so much on looking for other cars. Tests have shown this to be true.

Tree-lined and bushy medians, sun glare and totems hanging from rear view mirrors can all add to the danger. Don’t get me started on distractions like cell phones, passengers and little dogs on drivers’ laps.

Sometimes hi-vis clothing and blinking lights just aren’t enough.

So, fellow drivers, here are some reminders for us. Yeah, I know. Bike riders can be unsafe and can get in the way sometimes, but let’s focus on us drivers today.

The markings on the street, like the picture accompanying this column, are a warning that cars and bikes will be sharing the lane. These usually appear in areas where there just isn’t enough room to add a full bike lane. They are called “sharrows”.

In California, we must give a cyclist at least three feet of space when passing. In some cases, that may mean we have to wait for an opportunity to pass safely and legally. Be patient. Most of the car/bike close calls I have seen have been caused by impatient drivers. It is usually only a few seconds of delay. Cyclists want us to be able to pass because it makes them nervous for us to be behind them.

I will deny this if asked, and no one really reads this column anyway, but cyclists don’t really mind if we straddle the double yellow line when passing, as long as it’s safe. I have seen law enforcement do it and I think it will eventually be allowed by law.

Of course, always pass on the left.

Always check blinds spots for bike riders. A common problem is for a bike rider to pull up next to us on the right at a stop light, when we want to turn right. To help riders know our intention, be sure the blinker is on and we have moved as far to the right as safe. In general, we cannot drive in a bike lane, except for the last 200 feet before an intersection. The solid white line is broken indicating drivers may cross into the bike lane to make the turn. It may be safer to pull in behind a group of riders than to try to speed up and make a sharp right turn.

The law is clear that both cars and bikes have a right to the road. It’s not a competition. It’s a matter of public safety. Bike riders are drivers, too. Our kids and grandkids are bike riders and will also be drivers someday. Be alert, patient, and maybe even a little tolerant.

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