Sunday, September 22, 2013

Editorial: Dispeling myths about cyclists

In recent months, I have been doing a lot of reading and watching a lot of videos about interactions between cyclists and motorists all over the world. In many instances, there is a lot of loud screaming and foul language, although mostly it comes from the commenters. Worst of all, the screaming and yelling is frequently the result of misunderstanding and myths about the rules of the road and of cyclists. In a, perhaps misguided, attempt to dispel some of the myths, I have chosen three of the most popular myths to try to set the record straight.

1. Cyclists do not contribute to the building and maintenance of roads

This is probably one of the most common myths that I come across. Many motorists believe that their registration fees and taxes from fuels cover the cost entirely of their local municipality's roads, thus they are entitled to treat other road users as they please. However, this is never the case and in most municipalities, while road maintenance is in part funded by fuel taxes and registration fees, those revenue sources cover less than half of road costs, much less transportation costs. This means that the majority of road building and maintenance comes from other taxes and fees as well as other sources like bond measures. That also means that those cyclists and pedestrians, who are not consuming any fuel, are also helping to keep up those roads that motorists feel entitled to use exclusively. Since everyone has a share in the cost of road building and maintenance, it only seems fair that everyone share the use of the roads.

2. If a bike lane is present, cyclists must use it

Another common myth, this one stems from the belief by many motorists that since we have established bike lanes for cyclists, those lanes are the only place that cyclists belongs. However, in the vast majority of places, cyclists are not required by law to stay in those bike lanes and can take a full traffic lane. The majority of cyclists do utilize the bike lane as a courtesy, and certainly will continue to take advantage of them when they are present, but there are often obstructions in the bike lane that require a cyclist to move into the regular traffic lane to avoid.

Additionally, the bike lane is not always the safest place for cyclists to be since most bike lanes are established between parked cars and flowing traffic. There is the potential danger of being hit by someone opening their door without looking as well as the possibility of being cut across by a motorist making a right turn at an intersection with first checking for cyclists in the bike lane that are traveling straight. These are surprisingly common occurrences and often place cyclists in danger if they remain in the bike lane, whereas if the cyclist entered into the standard travel lanes and moved with the flow of traffic, which they are legally allowed to do, they can often avoid the potentially dangerous situation.

To illustrate some of the obstacles cyclists often face in bike lanes, enjoy this rather humorous video from Casey Neistat, a NYC resident who was actually incorrectly ticketed for failing to ride in a bike lane.


3. Cyclists should ride on the sidewalk and not on the street; it is the safest place for them to be

Actually, in many places, it is illegal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, especially in crowded urban centers. In fact, in Washington, DC, where I used to reside, legislation is in place that bans cyclists from using sidewalks within the boundaries of the downtown business district. This is done because those sidewalks are often crowded with people and separating bikes from pedestrians helps reduce accidents between slow-moving pedestrians and fast moving bicycles. Even when there are not legal limitations on riding on the sidewalk, bicyclists often should not be on the sidewalks exactly because of the speed differential between a pedestrian, who may be moving at 3 to 4 mph, and a cyclist moving at up to 6 to 7 times that speed. Keeping vulnerable pedestrians safe is equally as important as keeping the cyclists and motorists safe.

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There are many more myths out there, but these three some some of the most popular ones I come across. While I fully recognize that not all cyclists are model citizens and that there are many behaviors that cyclists and pedestrians can change in order to make things safer for everyone, I do hope that this will at least reduce some of the animosity that many motorists seem to exhibit towards cyclists. Just remember that as enthusiasts, we should be happy when more people take themselves out of their cars and decide to use other means of transportation to get around because hopefully, that means less crowded roads that everyone can enjoy.

Now if only we could make everyone driver better too...

Have a cycling myth you would like us to tackle? Contact us and let us know. We will notify you if we decide to address the myth in one of our upcoming articles.