Share the Road

So once again a story about a cyclist goes national, and a morning show host feels it necessary to discuss, which of course leads to all the local yokels calling up to voice their unbridled hate for cyclists. Nevermind the despicable details of the article that describe a situation in which yet another motorist gets off with little more than a hand-slap after hitting a cyclist. This happens all the time, by the way. It happened locally with the motorist that killed the cyclist on TOSRV back in 2008. There is an attitude with motorists who are non-cyclists that cyclists deserve their fate. Even if the motorist can be blamed for not paying attention the road (do I hear texting? emailing from your phone? talking on your phone?), somehow the blame is always put on the cyclist for the very fact that they are on the road.

The saddest part of this whole debate is that motorists consistently make the blanket statement that cyclists do not obey the traffic laws. While it’s true that some cyclists do not obey the traffic laws, a vast majority of them (like myself) DO obey the traffic laws. There are many motorists who don’t obey the traffic laws either; I see them every day; heck, I’m probably occasionally one of them. But to say that no motorist ever obeys any traffic laws is ridiculous. Likewise, it’s just as ludicrous to claim that all cyclists do not obey the law.

For me, it’s the simple laws of physics. I completely understand that a vehicle weighing a couple tons has more mass on 145-lb me on a 10-lb bike. I understand that I’m not capable of going the speed of traffic in most situations (unless going down a hill-eh hah hah!!). I realize people want to get around me. So, I generally hug the white line unless there are some really bad potholes in my direction of travel, in which case, I move more center to the lane until I pass these obstacles, and then I’m back to riding just left of the white line.

Just left of the white line. I’m a vehicle, I’m allowed to ride on the road. It’s at least state law in most states. I cannot be expected to ride in the berm on the side of the road where many-a-careless motorist has tossed their trash–some of which, I might add, is glass. I’ve every right to be on the road as the car. You can get around me when I’m riding along the white line without even, really, needing to cross the yellow to pass (though, it’d be nice if you gave me 3 feet of space when passing).

When I ride in groups of cyclists, I tend to ride behind someone. I usually don’t ride next to another cyclist unless I’m on a country road where there isn’t a lot of traffic because it’s just as much of a pain in the butt for me to have to slow down to get back into single file as it is for a motorist to try to pass me when I’m doubled up. So this generally means that I don’t try to ride side-by-side another cyclist on Riverview Road in the Cuyahoga Valley–there’s just too many cars. However, be assured that when I do ride next to another cyclist, as soon as I see a car in my rear view mirror, I start angling to move in front or behind the other cyclist to make that single-file line all motorists prefer.

Why not use the bike paths? I’m always asked. Well, I do use bike paths sometimes, often as a warm up or part of my planned route because they tend to be a good way to get from one location to another location fairly quickly. But the problem with bike paths is that they tend to be crowded with recreational cyclists, runners, people walking their dogs, and a handful of spaced-out clueless people who aren’t paying attention to anything that’s going on around them. This is all good–I condone people getting out into nature and enjoying a beautiful day. (Well, except for the handful of space cadets–they should probably stay home where it’s safe.) However, these people are generally obstacles I have to get around–in much the same way a car has to get around cyclists. It makes me frustrated because I have to keep dropping pace to get around people (in a nice, polite fashion) and it makes them frustrated because they have to deal with some pedaling hammerhead when they just came out for a peaceful, casual ride/walk.

There’s a huge difference between the type of riding I do and a recreational cyclist: speed. I’m generally going 17-19mph on the flatness of a paved bicycle path; recreational cyclists are generally going 10-13mph. Recreational cyclists may also be looking at things–the trees, flowers, their significant other, their kids who are weaving unsteadily back and forth across the path. This is all good. But in the end, we just disturb each other with our differing objectives. (I started out as a recreational rider, so I totally understand.)

Bike paths do not usually offer much by way of challenge. They tend to be flat, railroad graded terrain (since many of them were built on old railway paths). Because they are so flat and do not give me much of a challenge, no matter how pretty they are–being among the trees and through parks–I get bored. Pretty quickly. I like to climb things. Hard things. Horrible roads people fear to take in their car. So a flat bike path is usually just a means for me to get from one place (my house mainly) to some place where I can do really interesting riding (the valley).

Bike paths also don’t really go anywhere specific. They go from one park to another, or through a city, but it’s generally the furthest route from anything I would need to usefully get to as a bike commuter. In my commute to work in the summer, I take the bike path to get to the valley, and then I swoop down into the valley, and then climb back up to the city where my job is located. There is no bike path that goes to where I work. But, alas, there are roads that go to where I work. Hmmm. So I take the road.

There simply is not enough bike path for a person such as myself–who rides between 3,500-4,500 miles per year–to remain entertained. Yes, I know the towpath is about 40 miles long. I do take segments of it on Beau (since it’s also unpaved, which means my road bike can’t do it). But to ride the same route every day–and I ride almost every day mid-season–would really make anyone lose interest fairly quickly, no matter how beautiful or how challenging it is. Heck, I even get burned out on riding in the Cuyahoga Valley because I use it to get to work 2-3 times a week. I often have to take my bike out somewhere completely different on the weekend just for a change in pace.

Don’t get me wrong: bike paths are great. I certainly advocate the creation of more of them. They get more recreational cyclists out who have no interest in riding on the road or being anything more than a recreational cyclist. I do like to use them for part of my route (and sometimes they are a welcome change from the rigors of having to be ever vigilant while riding on the road). But they are definitely not–and should never be seen by anyone in the public as–a replacement for cyclists riding on the road. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing a local motorist rant about how they paid their precious tax money for a bike path only to be enraged that it didn’t take any of the cyclists off the road. People are using bike paths; just not the road cyclists.

I’ve been in cities where sharing the road works. I’m sure it’s not perfect. I’m sure there are still angry motorists in these cities as well. However, I will say that when I did visit these places (Seattle, Portland, not to name any names), I noticed a much more pleasant attitude towards cyclists. Not once pedaling those city streets did I ever feel my life was in as much danger as I feel riding my bike down one of my busier streets near my house. Ironically, when I drove a car around Seattle, I felt the most ill-at-ease. People expected me to be on the road and they were okay with it. It was a cyclist’s paradise. I didn’t want to come home!

I love my state of Ohio. I just wish sometimes that it wouldn’t be so backward about things. There’s an inherent attitude in Ohio against change. People don’t like it. So if you paint a sharrow on a road, people are all up in arms. “What?! You’re gonna invite them cyclists on the street? Then I can’s run them down!” Heaven forbid someone choose a more ecologically friendly way to travel around town than a car. Is my ability to function without gas (at least in the summer, since I’m a wimp) threatening to you?

Whenever I encounter these angry drivers, I always think that they’d all probably be a lot happier if they too took to a bike and rode around the streets… All those exercise-induced endorphins pumping through your veins make it really hard to be angry at people. When I commute to work by bike, I feel so great when I get to the office. I’ve had my morning work-out and I feel ready to tackle the day. I approach my work with vigor and excitement. There’s nothing better than that feeling. I think if everyone experienced this elation, road rage would be obliterated. And just think what it would do for our obesity problem in America! Everyone should walk or bike to work. Or even learn to ride a motorcycle (it uses less gas).

I just don’t get people. I’m just appalled when I hear the kind of comments that come out of motorists’ mouths about the fate they’d like to see befall a cyclist. People actually wish death on someone riding a bike simply because having to drive around a cyclist made them two second slower on the way to where-ever it was they were going. Death! Seriously? You wish that cyclist to die? There are lot of people in the world who make me mad–biggots, chauvinistic men, fundamentalist Christians, Republicans (well, some of them anyway), Sarah Palin–but I certainly do not wish these people dead.

So I just can’t listen to those people ranting the radio. I had to turn the whole discussion off because at 7am on a day when I couldn’t ride to work (it’s too cold), I didn’t need to start my day with my blood boiling. Getting into a rage just doesn’t suit me well. The way I’ve come to deal with these kind of things lately has been to turn off the radio. I’ve been doing the same thing with politics because I just don’t want to listen to angry banter on both sides. (It’s funny because a friend of mine has been telling me to do this for years!)

Is it stupidly optimistic for me to hope that at some point–especially with these rising gas prices–that motorists and cyclists could simply learn to coexist? (We need a catchy “coexist” symbol for cyclists and motorists–anyone creative out there?) I can’t be responsible for the cyclists who do not stop at stop signs/lights, cut cars off in traffic, ride in groups of two or more across the span of the road so that cars can’t pass, etc. However, you can rest assured that when I’m on the streets, I’m not doing any of these things. So, please, for my sake–and the sakes of other cyclists like me who respect the law–please do not take your anger against cyclists who you have witnessed not obey the law out on me! Stop texting, stop checking your email, stop talking to your friends; put your two hands on the wheel, look out the front window, and please be aware of me and my friends! I’d do the same for you if you were a pedestrian, whether I was in a car or on a bike. You may only get a slap on the wrist by law if you hit one of us, but I’m sure the weight on your conscience would really be far greater than you boast when you boldly call these radio shows (or respond in the comments of online articles) claiming you’d like to hit a cyclist… We’re all just out there trying to get somewhere.

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