Last week, a regular reader of The Chief's Corner asked me if I'd blog about bicycles and the rules of the road. "Sure," I replied, "I'll put that on my list of future topics." As the price of gas is causing all of us to flinch, I am sure we will continue to see more people consider the two-wheeled option. It is almost certain that bike-car conflicts will increase. I've blogged about road rage before, and t is not limited to car-on-car situations. Lincoln's bike lanes are pretty limited and many of our recreational trails (although nice for a leisurely ride) are not suitable for commuting, so drivers and riders will increasingly share the road.
Sharing the road is not just polite, it's the law. Bicycles essentially enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles on the public streets. Motorists need to accord bicycles the same right of way, following distance, and passing protocol that they would another automobile. I see a lot of impatience here. Some motorists view a slower-moving bicycle as an obstruction. Any avid cyclist has their stories of Beavis & Friend flipping them the universal peace sign, crowding them to the curb, making a right turn directly in front of their path, launching a Big Gulp grenade, and otherwise pestering them with obnoxious and dangerous behavior.
Fortunately, these incidents are mostly rare--at least the intentional type. The unintentional stuff, though is sometimes the result of a phenomenon all bicyclists and motorcyclists must learn as a matter of self-preservation: you are invisible. Defensive driving, for a cyclist, is an issue of survival.
In Lincoln (and everywhere else I know of), bikes basically are treated like any other vehicle by the municipal ordinances. The major exception to that would be the required position in the lane. City ordinance states that bicycles must be ridden "as close as practicable to the right-hand side" of the roadway, if the bike is travelling at less than the "normal speed of traffic." Crowding the curb is a safety risk for a cyclists, so a couple feet to the left is generally what is practicable--but not always.
The seam where a concrete curb joins the pavement is prone to cracks, crevices, and pot holes, so a wider berth may be needed. Some roadways have drainage grates that will swallow a 1" tire and wheel. A row of parallel-parked cars is risky, and cyclists generally need to move out to the left by the approximate length of a 1972 Monte Carlo's door. The right-hand side of the roadway is impractical when you are preparing a lane change, a left turn, or getting positioned at an intersection to avoid right-turning cars from cutting across your path. Moving away from the right side in these circumstances complies with the "close as practicable" rule in the law, and motorists just need to deal with that, treating cyclists with the same respect as any other vehicle.
Trouble is, some motorists don't treat any other vehicle of any kind with respect. Aggressive driving seems to be a common condition for a growing number of motorists. It's not solely motorists, though. Some cyclists seem to think that traffic signals are optional. Occasionally, I will see cyclists in pairs or groups riding side-by-side, which violates the law. From time to time we get complaints about groups out for training rides who will form up into a peloton and basically occupy an entire street. The echelon may be good form, but it is also illegal. For the most part though, cyclists aren't the problem--rather, it's a nincompoop behind the wheel of a gas-guzzler, who views anything that slows his route as an annoyance.
I commuted to work by bike for a decade, back when running and triathlons were among my passions. For a good deal of that period, my seven mile trip home followed a shift that ended at 1:30 AM. That was interesting. Here's some advice for cyclists: When operating your 21 lb. road bike, do not get in an argument with a probable drunk who has poor impulse control and drives a 4,500 lb. weapon.