Huh?

A post from one of my favorite bicycle bloggers elicited the following comment from a reader:

Commenter: I had my first true road rage incident last summer while driving down on the Cape behind two young women riding two abreast in the middle of the lane. True, this was a fairly slow road-to-the-beach type road but it was paved and marked and there was plenty of traffic, including a stream of cycling families coming in the other direction. After I’d idled hopefully for a few seconds, the women started waving me lazily to go around them–impossible given the oncoming traffic. It was so bizarre–I spend much more time on my bike than I do driving, but the cluelessness and rudeness of these women made me so steamed–they just didn’t want to move over. I’m sorry to say that it escalated into honking (I had a stream of cars behind me) and then eventually into a full-blown screaming match–surely the last scenario anyone wants after a laid-back afternoon at the beach.

Blogger’s reply: This is exactly why I think the “we have the right to the full lane” law is not practicable.

The blogger’s reply puzzles me.  It is rare for pedalers to advocate for the elimination of (what many cyclists believe to be) a valuable right.  I will send her this post and invite her to comment.

You know I love the full lane law.  It helps keep me safe.  The full lane law gives me a right to a full lane when the lane is too narrow to share or the right hand side of the road is dangerous for pedaling.  I have to move right as soon as conditions allow.

The commenter doesn’t tell us anything about the width of the lane or the condition of the right hand side of it. Maybe the road is narrow. Maybe the right hand side was covered in sand deep enough to make pedaling there dangerous. We just don’t know.  Even if the commenter felt the road was wide enough and the right hand side clear, I support pedalers’ right to make that call.  No matter if they are wrong or right, my obligation is to wait behind them until it is safe to pass.

Riding two abreast is generally not legal when faster road users are trying to pass, but once you have a right to take the lane, for as long as you have that right, I see no reason why two can’t ride side by side.  I don’t do it because I don’t want to risk angering motorists, but I am surprised that the commenter, as a cyclist presumably on vacation, wasn’t able to keep her anger in check.  If I were driving behind them, I’d do my best to keep in mind that it is a beach town.  Some people who pedal there don’t know the rules or what they should do to keep themselves safe.

Patience is too often in short supply on our roads. The commenter said she was idling behind the pedalers for a few seconds when they waived her around. Her anger sprouted so quickly?  Traffic can be terrible on the Cape, but you are in the Cape!  Even without a single pedaler the traffic would be terrible.  Slow down! Relax!  Drive at 10 miles per hour!  So what?!  I would bet you a $100 that in less than a minute the pedalers would have moved over or an opportunity to pass safely would have arisen.

Onward.  Even if the pedalers are taking a lane when they should not, how does that support the blogger’s conclusion that the right to use a full a lane is not practicable?  The pedalers in the story may have been wrong, but I don’t see pedalers needlessly taking the lane very often or for very long.  I don’t drive much, but I can’t remember ever being “stuck” behind a pedaler for more than a minute.  Add up all the time I have been “stuck” behind pedalers in my entire life and I’d probably have enough time to eat a small pizza.  I can do without another pizza.

[The pictures in this post are of one of the very few bicycles I have sold.  It highlights the fun of mixing and matching parts.  I pedaled that thing all over Lincoln, Chicago, New York City and then Omaha.  It was my first real racer.  I pedaled it quickly.  It used to carry me to visit Lacey when she was at Barnard.  Those were the best trips.  The last picture was taken just before the buyer came to pick it up.  Of course I miss it.  I have since bought back from the buyer the rear deraileur and the cranks.  Maybe over time I will acquire and reassemble the whole thing and take it for a ride.]

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6 responses to “Huh?

  1. Hello hello…

    To clarify: By “I do not think it’s practicable” I did not mean that I advocate against the law. I meant that in many instances, insisting on taking the full lane is not a good idea in practice though technically it is legally allowable. Although cyclists (as any slow vehicle) are legally permitted to take the lane, there is also a good faith convention for slow moving traffic to keep to the right when possible and safe to do so. I have noticed that some cyclists almost see it as their duty to ignore this convention, just so they can take advantage of the full lane law out of principle.

    From the “road rage” incident Sarah (herself a cyclist who rarely drives) described, it seemed that the women were intentionally blocking the lane just because they could, without consideration of others. After all, they had only to fall in line, one behind the other, and allow traffic to pass, but they chose not to. I think that blocking the lane intentionally when a safe option exists not to is a bad idea, because:
    1. it unnecessarily holds up traffic and inconveniences multiple other road users,
    2. it communicates that cyclists do not behave in good faith,
    3. it elicits hostility from motorists,
    4. it can endanger other road users, should the motorist act out their frustration and do something reckless in order to pass the cyclist, and
    5. it can potentially get the cyclist in legal trouble, as law enforcement does not always share their interpretation of the right to take the full lane (have you been following the ChipSeal story in Texas?).

    There is the law, but there is also common sense. I am glad the law exists because sometimes taking the lane is necessary for our safety. But I also believe that taking the full lane in any and all circumstances just because we can is in bad faith and contrary to common sense.

    • Thank you. Good clarifications. I am glad you support this law and its careful and considerate application.

      On the other hand, while it may be reasonable to conclude that these particular pedalers were rude, I believe that individual cyclists should decide for themselves when it is safe to pedal on the right side of the road and that my obligation when encountering them is not to judge their behavior but to quietly wait a safe distance behind until it is safe to pass. I am convinced that honking and yelling to try to get another road user out of the way is a bad idea for the reasons you cite in numbers 2-5 in your response.

      Thanks again for taking the time to weigh in. Enjoy the long weekend!

  2. So, since it was my comment that got picked up, I feel compelled to clarify a little bit.

    Yes, it is a beach town and yes, I am generally one of the ones–on bike or while driving–who’s going slow and feeling shocked at the number of people who are still driving as if they’re in downtown Boston. This was not a case of a bicyclist taking the lane because of safety issues or any common sense share-the-road reasoning. They were riding abreast spread across the center of the lane., pedaling very idly in that late afternoon, post-beach way. There was a stream of cyclists coming the other direction,including a fleet of wobbly small children–there was no way to go around these women. I am all for slowing down, especially at the beach (though for our family this is a place where we work, not just relax) but there’s a limit. Did I mention that I had a string of cars behind me, all starting to get impatient and honk at me? Did I mention that these women showed no regard for anyone but themselves on the road? Or that they were the ones who started screaming at me first, along the lines of “go the f*CK around” when it was clear that I’d have to head into the other lane against the tide of cycling families and cars? Yes, I finally lost my temper, as did my teenaged daughter, and we all used some choice words. But just because I’m a bike nut myself doesn’t mean that I’m going to make excuses for shoddy and unsafe behavior from fellow cyclists, no matter how much they’re enjoying their afternoon. My daughter said almost immediately “well, that was ironic!” i.e. ME in a car, yelling at people on BIKES.

    • Thanks for taking the time to write.

      I wrote about it here instead of replying to your comment and didn’t use your name because I didn’t want you to have to try to explain yourself. I understand frustration and anger and fall victim to it myself most every day. I shared your story only to ask the blogger to explain her reply to your situation.

      My only hope having read your reply to the original post and now to my post is that you would work to extend or even eliminate your limit before you use the horn to try to move pedalers (outside the context of an imminent collision that the honker can’t otherwise avoid) and that you’d let pedalers decide what they need to do to feel safe or even enjoy their ride.

      Thanks again for sharing your story and for following up. Have a great weekend.

  3. Hi–
    I take your point, but again–I am writing as someone who bikes every day. I didn’t get a drivers license until well into my thirties. I am a extremely cautious driver and a temperate person and generally my sympathies and protective instincts are with the folks on the bike. Giving a wide berth to a cyclist who, for whatever reason, is choosing to ride more centrally in the lane is a very different thing from accommodating two oblivious young ladies taking up the entire lane with their bikes. And if you reread my post you’ll see that I did not start honking after a few seconds–that was when they waved me around, without turning around or assessing the situation at all. The build-up to the confrontation was much, much longer than that, again to the point that I had a line of cars behind me.

    I’m sorry to sound so defensive but as you can tell it was a very strange and upsetting incident for me. I just don’t buy the line that the cyclist is always right or that anyone’s interest or safety is served by riding the way these girls were. If I’d been riding behind the families on the other side who were taking up a fair portion of the lane and wobbling around as kids do (as well as their parents, many of whom aren’t regular cyclists) I’d have been happy to wait all day!

    Best wishes for a long weekend of biking!

    • Thanks for sticking with this. Very helpful. I understand why the event went down the way it did and harbor no hard feelings toward you because of it.

      My sincerest hope is that all road users are polite all the time. It’s just a hope, but I am sticking to it. Truth be told, I have even broader hopes for good behavior, but I should try to stay on topic. I can’t make other people be polite, so I work on the only person I have a chance of changing (me). To me, a lack of politeness from other road users doesn’t justify a lack of politeness on my part. I fail in this regard all too often, but I see it as a failure on my part (not on the part of the other road users), and strive to do better next time.

      Thanks for the nice wishes. I have the same for you!

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