Almost everyone knows cyclists are supposed to ride on the right, but this is only the first part of a two part road sharing rule. You have to know both parts for the rule to work. Take, for example, a stop sign. If traffic only stopped, every trip would end at the first stop sign. Part one of the rule is on the sign. Part two is look and proceed when it is clear. That’s not on the sign, but we all know it so no need to put it on the sign. Part two of the road sharing rule is unfortunately known to very few road users. Part two of the road sharing rule allows cyclists to move left (a) to turn left, (b) to avoid hazards such as potholes, glass or parked cars and (c) when the lane is too narrow to be shared by a cyclists and a motorist side-by-side. Part two of the rule allows pedalers to take the lane until it is once again safe to move right. The NYDOT characterizes part two as only an exception to the law. I ride left in the lane as much as I ride right. The exception nearly swallows the rule.
Why is part two of the road sharing rule kept secret? I blame it on our car-centered culture. Part one of the rule keeps traffic flowing. When you motor, flow is great. That’s why you spend so much of your income on a car. Easy fast transport. Part two of the road sharing rule gets in the way of motoring flow. Part two only keeps pedalers, a small subset of traffic, safe. Advertising part two of the law will slow down motorists.
We know the inconvenience to motorists is small and short in duration, but anything less than 10 mph over the speed limit is a huge inconvenience to a small but vocal subset of road users. These road users are loud and scary. They honk, they tailgate, they yell out their windows. They are road bullies.
Road bullies are why so many of us go five or ten over the speed limit when we drive. Remember when you first learned to drive? What felt safe? Slow! You went faster than you should sooner than you should because you didn’t want to stick out in traffic. Remember the first time you went on a highway? If you were like me, it was scary as all get out to speed up to 55 mph, but scarier still to go any slower with the 3,000 pound intimidators breathing down your neck.
Now you are an experienced driver and should know you aren’t going to get rear ended. Still you speed. The road bullies are still there. Your ego is delicate. If you don’t exceed the speed limit, a road bully will be on your tail and intimidate you until you fall into line (and out of bounds of the law). You shouldn’t fall into line. They should. They need to behave.
We need to resist. Think Gandhi. Quietly follow the traffic laws. Ignore the bullies. It works. Think everyone goes five or ten over when they motor? Set your cruise control at the speed limit and you’ll be passed constantly. Wait, though. Look in your rearview mirror. There will be a bunch of cars not gaining on you. Other speed limit followers. The ones you used to pass.
When you go five or ten over, you are constantly passing other road users. When you pass, you are responsible for safely executing the pass. You are placing you and the other motorists in danger and need to be on high alert to safely complete the maneuver. Your trip is a never ending stream of tests with high stakes. Now go the speed limit. You will pass almost no one. The other road users are passing you. They are doing all the work. You are chilling. It is dreamy, I tell you. Feel bad that you are holding up traffic? You aren’t! They are all breaking the law.
Apply this example to sharing the road. Find the chillest path. Most road users are cautious and compassionate. These road users do what it takes to safely share the road whether they know all the rules or not. When they encounter a pedaler in the middle of a lane, they slow and follow at a safe distance until it is safe to pass while leaving at least three feet of space (but probably much more). Low blood pressure for all my friends. They are the examples we need to follow when we motor. When we pedal, we need to work extra hard to keep ourselves safe. That means staying right only as long as the right side is the safest place to be. When it is safer to move left, do it, and then move right as soon as you safely can. Most other road users will wait to pass, but there will be a few bullies. They’ll rev their motor, honk and/or yell.
While it is usually safe to ignore bullies when you are in a car trying out your new go the speed limit style, I try to get out of the way of bullies when I am pedaling. Too vulnerable. Staying in their way will not teach them anything and will only put you at needless risk. Bail right. Pull over. Let them go. Then chill again. This is why I like the Bicycles May Use the Full Lane signs. Not for the good and kind road users, but for the admittedly small subset of bullies that can still be educated. With this group, the signs are our only chance to get part two of the share the road rule out of the shadows. Signs are Ghandi-like. Quiet and resolute yet they reach many people. If one road bully can be reached, I’d say the signs are a success.
The NYDOT thinks education off the road will do the job. My experience says otherwise. I spent a few moments looking for road sharing tips from big cycling advocacy groups this morning. Pretty disappointing stuff. The League of American Bicyclists has a share the road page which says little more than stay right. There are hints of part two of the share the road rule, but if you don’t know it already, you won’t be able to tease it out of their page. The NYBC’s share the road module says on page 9 only that cyclists must stay to the right. Make it to page 17 and you’ll get the gentlest of hints as to part two of the road sharing rule. No wonder part two of the road sharing rule is a secret. If this is the best our cycling advocacy groups can do, we need the BICYCLES MAY USE THE FULL LANE SIGNS. Education off the road has failed. The signs give clear and immediate legitimacy to the act of moving left when pedaling. I WANT THE SIGNS!