When I hear most people talk about doing something on their bicycle, they refer to the activity as "riding" their bicycle. Riding something sounds like fun, as though we should stop by the ticket booth at the carnival and buy enough tickets to make sure we can get on that ride. Like a bicycle is a toy or something.
I don't ride my bicycle, I drive it. A bicycle is a vehicle, and has the same rights and responsibilities on the road as any other vehicle. For the past couple of years I've driven my bicycle from my home in Oradell, to my workplace in Montvale. I also drive my bicycle to the library, post office, and anywhere else around town I need to get to.
Driving my bicycle means I'm on the road with the cars, as well as the trucks. Most of the drivers of the other vehicles are courteous, and make me feel safe on the road. I attribute this to making my intentions clear, and acting like my bicycle is a vehicle. Which is what a bicycle is, a vehicle.
The bicycle laws in most states are pretty consistent. Here are a few basic considerations when driving a bicycle:
- Bicyclists have a right to use the roads, except where a bicycle is prohibited (generally roads with on and off ramps).
- Bicyclists have a right to stay safe, which means riding with at least 3 feet of space to their right. As a vehicle, the only legal position to be in on a road is on the right side, riding with traffic.
- If the road that remains to a bicyclist's left (after ensuring they have 3 feet on the right) is less than 11 feet, they have the right to "control the lane". This means they can prevent cars from passing them in that lane.
- When all of the above are satisfied, bicyclists are not allowed to impede traffic.
As a regular bicycle commuter and utility rider, and a certified bicycling instructor, I'm occasionally confronted by angry drivers. I'm also often a target for angry drivers in social settings, when they learn I am "one of those bicycle riders". As a bicycle commuter, I see the damage that bad bicycle driving does for this healthy and environmentally friendly activity. I also see my share of bad automobile drivers. So go ahead and vent in the comments, but you won't get the satisfaction of having me defend bad drivers of any vehicles in my responses.
Advice for bicycle drivers:
- Drive your bicycle. This means not riding up the right side of cars in traffic. If you wouldn't do something in your car, don't do it on your bike.
- Stay in the lane furthest right that takes you to your destination. When you encounter traffic, take your place in the lane with the cars.
- Signal your intentions. My experience is that when you are predictable, drivers will respect your safety.
- Avoid confrontations. This is sometimes hard to manage, but trust me. Yelling at ignorant drivers won't help anyone. I've tested this plenty of times.
- Be assertive, but not aggressive.
- Learn about driving your bicycle. There are loads of resources online, with one of the best places for information League of American Bicyclists.
Advice for gasoline powered vehicle drivers:
- Horns are used only prior to imminent impact or danger. Pressing your horn out of frustrating won't help speed the rider up. (NY law encourages drivers to inform bicyclists they are approaching by tooting the horn. This law was written by a frustrated car driver)
- Waiting behind a bicyclist for a safe passing opportunity usually requires less than 30 seconds.
- The person on the bicycle is probably many things - grandparent, grandchild, sibling, cousin, spouse, parent, or friend to many people. Just like you are. Think of them as humans, not a nuisance. Please.
The roads are funded from taxes, little of which comes from fuel tax or tolls. Everyone pays for the roads, and we are all entitled to use them. Please be considerate and careful out there.
Have you ever dreamed of riding your bicycle around town? To work? Did you ride once, and no longer do? Do you ride now?