Sharing the road with bicycles is hardly a hardship

Nobody's time is so important they can't look out for the little guy

May 03, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

There are many dreadful burdens in this cruel life we lead: disease, heartbreak, war, taxes and death. But despite all the anguished cries from drivers who balk at the slightest delay, sharing the roads with bicyclists just doesn't rank in the same class.

You wouldn't know that from some of the reactions on the Getting There blog to a recent item about a bill that establishes a buffer between motor vehicles and bicycles. The way some people carry on, you'd think they'd been sentenced to drive at bike speed in perpetuity.

The law that passed the General Assembly is simple enough. It tells the folks in cars and trucks and those testosterone-fueled Dodge Rams to allow 3 feet of distance between their vehicles and the bicyclists they are passing. It's something drivers should be doing already.

Now the police aren't going to be out on the streets with magic electronic rulers ticketing folks who come within 2 feet, 11 inches of a bicycle for a nanosecond. But it does give them a statute to rely on if they see some road-raging lunatic buzzing a bicyclist by a few inches. Chances are, most of the tickets under this law will be written after a driver actually clips a bicyclist. Right now, unless the police can show actual intent to injure, there's not a lot they can do in such cases.

Mostly the law serves to educate. It sets a standard that can be taught in driver's ed classes. It gives parents a clear-cut rule to pass on to their teens with learners' permits.

But for some folks, any concession to the safety of bicyclists is a surrender to the forces of two-wheeled evil. Here are a few of the reactions:

I live in a scenic rural area, where cycling groups take weekend fun rides EVERY weekend. The roads have no shoulders and no turn lanes. There are no easy detours — when I run across a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabes going 25 in a 40 or 50 mph zone, I can't just 'turn at the next corner and go around' them. That will take me a mile or more out of my way.

And there's this:

I use these roads to go to the grocery store, the doctor's office, my parents' house, the hardware store, you name it. I don't appreciate the packs of city dwellers who drive out here, park their cars, and clog up my neighborhood thoroughfares. I can't tell you how many times I have been driving at the posted speed and come around a blind corner, only to almost hit a cyclist going less than half the posted speed in the middle of the lane.

And another:

Shame on the State legislature for bowing down to another special interest group. … Bicyclists pay no highway taxes, and should therefore have no more special privileges than pedestrians.

When a bicyclist hears or sees a vehicle approaching, he should pull far off the shoulder to not [impede] traffic. Bicyclists caught in the traffic lanes should be fined.

My reaction: Cry me a river.

It has been more than five years since I last took a bicycle onto a Maryland road, so by now I am firmly in the majority of folks who get around mostly by engine-driven vehicles. But the experience of trying to share the road with speeding drivers tends to stay with you.

For decades now I've driven the back roads of Maryland, occasionally coming upon groups of bicyclists pedaling furiously but poking along by gas-driven standards. And at times, on curvy two-lane roads, their presence has actually forced me to slow down — sometimes for more than a minute or two — until the road straightened out and I could pass.

And guess what? There was no permanent damage. Never was an appointment missed or a destination denied. The world kept spinning on its axis.

Here's a flash for the internal combustion crowd: Bicyclists, even the Lance wannabes who live somewhere else, have a right to be on all roads except for a few high-speed highways. They do not impede traffic; they are an integral part of traffic. It has been thus since the dawn of the auto age. Should bicyclists stay to the right and use the shoulders when they can? Absolutely. But there are times when they have to use the travel lanes and the rest of us just have to learn to share.

Bicyclists may not pay gas taxes, but they pay sales tax on their bikes. The government hits them up in most of the ways it hits up others. Their bikes cause no pollution and almost zero wear to the road system. They don't require widened highways or significant traffic law enforcement.

They don't seem to demand much except that other drivers honor their right to safe roads. Even when they ask for a bike path, they're happy to share it with hikers.

So what harm are they doing?

The rules of the road boil down to an essential principle: The big should look out for the little guy even when the little guy is in the wrong. The tractor-trailer truck driver should defer to the guy in the SUV; the SUV driver should let the woman in the small car merge; the motorist should look out for motorcyclists and bicyclists, who should in turn refrain from running over pedestrians.

Maybe the local clergy could find a sermon topic in this clash between motorized and human-propelled cultures.

How would Jesus drive? Would he buzz bicyclists or counsel us that blessed are the meek of vehicle?

Would the Buddha rage at delay or find good karma in driving gently?

Would Muhammad spur us to vehicular jihad or remind us that Allah prizes mercy over wrath.

Can't we at least agree that Moses and the authors of the Talmud would tell us to stop kvetching and obey the law already?

With Gov. Martin O'Malley planning to sign the bill, the 3-foot law will take effect Oct. 1. There's no reason under Heaven to wait until then to comply.

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