Everyday Cyclist: Cycling Etiquette for Dummies

I ride all over town and see bad drivers and cyclists. Here are the things that drive me nuts.

The side walk rider. According to John Forrester, who has spent his life researching cycling and road design, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, increases your odds of being hit by a car by at least 200%.

This may be surprising. But it makes sense if you stop to think about it. Most accidents that occur when cyclists are riding on sidewalks are the result of drivers turning into them at intersections or when the driver is exiting a driveway. Drivers briefly scan for pedestrians in their immediate field of vision. They are looking for pedestrians. Pedestrians typically walk at around 2-3 MPH. If no pedestrians are there, it’s safe to turn and will be for the next few seconds. Cyclists tooling down the sidewalk are more in the 5-8 MPH range. By the time the driver has scanned the sidewalks, looked for traffic, and is turning, a cyclist they didn’t see a second or two earlier in their immediate field of vision is now bouncing off the hood of their car.

Everyday I see cyclists riding on sidewalks. I’ve seen bike cops riding on sidewalks. I see kitted up commuters riding on sidewalks. Many of the commuters that I follow for the Bicycle Advisory Board commuter bike mapping project hop up on sidewalks. Sidewalks are a bail-out option only. You shouldn’t use them to save time or avoid bad intersections.
Cyclist riding against traffic. I’m surprised by how often I see this. Downtown, I see folks on bikes riding against traffic on one-way streets more than I can believe. I saw one cyclist riding west-bound (against traffic) on 1st Avenue towards Lincoln, where traffic was turning right into his lane. He swerved into the middle of the street, in between oncoming rows of traffic to avoid being hit. I wish this was an isolated event.

Cyclist blowing lights and stop signs. There’s the California Stop – where you cruise through a stop sign or light and turn right. Okay, I can live with that, and I do that, just as all drivers do that. But I’m talking about blowing red lights and stop signs where cyclists just go straight through the intersection without stopping. Most lights downtown are on timers. If you wait, the lights will turn. Not all lights everywhere are like that and Spokane does not have bike-sensitive sensors. If the light has a button for pedestrians and there are no cars stacking up behind you, then the light won’t turn. In this case, stop and treat it like a flashing light. Go when it’s safe.

The main reason this kind of behavior drives me nuts is because many drivers see this chicanery and assume that all cyclists are annoying renegades that don’t feel like they have to follow the rules. This affects me and my safety. There will always be a minority of aggressive, angry drivers that hate all other traffic no matter what. These angry folks seem to especially hate seeing cyclists in the road. So when already angry drivers are cut off by a cyclist or nearly hit one that comes blasting off a sidewalk or see us blowing through lights, these drivers can become dangerous.
I’ve been yelled at. I’ve had a bottle thrown at me. I’ve had drivers pass me way too close. These are jerks and I don’t blame bad cyclists for their behavior, but I can’t help but think when these jerks see bad cyclists it raises their blood pressure just a bit more and the next cyclist they see may be the one to pay the price.

If you are predicable, if you use hand signals, and if you follow the rules of the road, cycling in Spokane is a piece of cake and drivers are overwhelmingly courteous.

Cars that stop for cyclists when it’s not appropriate. This happens to me just about every time I ride by bike with my daughter. And any practical commuter type cyclists will cite this as one of the most annoying driver behaviors. The problem is when car drivers decide to make up their own rules and stop for a cyclist at an intersection where the cyclist does not have the right-of-way.

This happens to me all the time on Grand Boulevard. There are four lanes of traffic. I have a stop sign. I am waiting for a gap. Someone on Grand stops. The other three lanes keep going. The person that stops is waving me through, as if I’m going to just trot out into three lanes of oncoming traffic. Often, the driver behind the guy that suddenly stops nearly smashes into the stopper. This situation drives me nuts.

Drivers: you stop for pedestrians. Bikes are vehicles. I realize folks stop because they are being considerate, so the whole situation is crummy because they’re getting mad that you’re not going and you’re feeling like a shmuck as the other lanes come to a screeching halt as they realize what’s going on. But this kind of courteousness is dangerous.

The rules are simple. When you make up your own traffic rules bad things can happen. So the lesson for car drivers and cyclists alike is that by law, bikes are vehicles. You don’t have to like that, but you must accept it and recognize it. It’s actually a good system when you give it some thought and you ride a bit. So follow the rules.



John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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