Life in the Bike Lane column
Last week, heading south on Newcastle Road, I turned left on to Powerhouse. Around the first turn, I encountered a cyclist coming the other way. It was downhill for him and he was moving at a good clip but he was where he was supposed to be (as far to the right as safe), wearing bright clothes and paying attention.
I was in my small car, traveling at the correct speed and well within my lane, even on the narrow road.
In short, we were both doing everything right. We passed each other in about one second and there were absolutely no problems.
But it still gave me a little start. I’ll bet his heart rate jumped a bit, too.
As a driver who is also a cyclist, I am probably more aware than most of potential encounters with cyclists on narrow, twisty roads. And when I am riding, I think about all the times I have seen drivers cut corners or “take their half out of the middle” on those roads.
I’m thinking about roads such as Chili Hill, Ridge and Millertown. Each one has sharp curves where a cyclist might swing a little wide (especially when traveling downhill). In many cases, the road is so narrow that there is no centerline to help position the driver or rider.
Bike riders: the next time you are driving, think “what if a cyclist is just around that corner? Check your speed. Could you slow down or stop safely, especially if that rider is traveling at about 4 mph up Baxter Grade? Are you, in your car, as far to the right as safe, just in case a rider is coming down Mt. Vernon at 30 mph and needs all his lane to make the turn safely?
It seems to me, when my group is heading up Aeolia in Auburn (for instance) on our bikes, we invariably meet a car coming downhill at the same time one is behind us heading up hill. If you know this street, it’s really only about a lane and one half wide. Even without six bikes in between, the cars would have trouble passing each other.
A rider doesn’t need to break the law to create anxiety in a driver or create an unsafe situation on the road. A common complaint of drivers is that they don’t know what a rider is going to do. I have some confidence in those riders who appear responsible and experienced, but that guy in dark street clothes weaving in and out with little regard for traffic makes me nervous.
By observing other riders from our cars and critiquing their riding, we cyclists can improve our own ability to ride safely. Notice where riders are in relation to the edge of the roadway. Are they paying attention to their surroundings? Did they make that left turn as safely as possible? Are they riding predictably? Making hand signals when they are turning?
If you see something unsafe, do you have to admit that you do it, too?
We have all heard reports of aggressive riders or those who initiate their own style of road rage. There is, of course, the famous finger but I have seen riders pound on the trunk of a car at a stop sign after being cut off by the driver. They certainly don’t help the overall image of the cyclist.
When you get on your bike, whether it’s for a quick trip to the store, a bit of single track at Hidden Falls or a 30-mile training ride for the next triathlon, remember that we are all ambassadors for a great sport.
Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.