If I were to say, “Bicyclists have the same rights as car drivers on the road,” would you agree? And if you agreed, what would that mean? Does that mean, for example, that bicyclists have to signal before turning (not that all car drivers do, but by law they’re supposed to). Does it mean that bikes should watch the speed limit and maintain it at all times?
Anyway, do bikes have the same rights as cars on the road?
In lots of places they do. For example, there’s an online quiz out of Madison, WI to help you figure out your bike IQ and the first question lays it to rest: cyclists have the same rights as car drivers. The thing is, though, they are quite clear in stating that cyclists also have the same responsibilities as car drivers. And that’s where things might be a little dicey, it seems.
My neighbor Susan recently encountered a bicyclist on 3rd Ave W in Seattle. 3rd Ave W is a very steep hill in Seattle, heading up to the Queen Ann neighborhood which is high atop a hill overlooking the rest of Seattle. (Brian has corrected me on the Counterbalance issue–while 3rd W is steep indeed, it’s not as steep as the Counterbalance, and he as a cyclist living on Queen Ann, often takes 3rd W and finds it a path with all its own difficulties–it’s steep, it’s narrow, you’ll likely not go faster than 3 or 4 mph, and there’s not really room to pull over to the right for cars. That said, from what Susan indicated, this cyclist didn’t even try and eventually managed to stop traffic in both directions.
So Susan is heading up this hill in her car when about halfway up she finds herself behind a cyclist who is riding in the center of the lane…and riding very slowly, as one might imagine. If I were riding up the counterbalance, I expect I would be doing about 4 miles an hour. Is it fair to expect the cars on this very busy street to do 4 miles an hour behind you, with the steep grade and traffic lining up? Of course not. And that’s where responsibilities comes in. But apparently this cyclist had other ideas….
When Susan tried to go around the cyclist, driving into the oncoming traffic, the cyclist lost it, dropped her bike in front of Susan’s car and began screaming at her that “she has the same rights as cars!” Same rights, perhaps, but same responsibilities, too.
So, I have no illusions that the cyclist Susan encountered will read this, but if she does, I personally want to thank her for doing damage to the tenuous relations between cyclists and cars. (please read Brian’s forthcoming comments on this last bit, as he rides more than I do and has a LOT to say about the tenuous relationship between bikes and cars in traffic.)
Personally, I try to avoid cars as much as possible, and will zip here and there in my efforts to be as far from them as possible. I don’t assume I have more rights or anything else because truth be told, if a car hits you, all the rights in the world won’t protect you from harm. That said, I will note that Pemco Insurance wrangled full coverage for me the one time I was hit and made it clear to the other driver that indeed, I had the same rights as a car driver. Much appreciated, for sure, but I still won’t pit myself against a car.
My pal Brian is scrupulous about following the same traffic laws as cars and I admire him for that. He rides more than I do and I envy his approach. When I used to commute downtown on a daily basis, I found traffic made me cranky and nervous–even if you do follow the laws, that doesn’t guarantee you won’t get side-swiped or yelled at or all the other things that happen to cyclists on a regular basis.
Still, I love my bike and I love running around on it. Makes life easier lots of times, and more fun too. But you won’t ever, not ever, see me take on a car in traffic. I will zip through stops, ride on sidewalks, cross wherever I can–all to stay clear of cars and maintain my forward momentum.
Daily stats (Mon, Tue)
Car: 10 miles (6 tasks)