Why Do I Ride My Bicycle?
My bicycle is a means of transportation, not a toy. I'm not too poor to afford a car. I'm not a racer (though sometimes I dream of being one.) I choose to ride a bicycle because I save $400 every month, it's healthier for me, better for the environment, and it doesn't put money in the hands of mid-East oil terrorists. When you see me on the road, I'm trying do the same thing you're doing: go to work, the grocery store, the doctor's office, and the parent-teacher meeting.
I know it seems crazy when I'm riding in the rain, in the cold, or in the dark. Most of the time it's pleasant outside, even when the weather doesn't seem "perfect." I'm not the Wicked Witch of the West, so a little rain doesn't hurt, and I'm quite dry underneath my layers. I'm warm as I ride, partly because I'm riding. When it's dark I use lights. Except on the darkest country roads, I can see the roadway by natural lighting; my lights are to make sure that others see me.
I know you think it's dangerous to ride a bike on public roads, but statistically it's three times safer than walking and about five times faster. Oh, and it's also about a hundred times more fun!
Why Am I Riding in the Lane?
If you see me riding in the middle of the lane, it's not because I hate cars and am trying to annoy you, but because the lane is too narrow to safely share it with you. On city streets, people open car doors in front of me (ORS 811.490), so I need to stay far away from parallel parked cars. There are potholes, construction signs, metal rebar, hubcaps, and other obstacles on the shoulder or the bike lane that you might not be able to see. Glass, metal, and other debris can damage my tires and possibly cause me to fall, causing personal injury or even landing me in front of your wheels.
If it seems like I'm "darting into traffic", I have a good reason. It could be a pothole, a huge puddle that could be hiding a pothole, or a piece of debris (ORS 814.430 (2)). Remember, you're traveling much faster than I am and you're sitting behind an engine, so you have neither the time nor the clear line of sight to see the roadway like I do. One special circumstance you need to be aware of: just like a motorcycle, I may choose to weave my bicycle to cross a crack, raised lip, or railroad tracks at a right angle. If I don't do this and a track is the slightest bit slick or rough, I run the risk of falling.
Please don't tell me that I belong on a sidewalk. I have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles (ORS 814.400), including the use of the road. There are many restrictions upon riding upon a sidewalk (ORS 814.410), and it is illegal in many cities, including downtown Portland. It is also safer for me and pedestrians if I stay on the roadway. While I'm on the subject, 80% of the costs of the roads are borne through the general fund, so you don't have a special right to the roads because you're in a car; I pay for them too. Remember that the reason motorists need a driver's license and registration as well as pay taxes and insurance is because a car is so dangerous.
I may end up taking a lane depending on the direction I'm traveling. If I've swung out to the far left of the lane, I'm probably about to change lanes or make a left turn (ORS 814.430 (2)(b)). Please think twice before passing me if I've moved from the right. Passing on the right (ORS 811.415) requires as much care as passing on the left; see the next section.
Remember that I am safer if I have both hands on the handlebars. I will give hand signals, but I may put my hands back on the handlebars if I feel need more control over my vehicle (ORS 814.440 (2)).
Please Pass Safely
I'm higher up, in front of you, and traveling slower, all of which means I have a better view of upcoming traffic hazards than you do. If we're at a place like a blind corner where you wouldn't pass someone in a steel cage, I don't want you passing me either. Remember that if you crash while passing me, I will probably also get hurt.
Think about how you would feel if I fell down in front of you while you were passing. It could ruin your whole day. Most states have a law requiring you to leave at least three feet of distance when you go around me. In Oregon, you have to leave enough room so that if I fell towards you, you would completely miss me (ORS 811.065): that pretty much means the entire lane. You really are required to move into the next lane to move around me, and if you don't feel safe doing that, then I don't feel safe having you pass me.
I know you are an expert race car driver with nerves of steel and could squeeze by me with an oncoming car in the next lane. However, when your 2000 pound vehicle passes within mere inches of me at high speed, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor (ORS 163.190). This crime has the same punishment as if you struck a total stranger with your fist (ORS 163.160). Are you really that sort of person?
I understand that I am required to yield to you in order to pass (ORS 811.425), and I'm glad to do so when it is safe. You need to understand, however, that this is only if you are proceeding at less than the speed provided by Basic Rule (ORS 811.425 (1)(a)), and Basic Rule includes all of the problems I've been talking about above (visibility (811.100 (1)(e)), road surface (811.100 (1)(b)), or oncoming traffic (811.100 (1)(a))). When I prevent you from passing, I am making it safer for both of us. It's hardly ever the case that you need to wait more than six seconds before you can pass without endangering yourself, the oncoming drivers, or me. Please relax, be patient, and remember that you're only following the law.
When you choose to pass me, you really don't need to blow your horn. It may be hard for you to believe this, but your car is really loud; I'm more likely to know you're there than a motorist would; would you honk your horn to pass a car (ORS 815.225)?
We All Try to Obey Traffic Laws
I know there are bicyclists who behave really badly: they don't use hand signals, run stop lights, ride the wrong way down one way streets, ride without lights at night, and terrorize pedestrians on sidewalks. These bicyclists even scare me. There are also motorists who behave really badly: who have shouted obscenities at me, thrown things out their window at me, and even tried to run me off the road (in Corbett, with witnesses; I called 9-1-1). I always tell myself that it's human nature to remember the ones who behaved badly. (I sure remember that oaf in Corbett!) Please consider that for ever bad driver or cyclist you see, there are a hundred you didn't notice because they behaved well.
If you see me run a stop light, keep in mind that a lot of lights on suburban streets won't change for a vulnerable roadway user (ORS 801.608). My friends are always trying to get these lights fixed, but traffic engineers are reluctant to "slow down" traffic due to "phantom" cars, which is what a bicycle looks like to modern traffic signals. It's no safer for me to push the pedestrian button than it is for you to get out of your car, cross two lanes of traffic, push the button, cross two more lanes of traffic, then get back into your car. Please understand cyclists are left with a terrible choice, and we're trying to cross as safely as we can.
If I'm sitting squarely in the middle of a lane at a traffic light blocking you from making a right turn, I am trying to make the light turn green by positioning my bike over the wire sensor loop. Please don't be impatient; I deserve the same consideration as if I were there in a car waiting for the light to change.
If you roll through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop, I don't get mad, as long as you do it safely and take your proper turn in traffic; please allow me the same consideration.
Also, consider that when I make a mistake in traffic, I am probably the one who will be injured, whereas if you make a mistake, you can end up injuring or killing others. The risks and the consequences are different for for motorists and cyclists, and so cyclists and motorists will operate in traffic differently.
When you offer for me to go through an intersection out of turn, I know you're trying to be nice; it takes a lot of work to start a bicycle up from a stop, and we are less stable at slow speeds. I do appreciate the sentiment, but it really is safer if I cross the intersection when it's my turn. I like it when I can safely do so without stopping, but offering to let me go out of turn will confuse me, the people behind you, and the people behind me; all this makes it less safe. I really am grateful, but please don't do that.
Look for Bicycles
Do you know how most motorcyclists get killed by cars? It's when a car turns left in front of the motorcyclist, violating his right of way. Safety engineers say that motorists don't look for vehicles that are smaller than, well, a car. Please, you need to understand you share the road with other types of traffic, and just because they're too small to hurt you (much) doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention. I know this sounds obvious, but do the test to see how observant you really are and then come back to finish reading this.
Did you do the test? Seriously, I'll wait...
Bicyclists face the same danger from left turning motorists that motorcyclists do, except we have less power to scoot out of your way. At night I use use lights to try to get your attention, but it won't do any good unless you are looking for me.
Bicyclists have an additional problem that motorcyclists don't have. You know those bicycle lanes that allow you to conveniently ignore the bicyclists on the side of the road? The number two risk to bicyclists is when you pass me going the same direction and then make a right turn in front of me.
Please error on the side of caution when calculating when you can turn (either left or right), and plan ahead: it really doesn't make me feel safer (or make you use less gas) when you race ahead of me and then jam on the brakes with your right turn signal on waiting for me to pass.
If you are planning to make a right hand turn, don't ignore the bike lane. Pay attention well before your turn to see if there is a bike lane and if you might have a conflict with me before starting your turn. Use your turn signal and try to see where I am. If I choose not to pass you, I will try to make my intentions clear by either hanging back or even, if safe, pulling into your lane behind you. If it's legal where you live (not in Oregon), consider slowly entering the bicycle lane before making your right hand turn; as always it's your responsibility to execute the lane change safely.
Motorists have a tendency to underestimate the speed of bicyclists and motorcyclists. In city traffic or downhills it is quite possible that bicyclists are keeping up with traffic, and you shouldn't be surprised if I'm traveling as fast as 30 mph, which, except on open highway, really isn't that much slower than the other vehicles you're waiting for.
To all of you motorists (except the idiot in Corbett):
I know you try really hard to share the road with me, even if you don't understand everything I'm doing. You wait until it's safe to pass, give me plenty of room, and really try to look for me before making a turn. You understand (although sometimes I have to remind you) that perhaps this isn't the safest place to pass, or that I need to change lanes in order to make a left hand turn.
Thank you also for looking out for me when I make a mistake. All of us are human and occasionally forget or choose wrong. For the woman who slowed down when I mistakenly thought she had a stop sign, or the guy who slowed down when I forgot my turn signal, thank you! For the guy who slammed on his brakes when I spaced a traffic light, G*d bless you!
If we all work together, we really can share the roads. I'm your father, your son, your coworker, your husband, your friend; don't think of me as an enemy or an obstacle. Please be safe, and thanks for reading.