Whose Road is it Anyway?

It’s rush hour. You’ve hurried out the door with your travel mug and a head full of ambitions for the day only to meet with compacted traffic all the way to work. Then, as you’re waiting your turn at another stop light, you see him; that spandex-clad cyclist riding his bike along-side traffic. “Did he just pass me?’, you ask the dashboard.  He’s inches from the cars, carrying his work clothes and computer on his back. ‘Is he crazy? He shouldn’t be out here. Who in their right mind ….? That guy could really get hurt,’ you think.

Imagine now, what the cyclist must think. As he passes car after car, heart rate racing, cars squeezing him further to the side. His ambitions for the day have been set aside. The commute will bring enough challenges of its own. He needs to watch out for every danger, remaining hyper-aware of motorists that could put him at risk. Still, he finds reason enough to leave his driveway with a bicycle rather than a car.

I am a bicycle mechanic and I spend my days in a bike shop. So, people often interrogate me about why cyclists ride where they do, why they ride when they do and who, exactly, do they think they are. It’s typically something like, “Do those guys on bikes think they own the road?” or “What is wrong with the cyclists around here? They must be crazy riding like that in traffic.”

I also get an earful from the other side. It’s not that cyclists don’t like cars; but drivers who are texting, talking on the phone or singing along with the radio while touching up make up at stop lights and finishing off their fast food breakfasts at the same time; pose a very real threat to cyclists.

While cycling to work is not as popular in Raleigh and Wake Forest as it is in many US cities, it is on the rise. More and more bicycles are going to be mingling with sleepy morning drivers and then joining them again for the ride home. It’s a mini adventure, a work out and a means of transportation rolled into one. But the growing popularity of bike commuters has brought with it some tension between those who drive and those who ride. What perhaps may be most needed, is common ground and some understanding of who, exactly, has the right of way.

So, when a motorist and cyclist meet on the street, who has the right of way? Both. Stop signs, stop lights, speed limits, pedestrian rights, cross walks, yield signs all apply to bikes. Bikes are subject to the rules of the road. Practically though, any collision on the road, even an accident at low speed, can have severe consequences for both bicycles and riders. To be fair, cyclists have to understand that cutting in and out around vehicles, ignoring traffic laws and riding irresponsibly, can not only put themselves and others in danger; it also gives cyclists a bad name and perpetuates the misunderstanding that a bicycle has no place on the road.

But why do it? Imaging if you could help resolve three of America’s most daunting problems; Cycling to work does exactly that. It addresses the oil crisis, American sedentarianism and the obesity crisis all at once. While thousands of gallons of gasoline are burned up as your community heads off to work. Bike commuters use none. So, the more that bicycles are used, the less critical the oil crisis seems. While most of the people you know live sedentary lives, spending their lives in cubicles and commuter cars; cycling makes a body move. It tones muscles, improves agility and relieves stress. Although heart disease runs rampant through our society, twenty to thirty minutes of low impact exercise each day can make a significant difference in cardiovascular health. Cycling to work a few days a week provides this. Last but not least, riding a bike to work can burn thousands of calories which helps maintain an advantageous body mass and it quite simply makes us healthier.

So when you see that guy on a bike in the middle of morning traffic, put your cell phone away and give him a little more room. It’s his road too. To be fair though, if you’re the guy on the bike, pay a little more attention to the motorists. There’s no reason to be a nuisance. There is plenty of room out there for all of us. As Raleigh and Wake Forest becomes more bike friendly, more people are going to be using bikes as basic transportation. Let’s look out for one another.

I’ll see you out there,

The Bike Guy