I know many people who refuse to ride on the roads because it is too dangerous. I can't blame them, but on the other hand, I refuse NOT to ride on the roads. It goes back to what I said in my first blog post: "If I can't ride somewhere right from my home, then I probably won't bother riding at all." (A person does not want to do any more work than he/she has to.)
I know I have a right to my slice of the road, and I want to exercise that right. I have this theory that if more people would exercise that right, then motorists would become more aware, and have to share the road. Some cities, especially in other countries, have the culture that bike-riding is a valid (and popular) form of transportation, and the motorists have to give way. I wish it were like that in Maryland. I've been yelled at many times to "Get off the road!" which hurts my feelings, but does not deter me. I don't want to be in anyone's way, and so I try not to ride on really busy roads at rush hour, and I ride on sidewalks sometimes even though I shouldn't (though I always yield to pedestrians). Those are the concessions I'm willing to make for the convenience of motorists.
But what is the law? Are cyclists really allowed to ride down Montgomery Road whenever they want? What about Route 1? I found the following at http://www.cpabc.org/mdlaws.htm which sites further references. It's short enough to post in full.
When bicycling through Maryland, we want you to have fun and be safe, so please be aware of your skill levels, make sure your equipment is in good working order, always wear a helmet and obey the following rules:
In Maryland, the bicycle is classified as a vehicle with all of the same requirements and restrictions as a motor vehicle, except the following:
Bicycles are prohibited on:
- Roads where the posted speed limits are greater than 50 mph (riding on the shoulder of the roadway is permitted)
- Expressways or other roadways where bicycles are prohibited
- The travel lanes of roads where there exists a smooth shoulder or bicycle lane (except to make left turns or to avoid debris in the shoulder space).
On all public roads, where bicycling is allowed, the operator must:
- Wear a bicycle helmet if they are under 16 years old
- Obey all traffic signs, signals and other traffic devices
- Ride in the same direction as motor vehicles, as near to the right side of the roadway as possible
- Use standard arm signals to alert other drivers of lane changes and turns
- Stop for school buses when they are loading or unloading children
- Yield to pedestrians
- Refrain from wearing a headset that covers both ears.
Legally, the bicycle must be equipped with:
- Front and rear lamps and reflectors if the bicycle is used on a public road at any time when there is insufficient light or inclement weather
- A bell or horn (sirens and whistles are not acceptable)
For specific language on the laws that pertain to bicycles, call and request a copy of "The Maryland Vehicle Law Pertaining to Bicycles."
So we should now agree that a cyclist has a right to be on the road. But rights don't matter that much if you're dead, so I can understand why so many people are afraid to ride on the roads in busy areas like Elkridge. Obviously, cyclists are much more vulnerable in traffic accidents, and there are many websites devoted to how to be safe, and what quick mechanical checks to make on your bike before you head out. I just want share some of the main things that occur to me both as a bike-rider and a motorist in this post.
First, let's say you are a motorist, and I am a cyclist. I am riding on Landing Road and you want to pass me. What should you do?
First of all, please don't honk, even gently as a warning. Honking might startle me and cause me to steer off course. Can you pass me? Yes, please do, but only if you can see far enough ahead, because you are going to have to cross the double-yellow lines in order to give me the 3 feet of clearance that the law requires. Yes—three feet. If you pass closer than that, the lateral forces of your vehicle may cause me to steer off course. Landing Road has hills and curves. You have to be patient. It is hard to be patient near the crest of a hill because I ride so slowly uphill, and I understand that, but on the other hand, it makes me easier to pass because you can do so quickly. Just make sure you have the necessary visibility. I'm sorry there is no shoulder on Landing Road, so I can't help you.
Now, what if there is one of those training flocks of bikes on Landing Road? This happened to me a couple weeks ago when I was driving home in my car. It was tricky. They were passing each other, and were strung out all along the road. I waited for most of them to start climbing a big straight hill, and they started separating out more, and I was able to pass them little by little. I don't know if I did the right thing, but no one was hurt. The worst-case scenario is that you can't find a safe place to pass. Landing Road is 2 miles long. It will take a group of fit cyclists about 8 minutes to go from end to end. The speed limit is only 30 mph, which means a motorist should take 4 minutes. How late will you be for wherever you are going? That's right, at most 4 minutes. Get used to it, because if I had my way, there'd be more bikes than cars anyway.
Now let's say you are a cyclist and I'm a motorist. What else can you do, besides following the above rules, to keep safe?
First and foremost (aside from wearing a helmet even if you are over 16 years old!), wear bright colors that clash with the environment. For example, in summer, perhaps green, though bright, is not the safest color. A day-glow greenish yellow, or yellowish green, is fine, but a regular leaf-green shirt might not be perfect. White is okay, except in the snow. Grey is never good. You blend in with the roads. Remember, I'm a motorist. I'm also a mathematician. I might be working out some mental math problem in my head, like how long it takes to traverse Landing Road, or something like that. You need to be IN MY FACE as bright as you can be. Jerk me out of my daydreams. Also, remember that drivers are still playing with their cell phones, no matter what the law says. They might not be texting or talking, but there are so many apps that might be distracting them. Also, keep in mind that on bright sunny days, you might think you show up well enough, but when you ride in the dappled light under trees, you are even less visible because I (the motorist) am probably wearing sunglasses and my eyes are doing funny things. Draw attention to yourself!
This brings me to a confession, which hurts my heart. I struck a bicyclist once. I was coming out of my driveway. There's no excuse really. I was on autopilot, with my eyes trained for automobile traffic. It was Sunday morning, the traffic is usually light, I didn't see any cars, so I made my move, right into a cyclist. He got a skinned knee, ripped pants and a bent fender. I was so upset. I tried to get him to come to my home and let me bandage him up, but he refused my assistance. He wanted to continue his ride, but his wheel was rubbing. I helped him find the bent fender and straighten it out, and he pedaled away. I can't blame him for wanting to get as far away from me, as quickly as possible. If I had an excuse, it would be that he was wearing a gray coat and black pants. The visibility around the end of my driveway is somewhat impaired as well, because of a neighbor's fence, but I don't call that an excuse. I believe if he'd been wearing bright red, or day-glow yellow or something like that, I'd have been jerked out of my autopilot mode. Still, it was all my fault. He was not doing anything illegal.
I once read a list of 40 reasons to go cycling, and one of them was that it is an excuse to wear bad fashion. So break out those garish colors and make sure the absent-minded mathematicians on the road can see you!
Sometimes, as a motorist, I see cyclists at night, and all I can see are the reflectors on the pedals, and it takes a while for my brain to connect that to a cyclist. At least I see something, but if I came upon one of these cyclists suddenly, my brain might not make the connection in time. A blinking tail light helps. Reflective strips on day-glow tops help too. If you want to ride in the dark, please light yourself up like a Christmas tree!
If you are passing by an intersection, even if you have right-of-way, and I'm sitting in my car waiting to cross, and you see me, please try to make eye-contact with me, especially if you sense that I'm edging up, ready to spring. Also be wary at intersections, because sometimes cars pass you, just to take the next right turn (I hope not me though!). I've heard several cyclists complain that they were nearly struck in this manner.
If you are passing by parked cars (and I always forget this tip), remember that someone in the car might not think to look for a cyclist before opening their door. Pass these cars with vigilance and as much distance as you can safely muster.
Have eyes in the back of your head. Or at least a mirror. Keep aware of the motorists around you, and recognize that they might not see you. It was in the news recently that a young man was killed in Baltimore while riding "safely" in the bike-lane. An elderly person didn't see him, and made a right turn across the lane, striking him. That is one of those sad, tragic stories. We tend to take for granted that the bike lane is safe. I don't know what else to say about that. I pray almost every day that I'm not one of those people that absent-mindedly hurts, maims or kills someone in that way. So sad.
One of the comments on my first blog post was pertaining to the laws about motorists who are involved in collisions with cyclists, where the cyclists die. The assertion was that the driver cannot be charged with manslaughter, even if the accident was their fault, because the cyclist was taking the risk to be on the road. I believe the comment was actually about motorcyclists, but it is a similar situation. I don't know much about this law. I read that a new law was passed last year that pleased the Maryland cycling groups, that had something to do with it. The article I read stated that it has been nearly impossible to get a conviction of manslaughter in ANY circumstance, and that now a new charge can be made that holds a rather lesser penalty but still holds the driver responsible. I am still a little fuzzy on that. It's something to read up about, and keep in mind, both as a cyclist and a motorist. The point is, cyclists are out there, there is no law saying they can't color coordinate themselves with their surroundings, no law saying adults need to wear helmets, so we have to be vigilant as motorists, and smart as cyclists.
Have I just blogged my way into believing it is not safe to ride on the roads? Not at all. I just bought several new day-glow green tops and a reflective vest, so please keep an eye out for me!
P.S.: Though I preferred to write about my Green Valley Marketplace Adventure this time, the comments on my first blog post made me decide to post this one on safety first. Stay tuned for my GVM article next week, subtitled "Elkridge is both dangerous and wonderful!"