One of the best things about the college populations coming back into town (and 60 degree temperatures in November) is that there are more bikes on the road. And one of the worst things about college populations coming back into town (and 60 degree weather in November) is that there are more bikes on the road. And on the sidewalk. And plowing through crowded pedestrian crosswalks. And coming at me the wrong way down the street. And they do these things as if they were, as my racing buddy Eric Marro would say, "the Saxo Bank duo of Andy & Frank Schleck drilling it on an Alpine slope trying to drop Alberto "tainted meat" Contador". In other words, they do it as aggressively as they possibly can.
Many riders don't have the bike handling skills of professional riders like the Schleks and Contador and, worse, don't follow the basic rules of the road. I used to believe that more bikes on the road implied increased safety for all cyclists but my fears of being doored have been equaled by fears of my biking brethren. If there's one thing almost as annoying as the oblivious Mr. Magoo drivers in this city, it's the oblivious Mr Magoo cyclists. (And oblivious Mr. Magoo pedestrians, too, but that's a different post.) Though cyclists have enjoyed a relatively free, if dangerous, ride lo these many years (invisibility has its benefits - until the door hits you or the car hooks you), with acknowledgment as a "real" form of transportation, comes responsibility.
We've had a taste of what may become the norm in January 2010 when police will be enforcing road rules by stopping and citing cyclists who break the law.* In the interest of positive bike PR and self-preservation, on the physical as well as financial plane, here's a quick refresher, or primer, depending on where you're at, on the basics of how to ride your bike on city streets.
Follow the rules of the road. In general, keep to the right. Green means go. Red means stop. Yellow means "the traffic signal is changing from green to red. You must stop if it is safe." Be as predictable as possible.
A stop sign is a stop sign. A one-way street means all traffic moves down it in one direction only and that means you, too. If for some reason you must travel the wrong way down the one-way street, do so with deference to the people who have the right of way on their side.
Stay off the #@%*!# sidewalk. Legally, bikes are allowed to ride on the sidewalk outside of business districts unless there is a local ban. If you must, for reasons of safety, ride on the sidewalk, do so slowly and with deference to pedestrians - especially old people and children.
Pedestrians uber alles. That's another way of saying pedestrians have the right of way. Especially on sidewalks and in crosswalks.
Don't pass a vehicle on the right when it has its right-hand directional blinking. Legally, you have the right to do so. Common sense says something different. If I see someone with a right-hand signal flashing, I'll get behind that vehicle and pass it on its left as it turns. I'm not going to wrestle with a ton of composite and steel.
Remember that to many drivers you are either invisible or annoying. Ride defensively and courteously.
Make yourself large. No, put down that donut. And the beer, too. I didn't mean get large that way. Take up some space. Nothing obnoxious but something that says "we're here. stay clear. get used to it". You have the right to be in the road and when you squish yourself up against those parked cars or jersey barriers (BU bridge riders take note) on the right-hand side of the road, you're encouraging drivers to try to pass you when it may not be safe to do so.
Take advantage of signs that read "Bicycles may use full lane" by using the full lane. If doing so somehow makes you feel unsportsmanlike, you can always make it up with a blood sacrifice to the car gods by riding the length of Huntington Ave. or Mass. Ave. on the Boston side of the river. Neither of those avenues has "bicycles may use full lane" signs and both should as they are utterly grim places for cyclists.
When you do take up space, you are not necessarily holding up traffic. The fact is that vehicles are the traffic - it's their sheer volume which gluts roads so a bike taking up a little extra space when it is in the interest of safety to do so, isn't holding anybody up for any real length of time. If you have a hard time taking up space because you fear you're "getting in the way", think of it as cashing in your carbon credits. You're earning them every time you mount your bike and inhale fine particulates and all that other crap from the exhaust that vehicles emit.
Use your voice if you don't want to get a bell or a horn. That little old lady on the bike path has no idea you're about to bolt past her. Shout out "passing on your left". Sometimes, "look out!" is necessary. Do the same for other cyclists and runners - and #%^@!* 'em if they can't hear you cause they've got their blasted earbuds in. At least you made the effort.
Use hand signals when you can - before the turn is safest. Just pointing works well.
Oh, yeah - have fun, if possible.
*"Recent law changes have established a new curriculum for municipal police training programs in bicycle safety and traffic enforcement. As more police are trained, we expect to see more effective and widespread enforcement of laws relating to bicycle safety. Beginning January 1, 2011, a police officer who sees a traffic violation committed by a bicyclist can use the same citation procedure used for motorists. The violation will not affect the bicyclist’s driving record, but he/she may get a fine. A bicyclist who is stopped must provide his/her true name and address, if requested, and can be fined for failing to do so or for providing a false name and address. Refusing to do so can also result in an arrest without a warrant. Companies that rent bicycles must make safety-conforming helmets available to renters. The amended laws change some rules bicyclists were previously required to follow. More significantly, motorists must change certain behaviors in relation to bicyclists or be cited for a motor vehicle violation. This will encourage motorists to be more careful around bicyclists. For a bulleted list of laws relevant to bicyclists and laws relevant to motorists in the presence of bicyclists, please see page 102." (RMV Driver's Manual, page 76).