A bicyclist is riding at an aggressive clip when he comes upon a jogger heading in the opposite direction but on the same side of the road. A car is nonetheless gaining on the bike and is poised and ready to pass when it becomes apparent his maneuver will coincide with the passing of the bike and the jogger.
That’s three layers – what’s the move?
Let’s start by hoping someone’s phone doesn’t ring.
It wasn’t until November 25, 2019 that Massachusetts finally had a hands-free law for phones while driving, but the problems that bicyclists and drivers face with one another on area roads persist.
Even on our rural roads, it’s getting more complicated each day with the addition of more drivers, more riders and more walker/joggers. The urgency to get from Point A to Point B because that’s what the window for the workout allows or the workout itself requires or it’s just the end of a long day and time to get home is turning the screw in multiple directions and causing stress even where activities are meant to better manage it.
Rochester resident Colleen Campbell is an avid cyclist and is among many concerned for their safety.
“What is the difference between a jogger on the side of the road and a cyclist on the side of the road? I feel like motorists give walkers and joggers a lot more (space),” she said.
Campbell, 53, is a former athlete who admits her more pliable days are in the past and wants to take advantage of being forced to work from home by getting out and riding more. But confidence comes and goes.
“Motorists seem to be angry,” she said. “Just some trucks the other day on Mary’s Pond Road in Rochester. Not a car on the road, and this pickup truck barely gives us the space, maybe moves over a foot or two, really close, then presses on the gas.”
In a more positive recent instance, Campbell was taking a right past Cervelli Farm Stand on Rounseville Road, also in Rochester in the morning before the stand had opened so a chain was draped blocking the lot. Just before passing it, she extended her right hand to signal, took the right and – boom – a car was parked on the right, protruding well into the traffic lane.
“Now I have a decision, stop or take the road,” she said. “The motorist thankfully stopped to let me take the road and pass safely.”
To acknowledge that this is not an exact science is not tantamount to calling it a free-for-all; there are state laws based on rules of the road combined with the reasoning that put all three parties on the same side of the road.
It all starts with the premise that cars in the United States drive in the right lane. Joggers and walkers, because of the absolutely necessity that they see oncoming traffic, travel in the opposite direction. Bicycles, at least on residential roads, establish a relative speed closer to vehicular traffic than pedestrians, and therefore are required when on the road (as opposed to a sidewalk) to keep the same rules that vehicles do.
Therefore, when a cyclist comes to a stop sign at a four-way intersection, the bike must take the same lane a car would have and take its turn as the next car in the same position would.
This is not chutzpah but keeping the law. As drivers might scratch their heads, much of the confusion stems from the surprisingly large number of the latter who do not know that bicycles are supposed to do what cars do and not what joggers/walkers do.
Some cyclists flat-out disobey the rules and, therefore, create a bad reputation for those who do obey them, like those who fail to use hand signals or choose in groups to ride abreast rather than in single-file.
“I’ve been in my truck driving and there will be cyclists, three of them, across the road,” said Campbell. “Maybe they don’t see me. And I’m waiting and waiting and they’re still chatting. Those are the types of riders who will make a bad impression. That’s something that can ruin it for other cyclists.”
Would a better education solve all the problems? Absolutely – as in not.
No matter how well people educate themselves on the subject, there is always a segment of society making a bad name for the majority through ignorant and sometimes spiteful actions. This is true behind the handlebars as well as behind the wheel.
As one who also drives a pick-up truck, Campbell has found herself in uncomfortable situations behind the wheel. “I’ve been behind cyclists and said, ‘Woah, this is a dangerous situation… they’re all over the road.’ I understand at times from the motorist’s perspective it can be a dicey, dangerous situation,” she said.
While many motorists apparently lack an understanding of what bike riders need to do to act in accordance with statewide regulations, some drivers outright consider bike riders to be intruders. Campbell realizes the advantage of their anonymity. “You’re in the power seat; you’re not vulnerable. The cyclist is vulnerable,” she said. “The thing about cycling – cycling is a fantastic way to exercise, without the pounding of the joints. As a mode of transportation, it’s great for the environment.”
While some villages are more advanced in dedicating and marking off bike lanes the way cities are doing these days, country roads remain more prone to conflict in part because participants are not up to date on the law and the rules of the road.
Just as awareness is essential on the road in any mode of movement, nervous anxiety is just as counterproductive. The answer lies in education to accurately interpret at least most of what others are doing on the road at the same time one is making his or her own decision.
After that, it’s about finding friendly spaces and mutual respect.
For more helpful information on the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and drivers (based on Massachusetts General Law Chapter 89, Section 2 and Chapter 90, Section 14) especially where it concerns their interaction with one another on the road, visit massbike.org.
By Mick Colageo