Bicyclist says many drivers don't know 'Jack'
Every once in a while Getting There receives a reader comment that's so well thought-out and well-wriiten it's worth breaking out with a posting of its own. The following, from Dennis Eichenlaub of Columbia, is one of them. OK, so I guess it doesn't hurt that he basically agrees with my Oct. 8 Sun column on bicyclists' rights and responsibilities on the road. Unlike certain bicyclists, Eichenlaub seems to lack the persecution complex that prevents them from recognizing when someone's fundamentally in agreement with them.
Thanks for a very well balanced write-up on road cycling. If there’s anybody who doesn’t agree with what you wrote – car or cycle – they certainly should.
I discovered bike riding about 4 years ago. Now I ride about 2500 miles a year. Before July, I did most of my riding in northern Baltimore County. In July, I moved to Columbia and now I am discovering Howard County.
There are a few angry drivers. I call them all “Jack”. (If you think *everybody* is a safe and courteous driver, you don’t know Jack.) But one of the really great things about riding around here is the safety and courtesy shown by most car drivers. I like to say that car drivers around here are better than Ivory Soap. As you may remember, Ivory Soap is 99 44/100% pure. In my experience, drivers in this area are much more than 99 44/100% courteous. I am always finding myself acknowledging some kindness or courtesy with a friendly wave.
Your suggestion that bikers return the favor is spot on. I pull over for traffic whenever I can safely do so. But there are some times I am a “road hog”, and I would like the opportunity to explain why. First of all, riding a bike in heavy traffic is not fun, and do what I can to avoid it altogether. I get plenty of time in traffic driving my car, and I don’t need more traffic time on my bike. Both Baltimore and Howard County are blessed with miles and miles of back roads that are wonderful for biking. However, there are times when two very nice bike roads are joined only by a heavily trafficked road, and it often seems that these are exactly the roads that don’t have even a small shoulder (like Howard County 103),.
There are times when it is downright unsafe for a biker to ride to the right. For example, neither a bike nor any other vehicle belongs in a right-turn lane unless it is going to turn right. There is no signal that says “I’m in the right turn lane but I’m not going to turn right”. Cars (and trucks) generally assume that if they are in the right-turn lane, then there shouldn’t be anything even further on the right that blocks their turn. The Baltimore Sun reported two cyclists who died as a result of being run over by a truck turning right (one last year and one this). Both were ruled cyclist errors.
It’s amazing how often a road with a shoulder has that shoulder blocked. This could be a concrete “island” at an intersection, a traffic calming device, road debris that is nothing to a car but dangerous to a bike, etc. In any of these cases, a cyclist must carefully “take the lane” to safely get by the obstruction. I quickly learned to keep my eyes far down the road, and to be careful about giving up the lane. It’s even more dangerous for bikes to suddenly swerve into a lane than it is for a car.
A third time when it’s not always wise for a biker to pull over is when the pull-over area is fairly short and there is a line of traffic. If the cyclist pulls to the side, they will have to get back into the lane when the pull-over area ends. Pulling back into a stream of traffic can be quite tricky, as a car in the middle of the line may not even be aware there is a cyclist on the road. Even a large gap in traffic can be too small for a bike to pull back out after stopping. I have also experienced drivers who hesitate to pass when I pull over and signal I am prepared for them to pass me. As I approach the end of the pull-over area, this can result in a game of “reverse chicken”. I even had a couple of times when a driver didn’t want to pass because they had finally reached their destination and needed to turn right into the driveway or parking lot I was using to allow traffic to pass.
Finally, sometimes a shoulder is too narrow for a bicycle to use safely. When I “take the lane”, drivers understand that they have to move left to pass. Most drivers are very skilled at passing and do it safely. However, when I am riding to the right of that solid white line, most drivers assume they can safely drive normally in their lane. Any time cars are passing bicycles, that three feet of separation should be there. If the shoulder isn’t wide enough for the bike to be three feet away from the edge of the traffic lane, it isn’t wide enough for a biker to pull over and let traffic pass.
Ultimately, each driver is responsible for their own safety. That is especially true for bikers. Maybe someday the state (or county) will add a few feet of pavement to make a small shoulder so bikes and cars can easily share the road. Until that time, I want to thank all those wonderful Baltimore County and Howard County drivers. Thanks for sharing the road. I even have a message for Jack – get a grip before you hurt somebody.
Of all the frustrations behind the wheel, getting stuck behind bicyclists hardly ranks in the top 20. But some motorists seem to become downright rabid at the idea of being delayed by someone on a vehicle they regard as a kid's toy -- likely because they haven't been on one since high school.
Quite a few of them write in expressing the wish that bicycles would disappear from every road in Maryland that lacks a bike lane or a shoulder. It's sheer fantasy, of course -- as if griping about the weather could abolish rain on weekends. The difference is that you don't hear "jack" about people taking out their precipitation frustration on the local weatherman. Unfortunately, Jack is out there buzzing bicyclists whose riding style offends him.
No wonder there are bicyclists out there who come across as paranoid. There really are people out to get them.