It may very well be that writing a How Not To Kill Cyclists With Your Car article on a bike website won’t really reach the intended audience. But hey, the last time we used the word dickweed in a title the article blew up, so here’s hoping.
Me, to drivers
Drivers need to learn how to behave around cyclists. And before you think I can’t possibly know how hard it is to drive a car with swarms of cyclists bobbing and weaving all around you, you should know that I own a car and I do drive it in the city (though not much these days). So here goes.
1. Give us three feet when passing
In many states, it’s the law. But beyond that, how accurate is your perception of the edges of your vehicle? Do you realize how much your side mirror sticks out? If you aim to give a cyclist three feet and we actually end up getting only two, that’s a lot better than you aiming to pass with only a foot to spare and you end up side-swiping us. A car passing too closely, even if it doesn’t hit a cyclist, is a terrifying and dangerous experience. Just give us more space.
But – oh noes! – what if there isn’t enough room to give a cyclist three feet of space when passing, because of oncoming traffic or because the cyclist has moved into the center of the lane? The answer to that brings us to tip number two.
2. That pedal? The one to the left of your gas pedal? It’s called a brake.
You are not guaranteed an inalienable right to drive at top speed at all times. Sometimes you have to slow down for things: other traffic, speed bumps or potholes, maybe a delivery truck blocking the road to back into an alley. Tough shit.
One of the times you might need to use your brake is when there is not enough room to safely pass a cyclist. Wait until there is – it’s that simple. (Please don’t tailgate us while you’re waiting – hang back a bit.) Another time is at intersections, even if you think you have the right of way. If for any reason a situation on the road feels dangerous, or your vision is slightly obstructed, or you’re not sure how another road user is going to behave, the solution is to slow down. Be patient.
3. Crosswalks and stop lines
Congrats for stopping at a red light or stop sign. Here’s a cookie. But please, please, stop behind the stop line or crosswalk. The stop lines are there for a reason – if you inch up as far as you can into the intersection, it obstructs everyone’s view, dangerously forces pedestrians into traffic, and also edges into the space where cyclists on the cross street are riding.
Here’s where we also talk about bike boxes. You may have seen them – those green boxes at intersections between the crosswalk and the stop line. I know it feels weird to stop so far back from the intersection, but please leave bike boxes clear. They are intended to give cyclists a place to wait for the light to turn green so they can move into the intersection safely and in full view of all the cars. Don’t worry – typically once the light turns, the cyclists will either get going and move over to the bike lane at the right, or turn left as traffic allows and you’ll be able to continue on your merry way.
4. Look before you turn, or change lanes, or swerve
The scariest moments on a bike are when a car changes direction. There’s the Right Hook:
The Left Cross:
The I Can’t Possibly Be Expected to Wait for 10 Whole Seconds Behind this Left Turning Car So I’ll Swerve Around it at Full Speed Without Looking:
Please, drivers: whether or not there is a bike lane, whether or not you remember seeing any cyclist on that road right then or ever in the history of time, look first. Use your mirrors, turn your head, check your blind spot.
5. That stick thing coming out of your steering column
You can use it to turn on blinking lights outside your car to inform the people around you what direction you intend to go. Cool, right? FUCKING USE IT. Preferably before you’ve already started the turn, and use it for changing lanes as well as changing direction.
6. Speeding gets you nowhere
The faster you are driving, the harder it is for you to react to things while you’re moving, and the longer it will take for your braking/evasive actions.
Additionally, there is a strong relationship between the severity of pedestrian injury and the speed of the motor vehicle in a collision.
Speed limits in the city are generally around 25-30mph (lower in school/safety zones). Please, obey the speed limits.
Oh, and by the way? Mathematically, gains from speeding are minimal unless you’re on a long trip, and even those gains are virtually completely erased by traffic, lights, and real world driving situations. You zooming at 45mph between red lights gets you nowhere, makes you less able to respond to circumstances and road conditions, and turns your car into a death machine.
7. Stop honking
I guess, maybe, there are some rare emergency situations that make honking useful. But honestly, most drivers use their horn instead as an audible middle finger salute. When you’re on a bike, a honk is loud, obnoxious, and often startling. This is true no matter its intention – I’ve heard drivers claim they honk so we know they’re behind us. News flash, drivers: even the quietest hybrids make enough motor/road noise that we can hear you. Honking just serves to either scare the heck out of us or make us feel unwelcome.
8. Get off your damn phone
Oh my god, people. Get off your phone. Put it away – and I mean AWAY away, like in your pocket or briefcase or purse so you’re not tempted to pick it up just for a quick glance with every chime or whenever there’s a pause in traffic.
9. Parking or stopping in bike lanes
We love the ever-expanding network of bike lanes in the city. Unfortunately, lamentably few of them are fully protected or separated from the driving lanes. Apparently to drivers, this means it’s all fair game. I don’t care if you think It’s Not Illegal If the Blinkers Are On or But It’s Only For a Minute What’s the Big Deal?
The problem with parking or stopping, even for a moment, in a bike lane is that it forces any cyclists in the lane to go around you – meaning they have to merge with faster-moving traffic. Ever tried to merge onto a highway from the onramp in an underpowered car towing a u-haul trailer? Or stuck behind someone ahead of you going really slowly? Remember how dangerous it was to try to mix into traffic that’s going significantly faster than you are capable of going? That’s what you are forcing the cyclist to do so that you don’t have to find a parking spot while you run into the post office “real quick”.
10. Don’t door me, bro
While you’re parked, let’s talk about one of the most dangerous things that drivers AND passengers in a car can do to a cyclist – dooring. No matter what side you’re getting out of, no matter how quiet the street seems to be, no matter if there’s a bike lane and it seems like there’s plenty of room for a bike to go around you, look before you open your door, and don’t open it if there is a bike coming.
(Or a car for that matter. Even when I’m driving I have to admit I am flabbergasted at the number of people who just fling their doors open into any kind of traffic. It’s even in a car insurance commercial:
Like seriously. What the hell is wrong with you people? I feel like I learned not to do that in the first week of driver’s ed.)
Bonus tip: Be understanding
Listen, I’m not going to tell you that every cyclist is a letter-of-the-law-abiding angel. We’re not. I’m not. But neither is every driver. Try to understand that cyclists are trying to operate in an environment that, at best, treats them as an afterthought. The laws and the infrastructure that seem so obvious behind the wheel of a car suddenly don’t make as much sense when you’re on a bike. Also, consider whether your frustration is about safety, or merely your inconvenience, or possibly just a violation of your sense of fairness. It is possible to decide that, you know what, while it may not be technically fair if a cyclist slowly rolls through a stop sign at an empty intersection but you can’t/shouldn’t, it’s also not a big deal. Then look in that rear view mirror of yours and see if there are ways that you can improve the interactions you have with cyclists.