Worcester, Mass.
August 1, 1993

Learning the rules is a shared responsibility

By Lynne Tolman

   It would be easy to fill this space with a tirade against impatient, thoughtless, ignorant and downright hostile motorists -- the type who act as if bicyclists don't belong on the roads.

   Forget for a moment that few roads around here were designed with cyclists in mind. Factor in the four-wheeling road hogs who would spare no choice words for a driver making a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane -- but can't understand why bicyclists move into the left lane for the same maneuver -- and it's no wonder mountain biking trails in the woods are becoming so popular.

   But boneheaded motorists are not alone in shouldering the blame for fear and loathing on shared pavement. Too many people on bikes flout the rules of the road and take dumb risks, giving the rest of us a bad name. When a driver begrudges me the little space or extra few seconds I need on my bike, I suspect some reckless pedaler a couple of miles back has aroused the animosity.

   Under Massachusetts law, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as motorists. We're supposed to stop at stop signs and red lights, signal our turns, keep to the right, stay single file, make left turns from the left lane, let pedestrians go across crosswalks, and all the rest. Surprisingly, some police don't even know this.

   We're not supposed to ride on sidewalks, go the wrong way on one-way streets, pass each other on the right or cut through corner lots such as gas stations to avoid traffic lights. Bikes are not toys, even when ridden by children.

   Many adults were taught from the time they were children to bicycle against traffic. That is dangerously wrong. So is ducking between parked cars.

   Because many cyclists ignore the laws, motorists don't know what to expect when they see someone on two wheels. Drivers fear a sudden maneuver will put bicycle and car on a collision course. To show drivers you will not veer into their path, ride your bike in a steady, straight line without weaving or wobbling, even if you must ride in the roadway to avoid hazards in the shoulder.

   In the spirit of sharing the road peacefully, cycling readers are urged to show these driving tips to motoring acquaintances:

   As long as you can see well ahead and there's no oncoming traffic, don't be afraid to cross the centerline to get past a cyclist. The cyclist doesn't want to listen to your engine crawling behind him any longer than you want to watch his Lycra-clad rear.

   If a cyclist is not at the very edge of the road, it's probably because of potholes, frost heaves, broken glass, sand or metal grates with openings big enough to trap a bicycle tire. Have a little patience.

   Don't lean on the horn or holler, especially when very close to the bike. This will only startle the rider, making her likely to swerve. A light toot from at least 30 yards back is sufficient.

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