Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 10-24-07
Bicycles and cars sharing the road can often be like mixing oil and water…. seemingly incompatible. Now, two years into commuting by bike, mixed with 38 years of driving a car, I decided to learn more about safer bike riding. Of late, many a friend and acquaintance has been involved in a bike crash, so I enrolled in, and just completed, the Full Cycle bicycle safety class (call everybodyBIKE at 671-BIKE or e-mail info@everybodyBIKE.com or check their website at www.everybodyBIKE.com).
What’s there to learn, you might say? I’m here to tell you: a lot.
I grew up smack dab in the middle of the 1930 to 1965 era, when few adults rode bicycles in North America. This proved long enough for incorrect ideas about bicycling to become deeply rooted. Like so many others, I was told to ‘always keep away from traffic’. Such fearful instruction was passed down to kids by parents who didn’t know much about bicycling – the blind teaching the blind.
No – children and young adults shouldn’t be allowed to ride bicycles in heavy traffic any more than they should drive cars. But that doesn’t mean that I, as an adult, should have to ride like a child! And taking this class proved to me that I was less safe because I shied away from asserting my legal right to ride in a safe manner. Here’s but one example: I biked far too close to parked cars, making me vulnerable to motorists opening their door into my path.
What’s the correct place for me to ride in this case? Since the law says I’m allowed to ride as far to the right as I can yet still remain safe, Full Cycle taught me to stay 3-4’ away from the parked cars.
Now here’s the rub: if you’re a motorist behind me, you may not be able to get around me because I’m taking up too much of the lane…. even though I’m legal and safe. You may lose patience and try to pass me with insufficient room, thereby creating an unsafe situation! So, you might ask, am I more or less safe by asserting my legal right to ride in a safe manner?
In the end, it comes down to weighing risks – am I safer slamming into the edge of an opening door of a stationary, parked car, or get hit by a passing car traveling in the same direction as me at a lower differential speed? I’ve concluded, and the class reinforced, that avoiding the ‘open door zone’ is the safer path.
Safe biking relies upon respect and patience from motorists, and visa versa. And we all know there are irresponsible bikers and motorists. Bikers without lights; without bright clothing. Bikers travelling on the wrong side of the street or on sidewalks. They piss me off as much as you. They need to take this class. (The Full Cycle class is offered quarterly. Introductory classes are offered every month. ‘Bike Buddies’ are bike instructors who are available to offer one-on-one instruction, tips, or advice (through everybodyBIKE)).
Know that most bicyclists are doing the right thing and that an action on their part that appears aggressive or abrasive may be a maneuver necessary to insure their safety. You may not be able to see the potential risk that they see that might force them farther into ‘your’ lane than you’d like. But the lane legally belongs to the bicyclist if they determine that this is the only way to ride safely.
I adore bicycling; rain or shine. It’s empowering to know that I reduce traffic problems because I take up less road space than a car; the air we breathe is cleaner; global warming is addressed; I need not drive to a gym to get my workout.
Most of all, however, is the simple fact that bicycling is more fun than motoring. Although my parents didn’t know any better when they taught me to stay away from traffic, they did instill in me the love of the outdoors; the love for clean air and good health.
To those ends I will continue to spin.