Monday, May 16, 2016

Drivers and Cyclists: Can't We All Share the Road? PLEASE?!

"Boston cyclist killed Friday was a surgeon at Beth Israel", August 9, 2015

“You’d never catch me on a bicycle these days!”

That’s the emphatic answer I received recently when I suggested to a friend she take her road bike out of storage. Dust it off and join me for a ride.  Just a ride.  What’s the big deal?  Who doesn’t love riding a bike?

Remember? As kids, riding a slick new Schwinn ten speed or a Raleigh, the one with the banana handlebars: that was the way to get around town. Cycling as freedom: it was and is still for most kids, a first foray into independent transportation.  My bike got me to middle school football practice and Duke’s Corner Store for a cold Coke on a hot August day. My bike made me into a budding young entrepreneur as I delivered newspapers in the cool morning air.  When I hit my late forties and decided to do something about my growing mid section, it was a bike that got me back into shape. Even if you haven’t cycled for years, the cliché holds true. Riding a bike is just like riding a bike. Our bodies somehow never forget the sweet sensation of forward motion on two wheels and all under our own power. 

What makes me sad is that lots more folks like my friend would bike if it didn’t seem so darn dangerous.  In my fifty years of cycling, I’ve never been more concerned for my own safety, and for one simple reason: so many drivers now do anything but drive. I see it every single time I’m out for a ride.  Drivers don’t pay attention anymore.

Drivers text and talk, eat and drink and then turn around to yell at the kids.  Driver fiddle with increasingly complex screens and knobs and buttons that the newest cars boast. Drivers look down but not up and out at me.  Little me…a 190 pound person on a twenty pound bike gliding at 14 miles per hour.  I have little or no chance of surviving unscathed a collision with you, in your 2,000 pound mass of metal, flying along at 30 or 40 or 60 miles per hour.

Yes, I know that some of my biking peers are cowboys, even rude when they go out for a ride. You see them now, especially on weekends, packs of cyclists, sometimes clogging narrow roads and angering drivers. I’ve even seen some of my fellow bikers talking on their phones too! Some bikers neglect the basic rules of what it means to share the road.  They don’t ride single file when possible.  Don’t keep a straight line or stay as far to the right as practical. They weave like drunken sailors. Don’t follow traffic rules or use hand signals. 

So here’s my plea: don’t judge the majority of well mannered, respectful cyclists by a handful of outliers who make us all look bad.  Instead remember this: all most cyclists want to do is what drivers also want to do: get from here to there.

And bike…because we love the exercise and reveling in the gift of seeing the world at a slower pace.  We bike because we love saving the environment, one commute to work or the grocery store at a time. We bike to make us feel young again, to push our bodies and rest our minds and souls.  We bike for charity, for rides like next August’s Pan Mass Challenge which will raise more than $40 million for cancer care and research.  That’s why I’m out riding now.    

So please, PLEASE, PLEAAAASE!!! 

Watch out for us as we take to the roads this spring and summer.  I don’t want to become a sad statistic or a tragic story in the newspaper about the next cyclist seriously injured or killed by a car or truck.  When it comes to two wheeled vehicles versus four wheeled vehicles the statistics are sobering.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2013, 743 cyclists nationwide died on the road, and 48,000 were injured. 

Those aren’t just numbers.  They represent real people. A kid killed biking to CVS.  A doctor crushed under the wheels of a truck, as she made her way to work on the busy streets of Boston.  A Dad coming home from a long day at the office and being clipped by a speeding SUV. He now lives with a severe head injury. Maybe you know someone from your close circle of friends or your family, who wanted nothing more than to ride in peace and safety but then paid the price. For a bike ride.   

There is only one road. We all need to share it. All of us.  My prayer is that drivers and cyclists will do so, with attention, civility, respect and care. I’ll be looking for you on the road.  Won’t you look out for me too?  I promise you a friendly wave and a smile.    

Thank you.


  1. Reverend--

    Thanks for this reminder. I would, however, like to point out that not all of this:

    "packs of cyclists clogging streets and angering drivers. I’ve even seen some of my fellow bikers talking on their phones too! Some bikers neglect the basic rules of what it means to share the road. They don’t ride single file. Don’t keep a straight line or stay as far to the right as possible."

    is inaccurate.

    First, people are not clogging traffic; they are part of traffic. Second, riding two abreast is explicitly allowed under the laws of most, if not all 50, states. Finally, people are not required to "stay as far to the right as possible", but only to ride as far to the right as "practicable" (again, most states use some variation of the same language).

    People on bikes are not secondary users of the roads, required at all times to facilitate high-speed automobile traffic. As cyclists, we are often, ahem, "urged" by angry drivers to do all of those things while lawfully using the roads. It's important to communicate an accurate understanding of what our rights (and yes, obligations) under the law are.

  2. Captain Kickstand (love the name!),
    Thanks for your comments. About the clogging: my experience is that while most group rides ride with caution, others do literally back up roads around here, in particular the narrower ones in my neck of the woods. You are right about two abreast and "practicable"--I'll change those. Finally you nailed it in terms of rights versus obligations. Always a balancing act. See you on the road!