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Last week, I suggested five ways cyclists can help defuse road rage. Now, here's "the other side," what motorists can do to not only curb anger, but also make roads safer and more pleasant for people on bicycles. Before I get started, I should say, as I have several times in the past, all cyclists realize that the vast majority of motorists safely and courteously share the roads with us. But a tiny minority continues to make like miserable and hazardous for cyclists.

Five Ways Motorists Can Defuse Road Rage for Cyclists

Last week, I suggested five ways cyclists can help defuse road rage. Now, here’s “the other side,” what motorists can do to not only curb anger, but also make roads safer and more pleasant for people on bicycles.

Before I get started, I should say, as I have several times in the past, all cyclists realize that the vast majority of motorists safely and courteously share the roads with us. But a tiny minority continues to make life miserable and hazardous for cyclists.

It almost seems like a few motorists are hellbent on intimidating and scaring people off the roads, and sadly, they sometimes succeed, especially with beginners. After years of neglect, somebody finally decides to dust off the bicycle and ride it to work. Then, he or she has a conflict, and it’s back in the garage gathering dust.

Hopefully, a few of the motorists with such an embarrassing and dangerous attitude read this, but more important, the rest of us need to not only continue politely and safely sharing the roads, but also speak up when we see such bad behavior.

Here are five ways motorists can fight road rage:

1. Accept It. I have to believe those few motorists who become enraged with cyclists do not truly understand or accept the fact that people riding bicycles have a legal right to use public roadways. Accept it and move on.

2. Share the Road, Not the Lane. Here is, no doubt, the most important decision a motorist can make when he or she approaches cyclists from behind on a high-speed highway.

If on a four-lane road, move completely into the inside lane and pass safely. If on a two-lane highway, slow down, and please don’t resent having to do it–no more than when coming up behind any slow-moving vehicle. Then, wait for oncoming traffic to clear and move completely or mostly (at least five feet separation from the cyclists) into the left lane for a safe pass. Never try to pass the cyclist at high speed in the same lane If you need help adjusting to this critical safety procedure, pretend bicycles are strollers carrying your children or grandchildren.

3. Understand Why Cyclists Do Things. Clearly, many motorists don’t understand cycling. Here are a few examples.

Cyclists, with the exception of young children, don’t ride on sidewalks not only because it’s sometimes illegal (or should be), but also because it’s dangerous and difficult. Riding on sidewalks means stopping or almost stopping at every block and constantly risking cyclist/pedestrian/dog accidents. Ditto for urban bikeways. More cyclists are injured in collisions with dogs, pedestrians and other cyclists than with motor vehicles.

Cyclists can’t–or shouldn’t–safely ride close to parked cars unless they want to get “doored.”

Cyclists detest coming to a dead stop at a stop sign because it’s difficult to unclip, put a foot down, and then regain hard-earned momentum.

Cyclists, especially experienced commuters, often ride busy thru streets instead of residential streets (even those designated as bike routes) because that’s often the easiest, fastest, flattest way to get across town–and they can avoid residential stop signs and unmarked intersections, which are more dangerous for cyclists than motorists. In other words, cyclists use thru streets for the same reasons motorists use thru streets.

Cyclists riding single file don’t position themselves directly behind each other because it’s dangerous. Instead, they offset slightly, so they won’t run into the cyclist in front of them in case of a unexpected slowing. Also, crosswinds often create a draft offset instead of directly behind another cyclist’s wheel.

4. Cut Them Some Slack. No cyclist is perfect. Like drivers, cyclists sometimes lose their concentration, get preoccupied, haven’t had their morning caffeine yet and end up making a bonehead move. Cut them some slack, okay?

Also, cyclists can’t do some things. They can’t always signal because safety dictates they keep both hands on the wheel. They can’t ride 25 mph, except briefly on descents. They can’t ride safely on shoulders full of glass and debris.

5. Appreciate the Effort. Riding a bicycle isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all do it, right? But a few of us make the effort for health or environmental reasons–and perhaps free up a parking spot for somebody. We’re out there trying lose a few pounds, keep our blood pressure down, save a little fossil fuel and lessen our dependence on countries that hate us, reduce traffic congestion, and set an example for our kids. A little appreciation wouldn’t be out of order.

Footnote. For more of my columns on this issue, click here.

About Bill Schneider

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16 comments

  1. Well and concisely said!

  2. Nicely said. Some cyclists do need to pay more attention, but again…no one is perfect and I have seem tons of cars do things like run stop signs, not use their blinkers, etc…just little things, but a dozen a day.

    I may include this on my blog, boulderactive.blogspot

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Another home-run of an article, Bill.

  4. Need to develop a couple columns like this for hikers sharing trails with mountain bikers. I’ve had some really bad experiences with bikers on trails.

  5. Well done. I’d add one more…See the road like a cyclist. Know that the storm drain, pothole, curb bumpout, parked car etc. up ahead will force the cyclist to quickly move left. Anticipate the cyclist’s move rather than react to it.

  6. What a good article. My husband commutes to work daily and this article is right on!

  7. "Terrible" Tim Mulligan

    B.S., Good info from both sides of of the bike saddle. Been riding me bike to work for 28 years. Be nice,if we all had the Idaho bike rules….stop sign for red lights and yield sign for stop signs….Your sidewalk chat about them being off limits for bikes can have an exception…I have used a sidewalk for safety sake,cuz the road(overpass) climbs and drops over railroad tracks below….You drop into a blind spot ,which can be made more dangerous by a distracted motorist on their cell phone.ipod or whatever “self inflicted disability (hearing) device ,that they are using. Bike on!

  8. PLEASE DO NOT REMEMBER MY E-MAIL ADDRESS…

    THANKS FOR YOUR NOTE.

    WISH I COULD SEE LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE, ON WHAT A BIKER SHOULD DO. I THINK IT IS NOT IN YOUR LIST OF ‘RELATED ARTICLES’

    WHEN I TOOK AN EARLY MONTANA DRIVER’S LICENSE TESTS..
    PERHAPS 1663-1969
    I WAS EMPHASIZED THAT A BIKER WAS THE SAME AS ANY VEHICLE, IE HE SHOULD RIDE DOWN THE MIDDLE OF HIS LANE
    SO AS NOT TO INDUCE ANY ‘RISKY PASSING’ BY AUTOS.
    WHAT IS THE LAW TODAY?

    WOULD YOU LIKE TO COMMENT?

  9. T. Weaver…

    Here is the link to last week’s article.
    http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/five_ways_cyclists_can_defuse_road_rage/C41/L41/

    If the link doesn’t work, just search for Five Ways Cyclists Can Defuse Road Rage.

    I re-wrote the bicycle section of the Montana Driver’s Manual in 2003, so I’m very familiar with it, and yes, legally, a bicycle is classed as a vehicle in Montana and most other states.

    However, riding down the center of the lane would be illegal and dangerous and unfriendly. Montana law also requires cyclists to ride as far to the right of the lane as “practical,” which is always open to interpretation. In many cases, it would also be hazardous and would certainly not promote good relations between cyclists and motorists, so I don’t advice it.

    There are a few isolated situations, however, where it is smart for cyclist to “claim the lane” for a short period to discourage passing, such as an overpass with no shoulder (usually the case) or a steep descent on a four-lane road.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Bill Schneider

  10. Bill, I’m sure that you would agree that riding “as far to the right as practicable” does not mean that a cyclist should be forced to share a substandard width lane with a motorist. Therefore, when a lane is too narrow to safely share (less than 14 feet wide by definition) and there is no suitable shoulder or bike lane available then the cyclist has a legal right to the full use of the lane. In fact, riding too far to the right in such cases only encourages motorists to attempt unsafe passes. At least this has been my experience as a bike commuter in Boise, Idaho.

    From http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter2a.htm:
    “On a road with two or more narrow lanes in your direction – like many city streets – you should ride in the middle of the right lane at all times. You need to send the message to drivers to move to the passing lane to pass you. If you ride all the way to the right, two cars may pass you at the same time, side by side, giving you too little clearance for safety.”

  11. Yes, Bob, I completely agree. when riding on such roads, I ride far enough into the late that it forces approaching motorists to cross the center line. This is much safer than riding the edge of the lane which not only encourages risky passes by motorists but also runs the chance of running into a sharp edge or debris and falling or a sudden turn to avoid it…..Bill

  12. Bill, there is a minority of crazy drivers who make our highways unsafe for both cyclists & motorists. The driver who doesn’t respect the cyclist is also dangerous to the motorist.

  13. I’ve read the articles as well as the comments and I have something to add which may not be popular but does need to be mentioned. In the Northwest we have a very narrow highway (the only road from east to west along the river – Hwy 14) which bicyclists insist on using lately. The posted speed limit is 50 on the straight stretches and 25 to 40 on the curves which are numerous. There is no bicycle lane nor is there enough shoulder in most places to ride on. This highway is also frequented by many semi’s. My vote, for what it’s worth, it’s that bicyclists, for their own safety as well as that of others, should stay off these types of roads. There are more than enough trails on both the Washington and Oregon sides to enjoy a good safe ride rather than risk the lives of many to make a statement. I have never been aware of anyone using this highway via bicycle for commuting to work in over 20 years.

  14. Susan, I really appreciate your comment about bicyclists on roads where it’s just dangerous. It puts the responsibility on me, the driver, to keep us all safe. There’s so much to track already on those kinds of roads, especially going around blind curves, that I hate having that added. You’re right. Until the last year or two I never saw bikes on those kinds of roads and sometimes it’s hard to remember that I have to drive at all times as if I expect to have one around the next curve, in the same way I need to remember their could be a deer in the road.

  15. Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

    I’d also like to ad that cyclists should use BIKE LIGHTS. I nearly hit a guy on East River road last week who was riding at dusk, in dark clothing, with no reflective tape and NO LIGHTS. I mean, I use my blinky lights when I ride around town in the evening. I’m not an “asshole driver” but it’s a curvy road, there are deer everywhere, and I damn near didn’t see the guy. Because he hadn’t taken the basic precautions. So don’t give me the finger when I come up too fast on you …