Play it Safe in Traffic

16th Jul 2013

I think that most cyclists can benefit from maintaining the same mindset on their bike that they have as a pedestrian  when interacting with cars. More than anything else I feel that it is  extremely important to keep in mind that a cyclist is far more fragile than  a motorist--something I don't think is too far from any cyclist's  mind--and to behave that way. That mindset starts with being aware of the  cars around you. You wouldn't cross the street on foot without looking  both ways, and by the same token you shouldn't move into a traffic lane  without making sure it's clear first. Beyond that though, I believe it  is always important to be aware enough to satisfy both yourself and any  passing motorist. Take it upon yourself to not only notice them but your  surroundings. Try to predict how they will react to certain road  conditions, traffic patterns, traffic signs and lights, or anything else  that can come up in a driving situation. If you can be attentive not only  to your own needs but to theirs as well you will be able to stay out of  their way and hopefully avoid any mishaps that might be caused by a sudden  need to occupy the same space as a motorist.

Most accidents, if not caused by a lack of awareness, are caused by either  a motorist or a cyclist behaving unpredictably. I ask that you maintain  awareness of yourself, motorists, and your surroundings so that you might  be able to predict a motorist’s movements, or your own need to occupy a  different space. Which leads me to my point: make a constant effort to ride  predictably. Do not weave in and out of lanes, hold your line, and try not  to suddenly merge into a different lane without warning. Once you are  noticed by a motorist they expect to you behave much as a car would,  whether they would admit it or not. That means maintaining speed and  continuing in your current lane, and In recent weeks I have had quite a few fellow riders initiate conversations  with me concerning riding on the road. Specifically these customers have  wanted my input about how to share moderate to high traffic roads with cars safely. As it turns out, I have a lot to say on the topic, but I’ll try  to boil it all down to a few ideas to share that I think all cyclists  should keep in mind when riding anywhere that they might encounter cars, be  it on Parmer Ln, 360, Downtown, or even in their neighborhood.

My entire philosophy regarding riding in traffic is based upon the following idea: awareness.

otherwise riding like you have some  idea how roadways are expected to function and that also means you MUST  obey all traffic laws!

In the state of Texas cyclists have every right to a traffic lane as any  motorist, but the flip side of that coin is that you must also obey all  they laws that a motorist must. Do not run red lights, do come to a stop at  stop signs, yield were indicated, and signal before any and all turns or  lane changes. This may be accomplished by extending your left arm and  pointing with your index finger to indicate a left turn or lane change and  by extending your right arm and pointing with your index finger to signal a  right turn or lane change. I have seen quite a few cyclists run or roll  through red lights and stop signs, and pay no attention to yield signs or  caution lights. I find this to be very disturbing because apart from riding unpredictably it also generates a lot of negative feelings inmotorists  towards cyclists. Many motorists feel that the roads are inherently theirs  and that it is a cyclists privilege to ride on them, and while this may not  be technically true, you aren't going to change their mind by ignoring  the traffic laws that they must abide by and which are intended to keep  everyone safe, motorists and cyclists both.

Apart from these ideas, I also have a few tips that may make your road  riding experience a bit safer and more worry free.

1. If you must occupy a traffic lane keep in mind that you have a right to  the entire lane. With that in mind, use enough of the lane to prevent any  impatient motorists from trying to share the lane with you. That means  riding at least where their passenger side tire should be. The last thing  you want is to be forced to share a lane with a car which is likely going  2-3 times your speed and being driven by a motorist with little regard for  your safety. Ride defensively.

2. That said, try to minimize motorist frustration whenever possible. For  instance, when transitioning from the shoulder to a right turn lane, first  signal, then ride fairly close to the left hand boundary of the turn lane.  Try to encourage your riding partners to do the same. When moving through  the turn lane and approaching a green light or a stopless intersection it  is okay to occupy the lane as indicated in #1, but the idea is, if  required, to come to a stop along the left hand side of the turn lane  allowing cars to utilize their right to turn right on red if need be. Try  to allow them adequate space to move past you if you can. You'll cut  down on your own anxiety by reducing the feeling that you are causing  traffic problems, and you will make a motorist happy. If you have the need,  keep in mind that you have the right to move into the actual traffic lane.  In fact, when riding with a large group I encourage you to do so when stopped at a traffic light as it will be difficult to contain all the riders in your group in the turn lane.

3. Be polite. Yield the right of way to cars when possible and wave politely to cars that yield to you. Let's face it, the number of motorists who are willing to yield to a cyclist is far fewer than the number of those that won't, so, try to reinforce any kindness motorists  are willing to show with a bit of positive reinforcement.

4. At least to start with, try to ride on roads where cyclists are expected  to be present. If you are riding a road with a bike lane, an ample  shoulder, or even a road without these accommodations that is heavily  trafficked by cyclists you are much more likely to encounter motorists who  are inclined to be aware of and tolerate your presence. You are far less  likely to experience difficulties on these types of roadways and they  provide relatively safe opportunities to gain experience riding on the  road. Parmer Ln north of Mopac, 360, and Jollyville and Pond Springs Rds  are good examples of roads like this in our area.

5. Put yourself in the motorist's shoes. Think about the things you would like to see a cyclist do when you are driving and try to do those  things when on your bike.

With the weather changing and cooler and shorter days are upon us, remember to strap on those lights as it is mandantory for a cyclist to have a rear and front light from dusk till dawn.  This will help you maintain your visibility in and around traffic.