Friday August 24, 2012

While driving the other day, I listened an excellent discussion on "The Exchange," a call-in show on New Hampshire Public Radio (www.nhpr.org). The topic) was bikes and motor vehicles sharing the same roadways. This show (Aug. 21) is available online.

It was just about a year ago (right after Hurricane Irene) that my sweetheart Marilyn and I were riding our tandem bike in Vermont when a distracted driver sort of stopped at a stop sign and then pulled out directly into our path only a few feet in front of us. I think we caught her full attention when, despite locking up both front and rear brakes so hard I actually tore the brake shoes and bent the front brake arms, we crashed into her front driver's side fender.

Luckily, we weren't going that fast (we
were pedaling up a slight hill) and neither Marilyn nor I was hurt beyond some minor scrapes when the bike toppled. Fortunately, we were on a "supported"" bike tour with VBT (www.vbt.com) and the bike got fixed that day. The scrapes healed, and, I hope,
one driver learned to be more aware of cyclists on the road.

Most of the time, there's no problem at all be tween bikes and cars. Occasionally, however ...

It seems to me that sharing the roads is really a matter of paying attention, obeying traffic laws and using courtesy and common sense. Neither cyclists nor motorists are perfect.

Paying attention is critical. The driver who pulled out in front of us had both a cup of coffee and a cellphone. Either could have distracted her attention for the fraction of a second it took to pull out in front of us. But I can't single out drivers here. How often have you seen cyclists wearing headphones riding along without, apparently, the slightest clue that there was a car behind them?

Obeying the traffic laws is another biggie. The lady in Vermont sort of stopped at the stop sign. Some states have laws about how much clearance cars are required to give when passing bikes. In New Hampshire it's three feet. In my experience, most drivers give that and more, but not all. A friend of mine was recently clipped by a car's rearview mirror.

Again, cyclists are not without fault here. I'm sure you've seen cyclists blow through stop signs and even red lights, turn without signaling and commit a whole host of violations they probably wouldn't have done in a car.

Did you know that bicycles are considered vehicles and generally have to obey the same traffic rules as cars? That includes riding on the right on the road, with traffic, and not riding on sidewalks. Bikes have the right to "take the lane" if they are turning or must do so for safety. Some motorists apparently think that bikes don't belong on roads. They do.

But, at the same time, the consequences of a close encounter are usually far worse for the cyclist and common sense indicates that cyclists should do their best to not impede cars. That means staying as far to the right as they safely, can, riding in single file, helping cars to safely pass them. But drivers do need to be aware of cyclists and realize that they have as much right to use the road safely as cars do. It really is a matter of awareness and courtesy on both sides. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

E, E, E, E, and E

The "Five E's" promulgated by the League of American Bicyclists (ww.bikeleague.org) a national organization that promotes biking are engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation

I'm sure most cyclists would like to see more emphasis on engineering, making the roads themselves safer for cyclists and motorists alike. This includes things like wide, smooth shoulders, well-marked lanes, and dedicated bike lanes where possible.

Personally, I think education, making sure both motorists and cyclists know traffic laws and know how to safely interface with each other is the most critical of the three.

Enforcement, holding both motorists and cyclists equally accountable for following the rules is one of those things you wish wasn't important, but it obviously is.

Encouragement, getting more people to ride bikes instead of drive cars whenever possible is a no-brainer. Bikes just makes sense for people and the planet.

The final E is "evaluation" as the league defines it, it means measuring results of programs and planning for the future. But I'd like to see each of us, drivers and cyclists alike evaluate our own performance in any interactions with bikes and cars. That way, we can all make sure we aren't part of the problem.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com Bike friendly states

The League of American Bicyclists ranks states as more or less bike-friendly based on infrastructure, laws, educational programs, planning and such at www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/bicyclefriendlystate.

Massachusetts is tops in New England, ranked

No. 3 nationally. Maine comes in at No. 9, Vermont at 18, Connecticut 20, and New Hampshire 22. Rhone Island is 39 while New England's neighbor, New York comes in at 42.

For more info:

Connecticut: Bike-Walk Connecticut:

www.bikewalkct.org/

Maine: Bike Coalition of Maine: www.bikemaine.org

Massachusetts: Mass Bike: www.massbike.org

New Hampshire: Bike-Walk Alliance New Hampshire: www.bwanh.org

New York: New York Bicycling Coalition: www.nybc.net

Rhode Island: Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition: www.ribike.org

Vermont: Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition: www.vtbikeped.org