A Holiday Wish for Better Bike-Car Interaction

Riding on the tiny bits of bike-centric infrastructure in Seattle – the bikeways on Broadway and 2nd Avenue – offers a glimpse of what urban cycling could look like if we had meaningful planning and building around it. It would be easier, less stressful, slower and safer.

But until that day, those of us who ride daily in the city must contend with infrastructure and traffic rules that are designed primarily for cars. As a result, it’s safest for cyclists to “ride like cars” and truly share the road (rather than just a tiny slice of it).

But what if, in the embryonic period between vehicular cycling and fully-separated bike infrastructure, cyclists and drivers alike developed rules – not so much laws as guidelines – for sharing the road?

I know, it’s a pipe dream, as most drivers can’t relate to the issues cyclists are dealing with when navigating the city’s car-focused streets. But in the spirit of holiday optimism, here are my thoughts on what these rules might look like:

  • Stoplights and stop signs are optional for bikes.
    • Bikes: You can ride through a stop signal when it’s safe to do so – meaning no cross-traffic or other dangerous condition. Otherwise, wait along with the cars.
    • Cars: You won’t get butthurt because some cyclist ran through a red light when there wasn’t any cross-traffic. Their doing so impacts you not at all, except for some vague sense of unfairness in your lizard brain. Let it go.
  • Bikes will “take the lane” whenever it’s safest to do so.
    • Cars: Most of you don’t realize that bikes who give you enough room to pass often have to put themselves into the low-visibility “door zone” to do so. This substantially raises the risk of being “doored” or colliding with a pedestrian darting out between parked cars. It also make it much harder for cars crossing or turning onto the street to see the cyclist before pulling out. And no, the fact that the city of Seattle has stupidly placed bike lanes right in the door zone on many streets doesn’t magically make it safe for cyclists to ride in those lanes.
    • Related bonus for cars: Look before opening the damn door.
    • Bikes: Take the lane more often. You’re not doing anyone any favors by wobbling along in the door zone. But you should also be making an effort to move along as quickly as you safely can, and give cars the opportunity to pass when it is safe to do so.
  • Passing.
    • Cars: Don’t pass a bike, particularly one that is taking the lane,  unless you plan on driving straight and at speed for at least a few more blocks.  If you’ve got a notion to turn right, cruise for a parking space, or drive slowly while looking up an address on your iPhone, just stay behind the bike.
    • Bikes: Don’t pass cars on the right (or the left, on one-way streets) when you are both about to enter an intersection. Even if – hell, especially if – you’re in a bike lane.
  • Safe Driving/Riding.
    • Cars: Drive predictably. Don’t tailgate or crowd bikes.
    • Bikes: Ride predictably and visibly. Don’t do dumb stuff. Have working brakes on your bike.

It seems so common-sensical, but of course, that’s too much to expect in a world where people still think bicycles need to be licensedbikeways get torn out in favor of parking, and everything on the road is built in deference to King Car.

But just you wait – if I don’t get my Christmas miracle of drivers and cars getting along (which, in fairness, they do better on Capitol Hill than in most places), I can still look forward to end of urban cars. That’s on its way, and soon (my musings on that subject to come).

Happy holidays.

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