A big controversial topic which seems so silly in the grand scheme of the world is the right of bicyclists on the road.I don't like to use this blog to bring up controversial stuff because frankly, I'd rather the blog be all fun, but this topic hits close to home for me since I've been commuting daily for 5 years (except this first FAI winter I crapped out on..) and the topic has surfaced again. It all started in State College where the roads are NOT cyclist friendly on the university. In State College, it is illegal to bike on the sidewalks on campus, yet there is no shoulder on any of the roads to safely ride on, and cars regularly cut off cyclists and will proceed at a 4-way stop when a cyclist has been waiting there for their turn. I know this from experience and from watching it happen over the years. The danger on those roads is pretty high, and I've had friends and acquaintances who have gotten hit by vehicles while cycling responsibly. One on particular has been physically messed up since the crash. Luckily the borough has been slowly establishing some bike routes, although many of them don't actually go anywhere useful for the university. Last year I had a near-incident with a CATA bus in State College, when the other lane (the bus' lane) was closed off for construction, and I was in the opposite lane (the open lane) riding towards an intersection. Instead of the bus stopping at the stop sign for 30 seconds for me to get through the stretch of road where I had the right of way, the driver decided to drive towards me, leaving no more than two or three inches maximum between me and the side of the very large bus. If I hadn't been an experienced rider, I probably wouldn't have been able to ride straight and would have gotten hit by the bus. When this incident happened, I was shaking and on the verge of tears for the next hour or so from the panic. I wrote both the local newspaper and the bus company a letter of concern about this encounter, but neither published my letter or even wrote back.
When I moved to Anchorage and then Fairbanks, I was astounded by the bicycle friendliness in town. It was awesome to have separate bike paths along the roads and wide shoulders. I couldn't believe that a car would actually stop to let me go first at an intersection.
There has been a lot of ruckus in our local newspaper about cyclists on the roads recently. I do agree that cyclists should use the available bike paths. Cyclists should be happy that our city actually built those for you. Sorry if there are a couple of cracks in them. You won't get a flat tire from them if your tires are pumped up to the proper pressure. There are a lot of places, especially on the east coast where cyclists don't have the luxury of being separated from cars and buses, let alone a wide shoulder to ride on. I admit, I don't always stop at every single stop sign especially on campus where there are typically no drivers on the side roads, but I definitely take a good look to make sure no one is coming or there already. Every once in awhile I'll even listen to my ipod, but not so loud that I can't hear the outside noises, and definitely NOT when I'm on the roads.. only on the separated bike paths. Just be responsible, be aware of your surroundings, and obey the rules.
If you look in your driver's manual, cyclists are in fact supposed to be treated as motor vehicles. This is out of the AK driver's manual. I know PA is the same. I like this description since it gives the responsibilies of both sides of the line.
MOTORIST: With the increasing use of bicycles, there is a greater need to exercise care while driving when bicyclists are present to insure their safety. Bicycle riders have no vehicle structure to protect them, and are difficult to see in traffic. Some bicyclists lack skill, and many are too young to have knowledge of all the traffic rules. As a driver, you must be alert and courteous to all bicyclists.
BICYCLISTS: Bicyclists are required to obey traffic signs, signals, and all other traffic laws. Always be alert for other traffic.
I really have no particular concern in writing this other than maybe reaching a driver that might not think about cyclists on the road, or reaching a cyclist that might be slacking on their attention span. It happens, we all have our "off" days, but it's worth thinking about, or taking that extra minute to be safe. And to the drivers, don't be angry at all cyclists because there are some out there who ride carelessly. I don't judge all trucks because those are the drivers who seem to cause most accidents in the winter.