I recently completed a 4 day bike trip through a wide variety of traffic conditions. The experience left me appreciating many of the professional drivers on the road and dismayed at the lack of considerations that I encountered at other times.
One thing that is lacking is signs that educate drivers, informing them what “Share the Road” means. Too many drivers don’t seem to realize or don’t seem to care that they must give cyclists a 1 meter safety margin. I have thought about putting a pool noodle on the back of my bike that extends 1 meter into the traffic lane. At times I’m tempted to put a nail on the end of the noodle to leave my mark when a driver fails to give me my safety margin. Don’t worry, I’ve resisted the temptation so far.
I prefer biking on quiet roads. While biking on secondary roads my experience with 100% of the drivers was one of courtesy. Each driver would make a wide berth around me as they approached me from behind. With no other traffic on the road, that was easy enough without impeding their own progress.
When I choose county roads, because it’s not always possible to get everywhere on secondary roads, it’s a different story. Most drivers will slow down behind me and wait to pass when the lane of on coming traffic is clear, giving me a wide berth of a full lane. Others will slow down and then give me the minimum 1 meter. The slower speed is a compromised courtesy which gives some margin of safety.
While cycling it didn’t take long to recognize the professional drivers from the irresponsible ones. Every 18 wheeler, concrete truck and other large vehicle consistently gave me a full lane when they passed me. At times when one of these vehicles would slow down behind me, and the road was wide enough for my comfort, I would signal them to pass me rather than waiting for the on coming traffic to clear. That allowed them to not lose as much speed. Invariably I would get a signal from them that they appreciated the courtesy I gave them.
The truck traffic that was most discourteous and therefore very much reduced the margin of safety were usually the straight trucks or cargo vans. Many of them would over take me without slowing down and often without using the on coming lane even when it was clear. This left me wondering about the safety training and commitment to safety that the smaller companies who operate the straight trucks and cargo vans have compared to the heavy haulers or the long distance drivers.
When I cycled in Toronto it was readily apparent that on the whole drivers in Toronto have a strong general awareness of cyclists. Drivers look out for cyclists when making right hand turns or check for cyclists before pulling away from a stop sign. The extensive road markings for cyclist and signage along with the sheer number of cyclists on the road seems to keep drivers alert to cyclists.
Even so, I would occasionally come across a driver who was blocking the bike lane while waiting to make a turn. On the whole the awareness of the majority of drivers is reassuring as a cyclist.
When I cycled in a few smaller cities I noticed reduced awareness and courtesy towards cyclists. With fewer cyclists around drivers had fewer reminders despite the ‘share the road’ signage that was posted along many streets.
It is disconcerting how little driver education has been done to inform drivers to enhance bicycle safety. It would be good if more public service announcements and other forms of driver education would be used in the province.
There are several areas of confusion when it comes to mixing bikes and motor vehicles.
- The law is not clear on whether cyclists should use a flashing red light on the back of the bike. I prefer using a flashing light over a constant red light as it will get a driver’s attention more readily. It seems like the approval of using a flashing red light is a recent upgrade to the traffic act.
- The law is not clear on whether it is legal to ride bikes two abreast. On the one hand it would appear safer to ‘own’ the whole lane. When a cyclist keeps to the extreme right side of the lane it creates opportunities for aggressive motorists to ignore the safety margin for cyclists. According to the CANbike training videos developed in Manitoba, a cyclist should ride 1 meter from the right edge of the road, to avoid pot holes and debris, and motorist must give cyclists a 1 meter margin for safety. That doesn’t leave much additional room for motorists to pass without moving over 1 lane.
Bicycle safety is everyone’s business but it’s the cyclist that carries all of the risk. As the bumper sticker reads, sent by a friend:
- Bikes don’t have airbags. SHARETHEROAD *
The one item that I haven’t seen a definitive statement on is whether cyclists when approaching a red traffic light, stay back with the last car or move past all the cars, on the right hand side to the front of the line. The strongest statement I have seen about that is to move to the front of the line so that the cyclists are clearly visible to all traffic and less likely to get cut off by a vehicle making a right hand turn.
Come June 26 I will be spending the balance of my summer cycling 7000 km (4000 miles) across Canada with Sea to Sea. I won’t be home again till September if all goes as planned. When it comes to cycling, the long and short of it is, bikes are part of the traffic and subject to all aspects of the highway traffic act.
One stop sign near the CNE grounds in Toronto had an additional note on it. STOP – including bikes. When cyclists follow the rules of the road it enhances their safety.