Transportation

Most Drivers Share the Road - But Not All

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 18, 2007

Reading on the Hamilton Spectator website about a recent hit-and-run on Upper Gage, where a motorist crashed into a cyclist and then took off, put me in mind of an almost-incident that happened to me last week.

On Thursday afternoon, a motorist tried to run me off the road - twice. I was riding south on Caroline between King and Main and a young driver in a sports coupe swerved in front of me and cut right, nearly running me into the snowbank. I yelled "Hey!" and waved at him (no swearing or bird-flipping: I've sworn off that mode of response since it always seems to make a bad situation worse).

Then he swerved right again, cutting off my route past him. I hit the brakes, wobbled ferociously, and had to jump off the bike to avoid falling.

Traffic came to a stop in front of him and I walked my bike past him. He honked at me and pointed toward the sidewalk. I shook my head sternly and pointed at the road in front of him. He honked again and mouthed an imprecation at me.

Because traffic was still blocked, I rode off ahead and left him far behind. Unfortunately, he's still on the road with a reckless misunderstanding of cyclists' right to be on the road (and his responsibility to share the road safely) and a dangerous sense of his own entitlement to claim 'his' territory at others' expense.

Fortunately, this story is notable because it's exceptional. The overwhelming majority of motorists, from my experience, simply mind their own business and allow me to mind mine. An occasional driver will yield the right of way to me in a kindhearted but arguably misguided - since safety depends so much on people behaving predictably - effort to be generous and accommodating; and a very occasional driver will be rude, aggressive, and hostile.

To the majority of civil drivers: you have my sincere appreciation.

To the small minority of drivers who stop to let me through when you have the right of way: I deeply appreciate your intentions, but the safest thing you can do for me is simply to treat me like another vehicle and drive accordingly.

To the tiny minority of drivers who think cyclist shouldn't be on the road: in your ignorance and arrogance, you're toying with vehicular manslaughter. Please acquaint yourself with the Highway Traffic Act and start to drive courteously and carefully. Someone's life may well depend on your decision not to use your car as a weapon.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2007 at 20:52:16

You just killed your argument by splitting lanes to get ahead. Perhaps you need to spend some time with that Act.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 18, 2007 at 21:50:20

I did no such thing. The Act is clear on sharing the road: the motorist must pull far enough to the left to give the cyclist a safe amount of space, and the cyclist must pull as far to the right as is safely possible.

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By Beef (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2007 at 11:11:52

I do have an issue with many cyclists. On a four lane road, I move into the passing lane and back again in order to give cyclists plenty of room as I pass. However at the next traffic light, they always seem to ride right up to the intersection beside me (and sometimes several cars in front of me) -causing me to have to repeat the process all over again when the light turns green. If cyclists wish to be treated as a vehicle, then they should not pull ahead at traffic lights, but should come to a complete stop behind the other cars at the intersection.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2007 at 19:07:11

my beef with some cyclists is their disregard for the rules of the road. for example, coasting through stop signs, weaving in and out of traffic, not signalling lane changes, etc. as a cyclist i'm very anal about these things. afterall, respect is a two-way street.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 08:57:40

Ironically enough, I feel the same way about car drivers!

Just yesterday as I was driving up Queen St a green minivan coasted down the middle of the two lanes, eventually pulling into the middle lane at the Hunter stop lights. Once we started moving again I was about to pass when she veered in front of me with no signals. I backed off, then as we approached Aberdeen, she suddenly realized she had to go up the hill and so veered again. No signals, no looking, not even the slightest response to my horn as she almost took the corner of my car off!

Also, before construction closed Dundurn, it was a common thing to see drivers continuing to turn when they no longer had an advanced green. I've been given the finger many times by drivers who went illegally and were offended that I'd honk my horn to tell them so.

As a cyclist, I'll blow a stop sign if I feel it's safe for me to do so. For example, if I'm approaching a four way stop and a car is stopped and about to continue straight, if they start moving by the time I get there I'll follow through beside them. Why? Well, opposing traffic is already letting them through and that way I don't have to build up my momentum again. As a car driver there's no excuse for blowing a stop sign as it's not much of an ankle workout to press the gas.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 12:58:37

I hate to break it to you Brandon, but there's no excuse for a cyclist blowing off a stop sign either. It's illegal plain and simple. The cops occasionally do blitzes on cyclists around my neighbourhood and the penalty for running a stop sign is a $120 fine and 3 demerit points off your driver's license. If you're ever caught, I don't think the argument that it "felt safe" will get you very far.

Ryan, I'm sorry you had to deal with that idiot driver who was ignorant of the fact that cyclist belong on the road. Unfortunately many of our fellow cyclists are equally ignorant. I am a pedestrian and a cyclist and a motorist. Like you, my encounters with ignorant and oblivious drivers as a cyclist have been few and far between, however as a pedestrian, I can't tell you the number of times my kids and I have nearly been hit by cyclists whizzing along the sidewalks in busy commercial areas and in front of my kids' school. Naturally when I point out to them that what they are doing is illegal and could get them ticketed, I am met with a stream of invective. The last time, I was so frustrated I said "I'm a cyclist too. People like you give us a bad name." I won't try that line of argument again. I almost got assaulted.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2007 at 14:28:21

Last year I was also riding south on Caroline and saw another cyclist riding the wrong way, north, right down the middle of the street toward me. I shook my head at him as we passed and got a big, fat "F* you!" for my trouble.

All I could think was: This asshat is going to piss off every motorist he comes across, and then they're all going to pass me just up the road and I'm going to have to deal with the consequences of his recklessness.

Sure enough, the rest of my ride along Caroline was more harrowing and aggressive than usual (though I concede it may just have been my imagination).

My point is that a few bad cyclists stick in the mind give the rest of us a bad name just the bad drivers out there.

As for Brandon's point about running a stop sign concurrently with a car, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, it is illegal today. On the other hand, as they say, there are traffic infractions and there are traffic infractions.

Cyclists encounter stop signs differently than motorists. A bike can stop on a dime compared to a car; and visibility is better up and down the cross street. I'm inclined to think cyclists should be allowed to treat four-way stops as yields, since it's basically safe to do and most cyclists do 'rolling stops' anyway.

Ultimately, Brandon's point strikes at the same issue as A Robot's point above. Cyclists are an outlier on the road: they don't quite integrate with motor vehicles but they don't have separate infrastructure either. As a result, cyclists tend to drift in and out of the flow of traffic in an ad hoc fashion.

There are cases where a cyclist is clearly, unambiguously in the wrong - e.g. the guy I saw riding the wrong way down the middle of a one-way street - and other, more ambiguous cases where the cyclist seeks the best of both worlds - e.g. me expecting the driver not to run me out of "his" lane but then sailing past a line of stopped cars when I had room next to the curb.

Quite frankly, I'll be damned if I'm going to sit in a corridor full of toxic car exhaust when I have room to proceed through it (being small and maneuverable is half the point of riding a bike, after all).

The Highway Traffic Act specifies that a bicycle is generally bound by the rules of the road with a number of bike-specific provisos: e.g. a bicycle should stay close to the right side of the lane unless turning left, and a motorist should leave adequate room when passing.

The issue of lane-splitting is a case in point of the ambiguity of a vehicle that has to follow some, but not all, the same rules as the other vehicles. The law doesn't state whether bikes and cars should share a lane; only that bikes should tend toward the right and that motorists should leave space.

Sometimes this will mean sharing a lane, but not always. On major streets with multiple lanes, I always take the full lane and expect drivers to change lanes to pass. I do this because the law states that I must stay as far to the right as is safe, and it's quite simply not safe to stay close enough to the curb that motorists driving at 60 km/h can pass in the lane. I need them to change lanes for my safety, so I pull out far enough to force them to around.

On a smaller street like Caroline, de facto bike lanes tend to emerge from the interaction of cyclists and motorists. Occasionally that means a bike will be in the position of passing several stopped cars and 'skipping ahead' to the next intersection.

Ultimately, I think the safest outcome for an individual cyclist would be for many more cyclists to be on the road at all times. That would normalize both the presence of cyclists for drivers and the patterns of de facto bike lanes on secondary streets.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2007 at 14:38:10

"My point is that a few bad cyclists stick in the mind give the rest of us a bad name just the bad drivers out there."

Possibly the most grammatically challenged sentence I've ever written. Sorry about that!

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By driving me crazy (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 15:15:43

know what i'm sick of? damn cyclists who think everyone needs to get out of the way for them because oh look at me, i'm SACRIFICING for the GREATER GOOD!! if you're too stupid or lazy to afford a car don't blame me. just stay out of my way.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 16:09:40

To Highwater: I realize it's illegal and would certainly try and talk my way out of a ticket, but wouldn't complain if I couldn't.

That being said, I rarely, if ever, ride on the sidewalk rarely, if ever, ride the wrong way down a street. If circumstances dictate that I must do something like that, I always make sure that my actions don't significantly impact those around me. I'll walk the bike if I have to, but I'm aware that I'm in the wrong if any questions were to arise. The laws I break I break only if I can be certain that I will do no harm to others.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 19:33:18

Maybe it's because I'm anal, or maybe it's because I'm a parent trying to set a good example for my kids, but when I'm on a bike, I stop at every stop sign even if there isn't a car to be seen. Yeah, it's a drag, but rules are rules, and as I said, there's often a police presence in my neck of the woods and they do ticket cyclists.

Back to the bikes on sidewalks issue, I wanted to add that seems to be a peculiarly Hamilton problem. I lived in Toronto for 10 years and 5 in St. Kitt's before moving to Hamilton 8 years ago. I had never seen cyclists on sidewalks before the way I did in Hamilton. At first I assumed it was because the roads must be particularly hazardous for cyclists, or the drivers particularly backwards (although having survived Spadina and Queen W on a Saturday, how bad could they be?), but there are bike lanes in our neighbourhood now and it's as bad as ever. Don't know what it is.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2007 at 22:08:30

Ryan what you describe is lane splitting and there's nothing ambiguous about it. Of course having proper on-street cycling infrastructure would hopefully solve things like this. ...if they bother to clear the snow from them. The King St bridge bike lanes were still full of snow as of this afternoon.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2007 at 22:40:13

"Ryan what you describe is lane splitting and there's nothing ambiguous about it."

What's ambiguous is whether there's anything wrong - illegal or dangerous - with it. The Highway Traffic Act already strongly implies that the flow of vehicular traffic and the flow of bicycle traffic are interactive but separate. Bicycles are not expected to fill the lane; cars are allowed to pass bicycles in a manner that bypasses the normal flow of traffic.

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By Pgree (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2007 at 00:46:06

I strongly oppose motorists sharing the road with cyclists. It is not only unsafe, but inconvenient for cyclists.

Motorists tend to act as though the rules of the road don't apply to them. Not only do they hog the entire road, forcing cyclists off to the sides, but they are always hitting cyclists, pedestrians, and each other. The number of people that motorists kill every year is astounding. Motorists belong on race tracks and nowhere else.

Before you chastise me for being anti-motorist, I would like you to know that I am an avid fan of monster trucks. I love watching them crush all those cars!

In conclusion, I do not believe that any motorists should be sharing the road with cyclists. It's unsafe and irresponsible.

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