With three cyclists killed by drivers in the last three months in Vermont, the amount of discussion about cycling, road safety, and other topics related to cycling has increased dramatically. Articles have been written by journalists, reporters, a police chief, and leaders of advocacy groups have made statements in print and other media. The Transportation Secretary issued a statement. The State Police released a new PSA. My social media accounts have been filled with discussion of it, but for the most part I have remained publicly quiet about it.
I’ve seen countless discussions about lights, reflective gear, and more bike lanes to make things safer for cyclists. Most of these discussions have focused on things that cyclists should be doing to stay safe. I have also heard many people blame cyclists for being on the road in the first place, that they do not belong there. On a friend’s Facebook page I saw a picture he had taken of the back of a truck that said “Bicyclist of VT it’s time to register, inspect and insure or GET OFF THE ROADS!!! your no longer pedestrians, follow traffic laws”, as seen in the picture below.
I’m not writing this to get bogged down in debate about any of those things. Yes there are cyclists that do not follow the law, and there are cars that drive dangerously. I’m writing this because through all of the articles, blog posts, media interviews and statements, there is something I have not heard anyone talk about. The laws regarding cycling on the road. Why aren’t we talking about that? The State Police PSA does not explain it. The Transportation Secretary, leaders of advocacy groups, reporters, nobody has talked about this in detail, and it is clearly misunderstood.
One of the local advocacy groups actually has a flier that puts it all in very plain, easy to understand language. (http://www.localmotion.org/documents/safety/Safe_Streets_brochure_2010_–_low_res.pdf). Another cycling group has a link to a page that contains all the relevant laws in their actual language on one sheet (http://thegmbc.com/VTBikeLaws.pdf). So even though I understand that some people would like to see changes regarding bicycles on the road, as it stands right now there are laws currently in place that we should be talking about.
With very few exceptions that are clearly marked such as I89, bicycles have every right to be on the road. That’s the law. In the simplest terms, bicycles are on the same roads with the same rules. They are supposed to be there. Bicycles have the exact same rights as cars have, and they have the same responsibilities. That means stopping at stoplights and signs, signaling before all turns and lane changes, having lights on at night.
According to the law, cyclists are required to ride with the flow of traffic and as far right as is safe. What is safe is determined by the cyclist, not the driver following or passing them. What may look safe from your car is quite often a field of ruts and debris that is unsafe to ride on. There are many shoulders that are not safe to ride on, and there is no law that states cyclists are supposed to ride there. In fact the law makes it clear that they are not required to. Again, the law states to ride as far right as is safe. There are also bike lanes that are not safe to ride on, and once again the law is clear that cyclists are not required to use the bike lane. Just last week the bike lane in Winooski was obstructed by an automated radar/speed display. The bike lane on Pine St in Burlington is horribly damaged and unsafe to ride in many areas. These are just a couple examples or reasons why they are sometimes unsafe, but again it is not required to be used. Bicycles have a right to be on the road.
This next part is only my opinion, but I believe many cyclists need to do a better job of actually riding in the lane, as far to the right as is safe, but actually in the lane instead of on the shoulder where they end up weaving back and forth between the shoulder and the lane. This weaving from shoulder to the lane is one of the biggest complaints I hear from drivers. However, drivers need to understand that bikes will drift left and right the same as a car does within it’s lane.
When it comes to passing a cyclist the law is also clear. Cars should only pass when it is safe, and provide extra clearance between the vehicle and the cyclist when passing. A good rule to follow that is actually law in other areas, is to give at least three feet of space between the car and the bicycle.
That’s the law in simple language that everyone can understand, and links to the laws themselves. I understand not agreeing with things and wanting them to be different, but that’s not the point. As of today, according to the law, a bicycle on the road is supposed to be treated the same as a car. They are also supposed to follow the same laws as a car.
I’ve seen Facebook posts showing groups of cyclists pulled over by police for running a stop sign with a caption of share if you agree. For the record, I agree. I’ve also seen pictures of the back of a bus that says “every lane is a bike lane”. I agree with that as well because it’s the truth, it’s the law. The new PSA from the Vermont State Police says “Share the road”. Let’s be clear about this. This statement has always been directed at cars. There is no cyclist in their right mind that believes they don’t have to share the road with cars. If you see a cyclist blowing through a stop sign, failing to signal a turn, riding without lights after dark, or riding three abreast blocking the flow of traffic you should report them. If you see a car passing too close, passing too fast, cutting off a rider, yelling/honking at a rider while passing, or harassing in any way, report them. In Chittenden County there is a phone number 802-861-3344 or website (www.reportrecklessness.org) that you can use that will also be referred to the proper police department.
I ride my bicycles a lot. For every car that passes too fast or close, honks or screams while passing, and is flat out dangerous, there are at least 100 cars that are following the law, and another couple cars that are even extraordinarily kind and courteous. I have found the same to be true of cyclists when I am driving my car. The guy riding toward me in my lane of traffic on North Ave the other day had me cursing out loud, but I ride with and see far more riders that are safe and responsible.
I’m certainly not saying to stop talking about all of the other issues people are bringing up because of this. Discussion is a good thing, but could we please start by following what the law actually is? If the drivers of the cars that killed three cyclists had been following these laws, three amazing people with hundreds of friends and family members would still be alive today.
- Same road, same rules
- Ride as far to the right as is safe
- Ride two abreast only when not impeding traffic
- Follow all traffic laws, stop signs, lights on at night, signal all turns
- Report unsafe driving and harassment
- Be nice, smile and be courteous
- Cyclists have the same right to the road as a car
- Slow down when passing and pass only when safe
- Give extra space when passing (at least three feet)
- When in doubt, yield
- Report unsafe or unlawful cycling
- Be nice, kind, and courteous