Peda-quette: Gearing Up for a Great Ride

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Peda-quette is an ongoing series about how pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers interact, and simple ways they can get along.

With miles of urban bike lanes, a commitment towards continuing development of cycling infrastructure, a transit system that strives for ease of “bike-to-transit” use, hills for cycle training, and many mountain bike pathways, Austin perennially ranks among the best cities for cycling in America. Despite this, cyclists regularly experience tension with drivers, pedestrians, and even other cyclists. Most often, this occurs because cyclists ignore a legal and practical fact: a bicycle is a vehicle. With this in mind, cyclists can work to make everyone’s transportation experiences more enjoyable, just by following a few common sense tips.

When Dealing With Other Cyclists

Generally speaking, cycling etiquette is a matter of safety—not just for the cyclist, but for everyone on or near the road. There’s only so much space for cyclists to operate, so act accordingly.

  • Be predictable: when other people know what you’re doing, it makes everyone safer.
  • Keep to the right: lanes (roadway and bike) can get tight; if you stay to the right, faster bikes can pass more easily. See ‘on the road’ below for more on this.
  • Go with the flow: bike lanes flow in the same direction as auto traffic; don’t ride the wrong way down the bike lane unless it is designed and marked for two-way traffic.
  • Communicate: if you’re going to do something that another cyclist may not expect, let them know what your plan is verbally , with a quick hand signal or a ring of your bell. Also communicate about hazards, if riding close together, a cyclist behind you may not be able to see what’s in front of you (i.e. dangerous potholes).
  • Body language: use hand signals to let cyclists out of earshot or going the other way know when or if you’re turning.
  • Share the joy: you may not know the cyclist sharing the lane or stopped at the light with you, but you’re already a part of the same community – cyclists – so, say hello, wave or smile!

When Dealing with Cars

Sometimes the tension between cyclists and drivers is palpable. Just remember your bike is a motor vehicle just like their car.

  • Obey traffic signals: cyclists are required to stop at stop signs and red lights just the same as cars. Blowing through stop signs and red lights drives cars crazy, as does weaving in and out of traffic and riding between cars. Reckless cycling makes drivers behave recklessly towards cyclists. When you obey the rules of the road, not only are you making it safer for yourself, but you’re also making it safer for your brothers and sisters on two wheels.
  • On the road: it is always less stressful to ride in a bike, in a separate lane or path when there is one. When riding on the road, be sure to ride the area where a car’s passenger side wheel travels. It is the safest place to be, giving you room to maneuver safely and signals to drivers they need to slow down and change lanes to pass.
  • Bicycling on sidewalks: There are a few places where cycling laws prohibit riding on a sidewalk. Don’t expect APD to know where they can and cannot ticket riders for being on a sidewalk—there have been multiple instances of riders being ticketed in areas they are permitted to ride on the sidewalk (if you are ticketed in such an area, you can easily challenge the ticket in court).
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder: not shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder.  Never ride more than two cycles abreast; this can impede traffic (and really tick off drivers).
  • Predictability: it’s at least as important to be predictable when interacting with cars, if not more so. Use signals to communicate your intentions. Auto drivers rarely look onto sidewalks to check for fast moving cyclists, so be wary that you may not be visible if on the sidewalk and entering a shared area.
  • Sticks and Stones and Car Bumpers: can break bones, so it is never smart to yell (especially obscenities) at someone operating a deadly weapon. Keep calm. Make sure are safe, then get and report a license plate if someone is threatening you with a car.
  • Share the joy: a little personal interaction can go a long way so when stopped at the light or a driver passes you courteously give them a friendly wave or smile!

When Dealing with Pedestrians 

Pedestrians are often times the most vulnerable of anyone a cyclist may encounter—but if you run into one, you’re guaranteed to have the same injury woes they are.

  • Pedestrians own the sidewalk: like the bike lane for cyclists, the sidewalk is the natural habitat of the pedestrian. Yield to them.
  • For whom the bell tolls: if you’re going to regularly ride on the sidewalk, attach a bell or other noisemaker to your handlebars in an easily accessible place so you can let pedestrians know you’re approaching. They’ll usually accommodate and get out of the way. It’s also common to add, “on your left,” when passing to indicate to pedestrians who’s backs are to you which side you are on.
  • Sidewalks are not for bike parking: lock up your bike in a way that doesn’t obstruct the sidewalk.

And Don’t Forget If you’re riding at night, use a light. Although a helmet is highly recommended, the most important safety device a cyclist can use is a light. At night, cyclists are extremely hard to see. Lights let others know where you are and give them an idea how fast you are moving.  It’s also the law the ride with a white front and red rear light. White lights face forward, and red lights face backwards. Do not get them mixed up, because you want drivers to know which way you are traveling.

One Response to Peda-quette: Gearing Up for a Great Ride

  1. Pete says:

    As for bicycle safety, one has to remain aware of where one is. Visibility is key. In my opinion a cyclist on a sidewalk is invisible.

    Each community has it’s cycling hazards. Kerrville, TX, has deer two blocks from the heart of downtown that will jump in your path as you are travelling downhill. Odessa a combination of striped an untriped bike routes. It has a bike route along the main lanes of a freeway, Loop 338. Bikes often have to cross over more than 100 foot wide thoroughfares.! Crossing 7 to 9 lanes of traffic is not uncommon.

    Always, always have an awareness of the situation. I know that I have a tendency to relax after having traveled on Loop 338, or 42nd Street. That tendency nearly got me killed as after turning onto a street where the nearest vehicle was more than three blocks away I further relaxed as that vehicle overtook and proceed to pass me by taking the left traffic lane. I did not realize the vehicle following it to avoid the previous vehicle moving to the left lane would move further right in the right traffic lane and proceeded to run me down. I was lucky and survived a no helmet hit on a posted 40 MPH street.

    Austin with its Austin only population of over 850,000 in 2012 had over 80 traffic fatalities. I live in Odessa where Midland and Ector counties combined have probably less than half of the City of Austin’s population but in 2013 had a combined total of 96 traffic fatalities. Even out by Marathon TX a cyclist must be aware. http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/feb/01/bike-journey-turns-harrowing-mount-vernon-couple/
    Also see: http://www.newswest9.com/story/24568127/woman-pleads-guilty-in-connection-with-the-death-of-a-midland-man-friend-speaks-out