I’m one of those bicyclists that motorists love to hate.
I own a nice car and put about 10,000 miles on it each year. But my bicycle is my primary form of transportation. On it, I put almost 2,000 miles a year. I rode my bicycle twice across the United States, once from Seattle, once from San Diego. I run a bicycle tour business in Annapolis called Annapolis by Bike. I have taken and led countless rides through Southern Anne Arundel County. And I have commuted to work in the Annapolis area for more than 20 years, from Edgewater, Broadneck and Murray Hill.
In all those miles on two wheels, I have seen plenty of hostility from behind the wheel. I’ve been run off a rural Kansas road by drunken farm hands. I’ve been pushed into a vehicle parked on College Avenue by high-school kids who leaned out their car window just for fun.
So I take exception to the complaints — how bicyclists don’t obey the laws, clog the roads, take up entire lanes, slow down cars on narrow country roads. Who do they think they are?
And I take exception when motorists refuse to share the road. It’s not only verbal and physical challenges I’m talking about, though there’s plenty of that. It’s reckless endangerment. How many more bicyclists have to die on our roads before we take responsible measures to make shared roads safer, starting with better law enforcement in areas where accidents have happened in the past?
Short of death, just how dangerous is it out there?
Last week, I kept track of the dangerous and illegal driving and roadway obstacles I encountered between my house and the state office buildings on Taylor Avenue in Annapolis. I mostly ride back streets, but I could be killed just trying to leave my neighborhood.
That’s where my trouble starts. On Constitution Avenue, a driver opens her car door without looking. A school bus swings into my lane while turning from Amos Garrett Boulevard, the driver angrily honking at me. Brooke Avenue is a minefield of potholes. The corner of Steele and Monticello is a popular spot for U-turns; I no longer expect drivers to look for bikes when making this hasty maneuver. I know to be careful at Lafayette and Southgate, where vehicles glide through the four-way stop.
On West Street, vehicles pass me in a steady stream like I’m invisible — or the enemy — forcing me against the curb or parked cars — often honking as they pull this deadly move. Sleepy motorists turn in front of me as they enter the parking garage on West Washington Street. I see more reckless gliding stops at Clay and West Washington. County administrative staff drive the wrong way up Northwest Street into their special parking lot, rather than driving legally through Clay Street as I do.
Drivers swerve to hit puddles along Rowe Boulevard so they can soak me. The College Creek Bridge is littered with glass from beer bottles heaved by motorists. Empty city busses speeding up Herb Sachs Boulevard pass me on blind turns. Drivers pull out of parking places along every street without looking. Trucks and cars park illegally, blocking the travel lane and forcing me into on-coming cars. Vehicles stop without warning to let people in and out. Drivers in the left lane at Calvert Street suddenly decide they want to make a right turn onto West, cutting me off. Distracted drivers talking on cellphones float into my lane.
On top of all that, I get yelled at, honked at and threatened daily.
Allow me to offer some driver education.
Bicyclists have rights and obligations just like motorists.
The law gives cyclists as much right to the road as motor vehicles unless the road is specifically signed to prohibit bicycles, as are most freeways. The State Highway Administration is required to accommodate bicycles on every road project if possible. Exceptions include bridges and sensitive environmental features like wetlands.
Cyclists can ride in the middle of the lane. That’s the law. It’s also a safer way to travel because they can’t get squeezed when a motorist tries a dangerous pass.
Bicyclists help fund roads through their taxes, whether they own a motor vehicle or not. That’s the law.
Bicyclists are required to follow all rules of the road. That’s the law. The law is a two-way street for drivers and cyclists.
Motorists wonder why the police do not enforce the laws. I wonder the same thing every day.
Let’s call a truce. Let’s obey the laws and live longer.
And when a bicyclist pedals by as you sit idle in one of our almost-daily traffic jams, remember this: That’s one less car on the road between you and your destination.
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