Finding equilibrium

I want drivers to know how to safely share the road with cyclists. Many of you don't, and my daughter enjoys having a dad. Although my demise will cure most of my many personality defects, I'm in no hurry.

I enjoy riding my bicycle, no matter the terrain. It's fun; sometimes it's even relaxing. But in Asheville, bike riding frequently proves a dangerous exercise. Consider this:

• Dry curb weight of a 1991 Ford F-150 pickup truck: 2,722 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 1985 Pontiac Firebird: 3,850 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 1991 Yugo: 1,822 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 2006 Honda Civic: 2,654 lbs.
• Weight of my bike and me: roughly 200 lbs.

In no scenario does a cyclist win a fight with a car: The laws of physics determine the outcome.

According to the N.C. Department of Transportation's Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation: "Each year in N.C., more than 900 bicyclists are involved in police-reported crashes with motor vehicles. On average, around 20 are killed and an additional 60 are seriously injured."

In 2007, Asheville reported roughly 4 percent of the state's bicycle crashes; more than half involved injuries requiring an ambulance. Most victims were sober white males riding through urban areas, obeying the traffic laws in 35 mph speed zones. No injuries were reported among the automobile drivers.

Because I talk with other cyclists frequently, I know that many of Asheville's car/bike accidents go unreported. In the space of two days recently, I heard three unfortunate stories from acquaintances: bent bikes, broken bodies, no police report.

On the bike, I'm not looking to win any popularity contests. I know a slower vehicle is an inconvenience, but I also know I'm at a severe disadvantage in a collision. I assert myself to increase my visibility to drivers.

You'll notice that I pass you at red lights: The front of the line is the most visible place for me. You'll notice that I ride three feet away from parked cars, avoiding quickly opened doors. And sometimes I'll move to the sidewalk; I'd rather scoff the law than die following it. So if you see me roll through an occasional stop sign or red light, then I applaud you for seeing me at all. My biggest worry is that you'll feel me first — under your bumper, sight unseen.

If a cyclist moves ahead of you, there's no need to honk and yell or try to drive us off the road. Most of us are well aware that bicycles are vehicles, subject to the same rules as cars. But we're not cars: We're soft and fleshy, lacking your steel exoskeleton, and our goal is simply self-preservation in the face of inherent, constant, overweening peril. Drivers can be inattentive, and most cyclists are simply trying to arrive at their destination intact.

I don't care how you choose to get to work in the morning. Drive. Walk. Take the bus. Hitchhike. Long-board. Unicycle. Have fun. Lord knows, I'm trying to enjoy my commute.

But let me speak to one of you in particular: You know who you are. West Asheville, several weeks ago, just after 6 p.m. You were absent-mindedly turning east onto Haywood Road from Clinton Avenue in your dark-blue, midsize car. I yelled "Watch out!" because I didn't know whether your windows were open and I wanted you to be aware of me. I was on my bike, heading east at about 23 mph on the right side of the road. You remember me now: the guy with the blindingly bright headlight and the big orange flags. A safety geek by any measure, I yielded when I saw you turning.

The ensuing minutes are a bit blurry, but I do recall that after you completed your turn, you started screaming at me (I think you said something about kicking my ass). You also swerved violently across the lane, NASCAR-style, as if to prevent me from passing you.

The line of cars waiting for the red light at Patton Avenue stretched back past Belmont Avenue. As you slowed, I passed you on the left, crossing the center line and giving you a wide berth. I said nothing to you as I passed. I didn't call you an unhinged chupacabra (a hairless, goat-sucking, cyptozoological beast that's prone to hiss and screech when alarmed). I didn't blithely suggest that our interaction had been about as much fun as a raging rectal rash. I just rode past you and continued on my way. True, I wasn't happy — and I looked over my shoulder to make sure you hadn't followed me.

But this isn't a rant about your "communicating threats" violation (a misdemeanor); the truth is, I try to stay the hell off the road whenever possible. Having more bike paths and bike lanes would certainly help.

When we must share the road, though, please understand that I'm there only because I have no better option. So please: Be patient; be kind. A cyclist isn't riding his bike to inconvenience or irritate you.

To paraphrase Aristotle: Anybody can be pissed off, but an honorable person gets pissed off at the right people, for the right reason, and responds at the right time and in the right manner.

So how do we find equilibrium on the road? If I pass you at a stoplight, please don't overreact. If I holler "Watch out!" to remind you that we're on the road together, please don't run me over or kick my ass. I'm merely trying to get across town — just like you.

Christopher M. Craig is the managing attorney of the Asheville law firm Craig Associates, PC.

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15 thoughts on “Finding equilibrium

  1. mitchxout

    I commute by bicycle as well. However, I rarely get yelled at or have any of the other issues the OP mentioned in his letter. But I follow the rules of the road and show courtesy to others. It might be time to look in the mirror.

  2. bikeman

    Well said, I frequently ride to and from work, I wear bright colors, have plenty of lights, and believe in the words, “Same Road, Same rights, Same rules”. I ride for the exercise, and to clear my mind riding home. I have been doing this for years. Drivers, don’t lump me in with the oblivious riders riding in the dark with no lights or reflectors, and listening to their iPod. Just as bad drivers exist, bad bike riders exist.

  3. Bubbles First

    I read your commentary and I do respect bicycle riders. But in your last paragraph you said “If I pass you at a stoplight, please don’t overreact.” Well if you are passing at a redlight, aren’t you breaking the law? It is my understanding that the traffic laws pertain to you also but a lot of you bicyclists do not obey the laws. Most of you run the red lights and then I have to pass you safely again and again. You are not always seen coming up on the right of a car that is stopped, surely you realize this.

  4. Asheville Dweller

    “If I pass you at a stoplight, please don’t overreact” Thats the problem with the bike riders Running Redlights and riding on the sidewalks.

    Obey the traffic laws, all of them.

  5. Steve A

    Have you considered that the incident might have been avoided altogether had you been riding in the center or even left of the lane rather than at the right? Motorists are MUCH likely to register an object traveling further left. Had this been the case, the guy would not have pulled out because he would have SEEN you. Motorcyclists are taught to be visible. The same principle makes life easier for bicyclists.

    I cannot recall the last time I passed a motorist at a red light. I wait my turn with the other vehicles. I must say that while I don’t agree with Asheville’s stereotype of “bike riders,” the comment is otherwise 100% on the mark. To it, I would add “behave as a vehicle, be treated as a vehicle.”

  6. AoBrider

    To clarify, in the city of Asheville cyclists have the right of the road and the sidewalk. It’s legal for cyclists to ride on both.
    It’s also important to mention that there are several lights that wont’ change for a cyclist in the city. On college, turning left onto MLK, the light at the intersection does not pick up on cyclists. We are left in the middle of traffic.
    When we have infrastructure that accommodates all modes of transportation, cyclists will follow the law. As it exists now, the law can put us in danger and increase congestion.

  7. Asheville Dweller

    Umm Riding your bike on the sidewalk is against the law it has been for quite some time.

  8. Austin

    Chris,
    I was astounded when I read about your passing vehicles waiting at red lights. I have thousands of miles on bicycles under my belt and from the very beginning (riding in Austin Texas) I was keenly aware that I must obey traffic rules in order to get along with motorists, which I am as well.
    I strongly encourage you to quit doing this both for your own safety as well as the reputation of traffic law abiding cyclists.
    You deserve every comment you get, because anybody who skips lights and slows traffic is a selfish __________ .
    Once you have a place in line you are free to do whatever you need to maintain your safety, and most people wont give you a hard time for it, but skipping?, I guess your mom skipped that lesson ba
    ck in kindergarten.
    Be safe and courteous please.
    MountnX Editor, you just gave people proof of how selfish some of these cyclists are…but an editorial? Bad idea.

  9. Steve A

    If, as a cyclist, you encounter a light that “wont’ change for a cyclist in the city,” the proper course of action is to CALL THE TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT (NOT the police) and complain about the nonfunctional signal. The city is obligated to make its signals function for all traffic. Complain every day and it’ll probably get fixed pretty quick. I have the traffic dept phone numbers for all the cities I cycle through programmed into my cell phone. If you call the police, they may or may not forward it to the traffic guys. The police do not fix the traffic signals.

    If they DON’T fix it, you’ve documented it in case someone is later hurt or killed due to the city’s negligence. If they appear to blow you off, you can mention this last point. I also sometimes mislead a little and say I can’t trigger it with a motorcycle.

  10. law abiding biker

    It was 3:00 on a monday morning, I recall. I had to get to the printing shop. I was riding my 10 speed. There was a light that wouldn’t change. I was too light to trigger it. I called the traffic department. I waited and waited. They never came. Luckily, around 7:30, a buick came along and triggered it for me. I finally got to work. What a day that was.

  11. Mitchxout

    “Luckily, around 7:30, a buick came along and triggered it for me.”

    That made me laugh. By the way, NC made it legal for motorcycles and bicycles to proceed thru stubborn red lights. I suppose it was easier (cheaper) to change the law than fix every traffic light in the state.

  12. dave

    “When we must share the road, though, please understand that I’m there only because I have no better option.”

    After reading about all the pain and suffering you a forced to endure as a bicyclist, perhaps a car might be a better option.

  13. AoBrider

    Michxout,
    Can you reference this NC law. I’ve never heard of it. If it exists, it’s an important step forward and needs to be shared throughout the cycling community.

    Dave,
    A car is not a better option. It can be easy to forget that the roads we use are for people – all kinds of people, moving about with differing modes of transportation.
    Driving is a privilege, cycling and walking are rights. In order to protect our rights, we must exercise them.

  14. Mitchxout

    What North Carolina Did in 2007…

    A BILL TO BE ENTITLED 2 AN ACT TO PROVIDE AN EXCEPTION TO G.S. 20-158 RELATING TO 3 MOTORCYCLES AND TRAFFIC-CONTROL SIGNALS ACTIVATED BY 4 VEHICLE DETECTION DEVICES. 5 The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts: 6 SECTION 1. G.S. 20-158 is amended by adding a new subsection to read: 7 “(e) The driver of a motorcycle approaching an intersection that is controlled by a 8 triggered traffic-control signal using a vehicle detection device that is inoperative due to 9 the size of the motorcycle, shall come to a full and complete stop at the intersection. If 10 the signal fails to operate after one cycle of the traffic signal, the driver may proceed 11 after exercising due caution and care to determine that no motor vehicle or person is 12 approaching on the street or highway to be crossed or entered or is so far away from the 13 intersection that it does not constitute an immediate hazard. It is not a defense to a 14 violation of this section that the driver of a motorcycle proceeded under the belief that a 15 traffic-control signal used a vehicle detection device or was inoperative due to the size 16 of the motorcycle when the signal did not in fact use a vehicle detection device or the 17 device was not in fact inoperative due to the size of the motorcycle.” 18 SECTION 2. This act becomes effective September 1, 2007, and applies to 19 violations occurring on or after that date.

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