Summer is prime bike-riding season, and with more people using bicycles to get around town, there will inevitably be more incidents involving motorists and cyclists. It’s my hope that education can reduce the number of such negative interactions.
The city of Asheville is taking advantage of federal stimulus money to implement the recommendations of the Comprehensive Bicycle Plan that was developed two years ago. Many of the street improvements now under way have awaited funding for some time, and folding pedestrian-and bicycle-related elements into these projects saves a great deal of money. But as bicyclists and motorists learn to share the roadway, there are bound to be growing pains.
You’ve doubtless experienced the frustration of closed lanes and traffic jams due to construction projects. Please allow yourself extra travel time, take a big breath and relax: The results promise to ease the pain of getting around for everyone.
For example, we now have continuous sidewalk on Hendersonville Road from downtown to within two miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a number of sidewalk gaps downtown are being filled in. There are many more sidewalk needs, which hopefully will receive funding soon.
One stimulus project to resurface Lexington Avenue. There’s now a climbing lane for southbound bicyclists on North Lexington Avenue, to protect them when they’re pedaling uphill. (On downhill runs, cyclists can typically keep up with motorists and don’t require a separate lane.) But there are several things both bicyclists and motorists need to keep in mind.
First, bicyclists need to keep an eye out for people leaving cars parked along the curb (it’s best to ride in the left-hand portion of the climbing lane). Be alert and ready to react to a suddenly opening car door. If you’re a motorist, please take a moment to check your side and rear windows before exiting your parked car to ensure that you don't slam your door into an approaching bicyclist, and be sure to park close to the curb to avoid blocking the bike lane.
Second, when approaching the intersection of College Street and Lexington Avenue, motorists no longer have a right-turn lane. Drivers turning right shouldn’t enter the bike lane and should first check for cyclists who want to continue straight at the light rather than turning right onto College (you MUST yield to them). Cyclists continuing on Lexington should move out of the bike lane to help motorists know your intentions and avoid confrontations.
Another particularly risky stretch is College Street, between Market Street and the roundabout. There’s a bike lane here behind pull-in parking, so cyclists need to watch for motorists backing out of and pulling into parking spaces. If you see a stopped car, hold up till you see what their intentions are. Motorists should use their turn signals when pulling into a space and should yield to cyclists in the bike lane when entering or leaving their parking spot. It takes only a few seconds, but can avoid a lot of accidents.
Many motorists in Asheville are totally oblivious of pedestrians — the most vulnerable users of our roadways and the ones with the most to lose. Here’s what the law says: All motorists MUST yield to pedestrians crossing at a corner — even if the crosswalk isn’t marked and no warning sign is present. Motorists should ALWAYS be on the lookout for pedestrians. And when there’s no sidewalk (or it’s closed), pedestrians MUST walk against the traffic, not with it. (You need to face the oncoming traffic so you can get out of the way if necessary.)
Cyclists, on the other hand, MUST ride with traffic due to their generally slower speed. Otherwise, there’s no way to wait until it’s clear to pass, and you’re in the wrong position at intersections. And to ease bicyclists’ frustration while waiting for a triggered light to change, the city’s Traffic Engineering Department has started painting a small bike-and-rider logo in the center of the bike lanes, showing where cyclists should stand in order to trigger the light. Hopefully, the state Department of Transportation will agree to use these markings too.
As we all learn these skills, let's be careful and gentle with one another. Being belligerent and angry doesn’t help: We all have the same need to arrive at our destination safely. And if we give one another a little respect and room on the roadway, we’ll all enjoy life more.
Kenilworth resident Claudia Nix is facilitator of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force and co-owner of Liberty Bicycles.