We are Not Machines

We are Not Machines

The views is this blog entry are the personal beliefs of Keeley A. Puncochar, and do not reflect the collective beliefs of Tuned In Broadcasting (Lightning 100/Team Green Adventures), it’s employees, members, or listeners.

 

Dear Drivers,

You’re right. We can be obnoxious. Many of us are inconsiderate. We go too slow, and some of us flat out break the rules. We preach “share the road” and yet we don’t all share it ourselves. It’s wrong. It’s wrong for us to blame “the drivers” for being dangerous, when we too contribute to the danger.

These are the thoughts I often have while commuting to work. An hour and a half is a long time to think about the relationship that cyclists and drivers form when they find themselves on the same stretch of asphalt. I’ve only been cycling for about a year, but it only took three months to discover that road cycling isn’t just another one of my hobbies. It’s a lifestyle; something that has been imprinted on my soul and is now a part of who I am. I’m not a racer; I’m a commuter, and a touring cyclist. I’m in it for the long haul. Just as much as I love the wonder of getting caught up on a lonesome Williamson County roadway when the morning fog lightly hovers over the pasture wildflowers, before evaporating into the humid summer sky… I love the relationship I share with drivers on Thursday mornings, when I’m riding down Hillsboro Road on my way into work.

For the past five months I have been coaching a group of nine dedicated, novice cyclists, as they train for a 100-mile bike ride out West, and raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ve watched the nine individuals grow into their own definition of cyclist, but it pains me to see that some of these riders are still gut-wrenchingly afraid of vehicles. I was thinking about this too during my morning commute last week.

My favorite section of morning commute is between Berry Chapel Road and Tyne Boulevard. This is the section when all the cars get backed up because of elementary school traffic. While the cars are putting along at 9 mph, I get to ride past at 14 mph in my own designated bike lane. Once beyond the school zone, the cars pass me, only to be passed by me again at the next school zone. This happens three or four times before I eventually reach Tyne Boulevard, and they inevitably win the race. There are always a few vehicles who play the game with me in good spirit. We’ll wave as we pass one another (for the second or third time)– an invitation to keep the race going. Some drivers smile or nod at me, but most drivers just ignore me; which is OK too.

At the intersection of Old Hillsboro Road, my bike lane cuts off and I’m forced to merge into the main road to pass over a small bridge. Last week, I rolled up next to an SUV at the stop light before the bridge. The window was rolled down, and a sweet-faced English Bulldog had it’s head out the window to greet me. I asked a question to the driver, and he looked in my direction with an odd expression on his face. I interpreted the expression as: “Did that bike just say something to me?” I chuckled to myself, then repeated my questions. “Do you mind if I cut in front of you, to get over this bridge?” He thought a moment, then replied “Oh. Yea! Go ahead,” finally realizing that I’m a real person. I thanked him, told the English Bulldog how pretty she was; the light turned green, and I was back on my way.

The experience reminded me that I am not a bike, and you (the drivers) are not cars. We are all humans, wrapped intricately in metal (to some degree), but we do not become those machines when we travel. We are who we are, not what we drive. That golden rule we learned in kindergarten still remains true. Treat others as you want to be treated. I want to feel safe and comfortable riding on the road, so I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that you (the drivers) feel safe and comfortable with my presence on the road. I’ll share the road to the best of my ability, and I hope you’ll share it with me (and all other cyclists) in return.

I wish I could make this promise for all cyclists, but I can’t. Just as all drivers are different, we cyclists are too. I’ve come to the conclusion that the way you drive is the way you cycle. Some drivers offer a thank you wave when another driver let’s them cut-in; some flip a bird if they don’t. Some drivers stick to the speed limit and use their blinkers religiously; some weave in and out of traffic like they rule the road. It’s the same on a bike. If you encounter a “jerk” cyclist, just remember they don’t represent the entire cycling community, and let it roll off your shoulders.

I can only hope that this blog entry somehow humanizes the existence of cyclists and drivers alike, and resonates a reminder of our shared role to keep one another safe. Below are a few key rules for drivers and cyclists to keep in mind.

Reminders for Drivers

  1. Cyclists are required by law to ride as far to the right as is “practicable.” Not possible. Practicable. If you see a cyclist riding on the white line, they are following the law. We should not be expected to ride in the shoulder, though we often prefer to. If you see a cyclist riding several inches to the left of the white line, consider the condition of the road. They might be trying to avoid road debris or potholes. Gravel, nails, glass, litter and road kill are all items that could cause a flat tire or accident for a cyclist.
  2. Let us know you’re behind us. More often than not, we’ll hear your engine approaching (and in a group we SHOULD be communicating your approach and falling into single-file), but sometimes when the wind is too strong, when we’re riding fast downhill, or if you’re driving a hybrid/electric vehicle, we can’t hear you. It’s OK to give a friendly-honk to let us know you’re there.
  3. When passing a cyclist, drivers must give three feet. It’s not just a courtesy; it’s the law. But, if you think about it, three feet really isn’t that much space (only three rulers!). We appreciate when you choose to offer more than three feet when passing, but please don’t put yourself in danger. There’s no need to drive entirely in the lane of oncoming traffic. It’s safer (for both of us), if you simply slow down to pass; often you can do it safely without leaving your lane (depending on the width of the road). If a cyclist is in a bike lane, there’s no need for you to drive any differently than you would when passing another vehicle, in their own separate lane. Bike lanes are a “share the road sanctuary!” Visit JeffRothCyclingFoundation.org for more info on the three foot law.

Reminders for Cyclists

  1. Communicate all of your turns. Just as you’re expected to use your blinker in a vehicle, it’s your responsibility to communicate your intentions while on a bike. By law, you are viewed as a motor vehicle on the road, bound by the same laws and responsibilities. Use hand signals to indicate turns, and verbal signals when approaching pedestrians and fellow cyclists. Make eye contact with drivers as often as you can (wave and smile too!). Remember, they aren’t machines, either.
  2. Cyclists may ride two abreast, when it does not impede the normal flow of traffic. Part of the joy in group riding is striking up an invigorating conversation with the rider next to you. However, the two of you need to look out for one another. If you hear a car approaching from behind, shout “car back!” so that your riding companions know to fall into a single file line until the car passes. Once the cars have all passed, it’s OK to get back to your conversations. “Impeding” the normal flow of traffic may not be clearly defined in the law… but we all know what it means. Don’t make them drive 10 mph behind you. Get tight to the right.

For additional tips on roadway rules for cyclists and motorists alike, check out the Walk/Bike Nashville website, and browse through this Cycling Safety Presentation (pdf).

– Keeley Puncochar (Team Green Adventures Director)

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