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Friday, March 1, 2013

Crash Course: Here's How to Drive With City Cyclists Without Killing Them (Update)

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 7:45 AM


Correction: This morning, the communication director for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wrote to SF Weekly to explain that the text of AB 840, quoted below, is "spot language." In the interest of getting a bill before committee as quickly as possible, legislatures will file a bill before the exact language has been hammered out; in that event, dummy text is inserted as a "placeholder." The introduction of this post is based on dummy text from the bill. According to Ammiano's Office, there is no proposal to amend the standard California driver's license exam, the bill's current wording notwithstanding. However, we do not believe this detracts from the broader point of the post: The fact that no such requirement is being proposed is all the more reason to remind drivers of the rights of cyclists now. SF Weekly regrets the error.

Original post 7:45 a.m.: Last week, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill that would require drivers in California to officially recognize that cyclists exist.

Reading from Assembly Bill 840:

This bill would require the [driver's license] examination to also include a test of the applicant's knowledge and understanding of the provisions of the California Driver Handbook relating to bicycling, including, but not limited to, bicycle markings, bicycle lanes, and bicycles in travel lanes.

Which begs the question: How is this not already law?

Also, does the fact this hasn't been on the books explain why so many motorists don't seem to know what they're doing when driving around cyclists?

With my sincerest gratitude to the many drivers out there who adeptly share the road with their two-wheeled friends, I have to ask: What's wrong the rest of you?

Like the guy in the black sedan who cut me off the other day while darting into a parking spot on Beale -- only to look genuinely surprised, even forlorn, when I announced myself with a slap on the lid of his trunk.

Or the guy in the pickup truck I saw on my way to work a few weeks ago who very nearly flattened the rider in front of me -- only to give the hyperventilating cyclist the finger for, II assume, being in the way.

Or the woman on the motorcycle who demanded that the bike rider waiting in front of her at a 14th Street red light get out of her way -- only to shake her head dismissively when all of the cyclist's friends pointed to the street marking in the middle of the lane, which was an expository stick figure on a bicycle.

Who are these drivers and why don't they understand the rules of the road and how they apply to cyclists? Did they skip that part of driver's ed, or are they just jerks?

That's not a rhetorical question. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the etiquette of sharing the road. In it, I argued that, while it is certainly a cyclist's legal right to occupy the entire lane of a busy, sharowless street when a quieter bike lane is just a few blocks away, that doesn't make it a wise and considerate decision.

I got a fair amount of feedback in response to that line of reasoning -- a lot of it accusing me of promoting vehicular manslaughter (for the record, I strongly oppose vehicular manslaughter). But one comment in particular made me think. It came from a family member of mine who, bucking the trend, thanked me for providing some truly revelatory information.

Who knew, he marveled, that the law really does require a driver to patiently wait behind a person on a bike, "even if the biker is going really slow"?

Truly, the mind does reel.

All of which is to make the obvious point that while there certainly are wantonly reckless drivers out there -- and while ignorance about the rules of the road is itself a kind of recklessness -- some bike-hostile driving behavior isn't mean-spirited as much as it is uninformed.

And so, as we await the passage of AB 840, here are a few laws that every driver should know to follow.

  • If the cyclist needs the whole lane, the cyclist gets the whole lane.
All my Emily Post-ing about being considerate notwithstanding, the law really is pretty clear on this. Even if you think the cyclist made a poorly considered choice in opting to ride on the street that you happen to be on, sharrow or not, you seriously aren't allowed to edge the rider off the road. Cyclists should try to stick to the right side of the lane -- but not if there's a reasonable chance that he or she will get hit with a door while doing so. So ease up, driver. Wait to pass when it's safe and we'll all get there on time and with our collarbones intact.

  • Check behind you before swinging your door open onto the street.
Seriously, guys, this one is so obvious, I'm only including it because it offers a logical transition from the above and because I am still being victimized by car doors all the goddamn time.

  • You should merge into the bike lane before making the right turn.
There seems to be a lot of uncertainly about this law. I saw that uncertainty on the face of a panicking driver the other day. The driver was evidently trying to do the right thing, knowing that the bike lane is off-limits and yet also wanting to make a right turn across that hallowed no-go zone. The driver approached the intersection without merging into the lane and stops at the corner. Pandemonium ensued with half the cyclists flying by in the bike lane, the other half looping around to her left, a line of honking cars forms behind the poor driver, and everyone is just hating the hell out of her.

I know it's confusing, but don't worry, driver. You have every right to enter the bike lane -- even the Bicycle Coalition says so. Just be sure to signal and check your blind spot first.

But in every other case...

  • Please stay the fuck out of the bike lane.
I understand your complaints, I know that the cyclist cruising slowly up the Valencia Street bike lane scoping out spare tables or friends or women at your five most favorite restaurants, is annoying. But you know what else is totally annoying? Intracranial bleeding. So unless your vehicle has a siren, a towing winch, or rear compartment full of deliverables, please get out of my legally designated safe space.

Am I leaving anything out? What other rules of the road should every driver know?

Ben Christopher is an Oakland-based freelance journalist. His favorite pastimes include pretending to work at coffee shops and shaking his fist disapprovingly at errant drivers from atop his baby blue Cannondale.

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