Waiting Is Part Of Sharing The Road

Whoa Sign


All one has to do is drive in and around a major city to see that bicycling is taking off in America. Some places have more cyclists than others, and cities vary in how much they’ve invested in bicycling infrastructure. Despite these differences, the trend is real, and growing.

With the creation of new bike lanes and road markings has come confusion on the part of cyclists and drivers alike. Drivers don’t know how to share; cyclists don’t know how to behave like vehicles; pedestrians treat streets like the wild west, walking between parked cars or stepping off of curbs against the red light. Although there was never certainty, even when cars exclusively owned the roads, there is now a feeling of discomfiture about whose turn it is to go — and whose turn it is to wait.

Going is the easy part. Everyone wants to go first. No one wants to wait. Waiting is the hard part because it means giving something up to someone else, and that would take civility, something sorely lacking in modern American society.

Usually, it’s the drivers who don’t want to wait. Motor vehicles can go many times faster than bicycles. With increased speed comes the notion of outrunning time. The faster one goes, the faster one gets there. Any impediment which reduces speed results in the loss of time, thus defeating the purpose of traveling via a motorized vehicle.

Disruption of speed would not seem to be as big a problem for slower moving vehicles, such as bicycles. The average cyclist travels at a speed of approximately 12 MPH. The loss of a few minutes when traveling at that speed would have little impact on arrival time. Yet, surprisingly, cyclists don’t like to wait either.

An example of this presented itself in an article written recently by a correspondent for The Boston Globe. He admitted to being uncertain about his rights, as a motorist, with respect to bicycle lanes. This uncertainty arose when he wanted to park his car on a busy road.

“Is there anything worse than having to back into a parking space on a busy street? You never know whether people will stop to let you in, how great a traffic jam you’ll cause, or whether the spot will be stolen before you get it.

On top of all that, I had an additional worry while backing up the other day: Was I breaking the law?

Spotting an empty meter, I pulled over to get a good angle to back up, as I normally would. But in doing so, I completely blocked a marked bicycle lane alongside the metered spaces.

Within seconds, a cyclist came cruising down the lane, with no choice but to stop and let me back up. By the look on his face he clearly thought he had the right of way, which made me wonder: Was it actually illegal for me to be in his lane?”

Consistent with the concept of bicycle lanes, the correspondent thought he was wrong to drive into a lane which was designated for bicycles. Since the lanes were installed for bicycles, he assumed he was supposed to stay out of them with his car.

As it turns out, he was wrong. Cars have the right to drive in bike lanes, as long as they don’t unnecessarily interfere with bicyclists who are traveling in those lanes. In this case, the driver was engaging in legitimate behavior, trying to park his car. It would have been impossible for him to enter the parking space if he had tried to stay out of the bike lane. So, he had to drive into it.

Still, the cyclist who came along seemed to think that the bike lane belonged to him, and that the car should not have blocked him from riding in it. His mindset was not too different from drivers who think they own the roads, and as such, do not have to share them with bicycles.

As it turns out, the cyclist was wrong. The car was there first. And the driver had to cross into the bike lane in order to access the open parking space. Therefore, the cyclist was obligated to stop and wait.

From a cyclist’s standpoint, it is not so much a question of the time lost from the decrease in speed, but rather the loss of momentum. Cyclists rely on momentum to maintain their speed, to reduce their effort, and to keep their balance. Having to stop represents a total loss of momentum which will force a cyclist to exert considerable energy when starting up again.

Despite this physical hardship, the cyclist is obligated to stop — and wait — because a bicycle is a vehicle, and because waiting is part of sharing the road. As inconvenient as this might be for cyclists, it really works to their advantage.

Drivers are often caught behind slower moving bicycles. Narrow roads prevent them from passing safely, so they must reduce their speed to accommodate a bicycle. With faster cyclists who travel in the 25 to 30 MPH range, this is not too bothersome. However, as cyclists of all ages come onto the roads, bicycle speeds will range from 10 to 30 MPH.

A young kid or an older cyclist will generally be riding at the lower end of the range. As inconvenient as slowing down to 10 or 15 MPH might be for drivers, they are obligated to slow down — and wait — because they are vehicles, and because waiting is part of sharing the road.

With respect to The Boston Globe article, two things stand out. One is that the author admitted to not knowing whether he was permitted to drive in the bike lane. This is a first step towards getting drivers to concede that they don’t understand how bike lanes change car/bicycle interactions. The other is that none of the usual anti-bicycle trolls commented on this article. No castigation of the cyclist occurred. And no cheering for the right of cars to drive in bike lanes emerged.

Either everyone has abandoned The Boston Globe or Boston area residents are slowly getting used to the idea that bicycles are here to stay. Resistance is futile.

The Boston Globe’s shift away from inflammatory articles demanding the removal of cyclists from the roads to confessions of not knowing whether drivers are wrong to temporarily usurp bike lanes represents acceptance of the idea of sharing the road. Time should cure the confusion over who has the right to drive where. But time itself will take on a new meaning. Roads will no longer exist solely to save time. They will become places where various types of vehicles and pedestrians will learn to go and to wait, and to move at a more human pace from one place to another —  because waiting is part of sharing the road.

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