I’ve been thinking more about biking recently, perhaps as a result of going mountain biking for the first time, perhaps because of some of the anti-cyclist vitriol I’ve seen online. I’ve never been particularly political about my cycling, it’s just an efficient, non-polluting, mostly-enjoyable, convenient and cheap way to get from A to B. Another reason I haven’t been political about it is because I haven’t had particularly bad experiences, and my employers have always been bike-friendly.
I begin to wonder now, though, whether or not my experience is a lucky anomaly. One of the things that’s disturbed me from reading online is that the San Francisco police department are apparently reluctant to take bike accident cases seriously. Now, I don’t know if this is due to prejudice or a larger pattern of laziness—my time in San Francisco has included very few instances of the SFPD enforcing any traffic regulations whatsoever.—but it seems wrong, if it is true. It must have been true at some point, else then-Chief Fred Lau wouldn’t have had to issue this memo (PDF) to instruct officers to follow regulations when dealing with bike accidents.
(I’m listening to this edition a biking netcast, The FredCast, and during a discussion on this incident involving Critical Mass heard Critical Mass described as “the IRA to the SF Bike Coalition’s Sinn Féin”… this by a bike-friendly commentator, Jon Winston, who’s active in the SF Bike Coalition. Not sure that’s a comparison he really wants to draw, and he seemed unsure about it after he made it, but anyway.)
I decided I would read the San Francisco Bicycle Guide to make sure I had a handle on what my responsibilites on the road were. It turns out that I don’t, particularly one thing: cyclists aren’t supposed to pass cars on the right.
I pass cars on the right all the time, particularly when traffic is stopped. And apparently this is wrong. Furthermore, page 11 of the guide even repeats this in the section about Riding in Bike Lanes, and I really don’t understand that. If I’m riding in a bike lane, why shouldn’t I pass cars that are stopped, or slower than I am? It doen’t state explicitly that cyclists shouldn’t do this in bike lanes, but the placement of that paragraph in that section suggests it. I’ll have to look for other resources online to get cyclist opinions on this, because it seems dodgy to me.
The other interesting thing in the guide is that it really encourages cyclists to take up entire lanes, primarily to avoid getting doored. Which is great, but I wonder about drivers reacting angrily to this, and I wonder about cyclists having to switch outside of the rightmost lane in order to pass cars. Especially on two-lane streets, where it’s not like cars are going to be expecting other vehicles to their left, either.
Since starting to drive, I’ve become a much more aggressive cyclist in certain respects, in that I am willing to take up entire lanes and to merge into other lanes when it’s necessary. I think that this has made cycling significantly safer for me, and will make it easier to follow the guidelines I’ve been highlighting. But without the confidence about what drivers see (which comes from driving), I think it’s tough for cyclists to move in front of traffic, and to realize that doing so makes them safer—the most common accidents in San Francisco for cyclists are getting doored and accidents arising from “passing on the right” (which I assume means cars moving right without looking for cyclists).
It does seem outrageous to me that this could get blamed on the cyclist, especially as it could be interpreted to include the maneuver of blindly turning right that so many drivers love to do. If a driver executes a right turn without checking for a cyclist to their right, that’s their fault, and I can’t stand the idea that the law could call it a shared-fault accident.
But that’s apparently the case, so no more passing on the right for me, assuming I can remember this. Lanesplitting it is, then. Lanesplitting and taking up entire lanes (even where there’s no danger of getting doored) when traffic is at a pace where I know I’m likely to overtake, even if I’m slower than traffic for some of it. (Moving to the right there gives up lane priority, and so would require regaining it, moving beyond the rightmost lane, and then overtaking on the left… which would also put me facing oncoming traffic on two-lane streets.)
I can’t see myself giving up passing cars while I’m in a bike lane, however. And if something like this happens, I can’t see how it’s not the driver’s fault even if the right turn is legal. (But if you read the comments, you’ll see that some people still blame the cyclist, which seems unbelievable to me.)
Anyway, all this makes me think that joining the SF Bike Coalition would be a good idea. Anything to promote greater awareness and more safety improvements for cyclists. Apparently at the start of the 90s San Francisco had no bike lanes at all, and the improvements have come in large part because of the SFBC.