Columns / Discourse / April 18, 2018

Bike Nice: Cyclists deserve a fair share of the road

Hey bikers: Stop complaining about Illinois!

This year, according to the Bike Law website, Governor Bruce Rauner signed “one of the most comprehensive laws in the country specifying when a driver may legally pass a bicyclist.”

And people like to make fun of Rod Blagojevich, but he was the Illinois governor who signed “the existing requirement that drivers provide bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing.”

Our fair state sounds like a great place to ride, at least if you’re riding through the pages of law books.

However, it’s still not clear to me, exactly how much of the road do we get?

Illinois law states that bicyclists “shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb … [except] when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including but not limited to … surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.”

The challenge is to translate words on paper to actions on pavement — something that we can understand and follow without carrying a law book, laser range finder, camera and broom (to collect evidence of “surface hazards”).

Let me suggest where cyclists should be expected to ride: the right hand tire track created by motorized traffic.

Why the right hand tire track? After all, I have no idea how far that is from the right curb. The answer is: that’s how all other users — drivers of motorized vehicles — have already defined “as close as practicable” on the road in question.

Yes, it would be possible to drive closer to the right hand curb. But it would not be practicable. This is not a theoretical or hypothetical road. I don’t need to measure, just observe the “practice” of literally thousands of other road users. If it were practicable to drive closer to the right hand curb, cars would already be doing it.

This, by the way, is my beef with Galesburg’s so-called bike lanes. Because they’re out of the traffic flow, the lanes accumulate slivers and larger pieces of glass, wood and metal. You know, the kind of stuff that increases the chances of flatting and falling.

Something designed to keep cyclists safer — a bike lane — can actually make riding more dangerous.

And this is my beef with the “pedestrian stop warning signs” on South Street and the medians that have been installed at railroad crossings throughout Galesburg. The problem is that these so-called safety measures create “substandard lane widths.”

Medians and mid-road barriers that are installed without substantially widening the roadway effectively reduce the lane width to less than can safely accommodate a car and a bicycle.

A car and a cyclist, both traveling on South Street or railroad crossing, are funneled into a choke point. The cyclist is squeezed into a potentially fatal collision with the curb on one side and the passing car on the other. I know that drivers disagree with me, but at this point, cyclists deserve the whole road, though we’ll only get a too-small piece.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s research (from Australia) showing that drivers ignore “safe passing rules.”

I began this column telling bikers to stop complaining. Now I’m complaining. Sad!

Peter Bailley

Tags:  bike nice cyclists

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