Ten years ago, after a meeting of the Fairbanks Cycle Club, I was tasked with having a bumper sticker made that read, “Share the road — bikes belong!” As an avid cyclist, as well as something of a safety geek, I got right on it. Upon receiving the stickers, I immediately placed one on the bumper of my truck, making mine the first vehicle in Fairbanks to be thus emblazoned.
In the intervening years, I’ve been glad to see these stickers on countless cars and trucks. In my experience, most drivers in Fairbanks share its sentiment. But I’ve also seen letters to the editor and online comments from drivers who cite those stickers while criticizing cyclists. And as the person who had them made, I’d like to tell these critics that I share many of their concerns.
Alaska law states “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway has all the rights and is subpart to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.” Consequently, drivers have a responsibility to treat bicycles with the same respect they show other cars and trucks. Some drivers might not like this, but the law is on the cyclists’ side. We have the right to be on the road, and we aren’t going away.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of cyclists who understand their rights but not their responsibilities. As a driver, I see plenty of examples, ranging from riding against the flow of traffic, to disobeying traffic signs and signals, to riding after dark without proper lighting, and much more.
All of these actions are illegal and put the cyclist at risk. But what some cyclists fail to grasp is they also put the occupants of motorized vehicles at risk. Drivers who have to take unexpected evasive action to avoid a cyclist could find themselves colliding with another vehicle, a stationary object, or — in a worst case scenario — a pedestrian as a result. The fact that this doesn’t happen often doesn’t mean it can’t; it just means we’re lucky.
The problem isn’t the presence of cyclists; it’s that cycling laws aren’t sufficiently followed or enforced. I realize Alaska’s police have no shortage of work, but as a cyclist, I would like to see some of my fellow riders ticketed for illegal behavior. Once in my teens, I was pulled over on my bike for running a stop sign. I was let off with a warning, but the embarrassment prompted me to shape up. It was a much-needed lesson and one other cyclists could benefit from.
Another thing needed is for cyclists to speak out when they see illegal or irresponsible riding. Those of us who ride need to do more than just proclaim our right to do so. We need to accept that, like it or not, many people judge all cyclists by the poor habits a few demonstrate. This might be unfair to the majority who obey the laws — after all, no one demonizes all drivers because of the reckless behavior of a few — but it’s an unfortunate reality we live with.
With this in mind, I’ve more than once chastised fellow riders for creating hazards for themselves and others. They don’t like hearing it, but I say it anyway. Last year, after nearly colliding in my truck with a group barreling up the wrong side of the road, dispersed across the oncoming lane on a blind corner, I posted an exceedingly angry comment on the cycle club’s listserv. It was one of the most dangerous examples of illegal riding I’ve ever seen, and since the perpetrators looked like serious riders and likely club members, I suspect my posting ended up in their e-mail boxes.
Bicycling is one of my favorite activities. I started before I entered kindergarten, and I’ll continue to do it for as long as I’m physically capable. I have a legal right to use the road, and drivers have a legal obligation to respect my rights and my safety. As a cyclist, I’ve seen my share of bad drivers who don’t do this. But as a driver, I’ve also seen my share of bad cyclists. So 10 years after I had those stickers made, I’d probably word them somewhat differently. They should read, “Share the road — bikes and cars both belong.” If we all adhered to this principle, our roads would be safer for everyone.
David A. James is a long-time member of the Fairbanks Cycle Club. The views expressed here are his own.