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September 16, 2007

Arizona Cyclist Takes Cycling Neighbors to Task

A friend of mine alerted me to an essay in his local paper, last week, by a friend of his who is a cyclist.... and a motorist.

His essay is an interesting one with some instructive things to say, and when asked why he wrote it this was his response:

What drove me to pen that piece?

I wearied of reading those bicyclists' complaining letters and then having to deal with bike riders who think they own the road and who apparently care little about rules, courtesy, the law, or safety.

The tipping point came when I was driving on Gurley one late afternoon and found myself and other motorists stuck behind a phlegm-slow cycler who refused to move over to let normal-speed vehicles pass...and this at the start of the evening commute hour, no less!

As I said in the essay, I ride, too, so my perspective is that of both a bicycler and a motor vehicle driver.

I think he has some valid points.

The thoughts of a cyclist in Prescott, AZ., who says "Bicyclists have the right to follow the rules", are well worth contemplating:

Obey the signs. A stop sign applies to bicyclists as much as it does to car drivers. So does a red light. And when the posted speed limit is 25 mph or 15 mph that means bicyclists, too.

Signal. If you want to turn left or move into a left lane, stick out your left arm to indicate your desire to turn or move. Likewise, signal if you want to turn right or move into a right-hand lane. I can't read your mind, and neither can any other motorist.

Move over. If you're riding so slowly that you're blocking or impeding traffic, move to the right to let the motor vehicles pass safely. And, if you have no room on the right to ride, then get off your bike and walk it.

Ride in single file. If you're riding in one of those Lycra gangs or even just with a couple of friends, don't ride side by side. That blocks the lane in which you're riding, and it's hazardous to you and your companion(s). It's also illegal.

Turn on your lights. If you're riding at night, turn on your bike's headlight and tail light. Don't have lights on your bike? Then don't ride at night - or dusk or dawn, for that matter.

Avoid the main routes at high-traffic times. This is just common sense. Morning and evening commute hours are not the times for you to be tooling along, for example, Gurley, Sheldon, or Montezuma. Take your ride before the traffic hits or after it's passed, or find another route. Yes, that may be an inconvenience. But it's better than injury or death or causing either.

Pay attention. Any motorcyclist will tell you that to survive riding you have to be super-diligent and ever on the defensive, that car and truck drivers often can't see you, and that there are some motorists who just don't care (or worse, who actually try to hit you).

The roads are for all of us.

As he says cyclists need to "consider how you follow the rules of the road and the implicit and expressed rules of safe bicycling."

It may be right to fight for street access and utilization, but if you don't do your part to make sharing the road safe, you can be "right and dead."

As for the Moving to the Right comment, this is my 2 cents:

As far as moving out of the way when I am "in the lane", so to speak...

If there is no place for me to go on the right, either because of parked cars, or because there is no place to ride, then the prudent thing to do is one of several things:

Stay the course, until I can safely move right, or if there are no cars, but no place to ride, move as far right as possible, and stop until traffic passes, or move as far right as possible, and walk the bike, until safe to resume riding.

Each rider must assess the situation he/she finds him/herself in, and act as they see fit.

Michael Westlund's piece welcomes comment, so join the discussion at the Daily Courier, or here. ;-D

***UPDATE -9/19***

This piece, in case you haven't noticed, has spurred discussion in my comments like almost nothing before it.

In one comment I ended by saying:

I hope that anyone reading all this, who might have suggestions for articles, and books, and websites, that readers can check out relevant to this debate, and the issue of motorists, and cyclists sharing the road, post that infor here, or send me an e-mail about it.

In my next comment I got the ball rolling by making 3 suggestions, all written by one of those who have commented, John Spragge.

I strongly urge you to check those stories out.


***UPDATE 2 - 2/26/08***

Bob Jenson, Vice President of The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists, tosses in his 2 cents, in a comment which I promoted to Post Status.

2 More Cents Tossed in on Sept. Essay by AZ. Cyclist.


September 16, 2007 in Share the Road, and Trail: Safety Matters! | Permalink


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You must be kidding.
Get OFF the road until motorholics pass? Who is dictating policy here? AAA?
There are not always alternate routes. Municipal/Township boundaries are notorious for this. What of the practical cyclist that may be using their bicycle to get to work? Your complainant friend appeared to be addressing cyclists collectively as recreational with no pressing need to be anywhere. Why should I on my way to work bail so some bucket head can rush home at the earliest possible convenience to watch Simpsons reruns? Why are we even considering this? Doesn't Arizona have a 3' passing law? Is observing the law inconvenient for the complainant? If that is the case should they really be granted the privilege to be licensed to operate a motor vehicle in Arizona? A drivers license is not a license to commit manslaughter.


Posted by: geoffrey | Sep 16, 2007 8:05:17 PM


Thanks for posting about my cycling bit from the Courier on your blog.

I hope it helps "remind" cyclists of their responsibilities and risks on the road.

Pulling over to the right?

Yes, I know that sometimes there just ain't any
right to pull over to.

But in that case, I suggest getting of the bike and either "squeezing" to the right to let traffic pass, or walking your bike until there's room for motor vehicles, and bicycles alike.

That incident on Gurley involved a bicyclist who not only didn't pull to the right but who just hogged the lane while cars backed up behind him.

If you're not familiar with Prescott, or Gurley St., imagine a small-town version of Harbor Blvd., in Orange County, at 3:30 p.m. in the middle of a work week.

Over the years, yeah, I've found myself inadvertently riding a high-traffic
street at commute time.

I don't know about other cyclists, but for me it
was frightening...and on one occasion it cost me my bike and almost my life!

Posted by: Michael Westlund | Sep 16, 2007 8:12:35 PM

In my own web log, I have had plenty of occasion to address one of the basic problems with the conversation about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists: the tendency of car advocates to make up the laws and rules to suit themselves. As a basic principle, cyclists just do not have a "responsibility" to allow drivers to travel at any speed they choose, not on any city street at any time. Mr. Westlund finds riding "high traffic" streets frightening, and he has every right not to do it, but unless the Arizona traffic code differs from nearly every other North American jurisdiction, cyclists have a right to ride in city traffic, including heavy traffic. Having a line of cars backed up behind you does not mean you have violated any rights. A desire on someone else's part does not create an obligation on my part; a free society has no more basic principle than that.

Unless we clearly define the differences between what motorists want, and what cyclists have an obligation to do (or not do), then as a practical matter, I don't think we can have this conversation. The cyclists I roll with will not enter a "dialog" with someone who asks us to surrender our rights at the door, who proposes that we somehow accommodate negligent, impatient, and outright homicidal drivers.

Posted by: John Spragge | Sep 17, 2007 11:51:02 AM

On Jul 27 I was hit from behind taking the lane on a 4 lane road. There was absolutely no traffic in the left westbound lane of that road when I was hit. This was my last recollection before awaking as they put the neckbrace on me which rested on my broken collarbone.
I had taken the lane. Why? When I rode closer to the shoulder motorists would pass far too close. I was once brushed on that stretch by the "Beck Taxi Customer Service Car" and was later given a pretty meaningless apology by the dispatcher who had done it.

So why is it motorists appear to think it is ok to use their vehicles as weapons to assault or intimidate cyclists? I moved out due to the actions of motorists determined to intimidate me into getting off "their" road. Incidentally a road built of property tax dollars that I contribute to as a resident.

Lets drop the bologna and get on with business. Bicyclists have every right to be on the road and have every right to be there safely. Police unwilling to back that up are incompetent or bought by the motorvehicle industry.

Posted by: geoffrey | Sep 17, 2007 2:23:57 PM

While some of Michael's advice is useful, the two comments others have remarked upon are really anti-cyclist. I hope he was talking about groups of recreational riders, not individuals commuting to work.

Taking the lane - I agree with the above poster that bicyclists often have to take the lane even when the lane is sharable with most vehicles due to the behavior of a few inconsiderate or incompetent motorists. I have to deal with this on a small bridge crossing every morning. The lane is easily wide enough to share with just about all sedans. But not the larger SUVs and most trucks. I could ride all the way to the right and most people could past me with ease and the few wider vehicles might have to wait a few seconds to move a little to the left before passing me. But that's not what happens. I was nearly clipped by the mirrors of SUVs several times before I gave up trying to share and just took the lane.

Regarding holding up traffic - at least where I live, the segments of road where I have to take the lane are relatively short. I think the longest stretch might require me taking the lane for 40 seconds. And these are on roads that are not really meant for high-speed traffic. One is a park road with a 25 mph speed limit. It has a number of tight curves with poor sight lines that are not safe for passing. But many motorists use this road as a cut through between two major roads, often traveling at 40 mph or higher on it.

I certainly don't won't to hold up traffic and will let a line of cars pass me when it is safe to do so, but this almost never occurs. There is no point in me pulling over to let some cars pass me when the narrow portion of the road is going to end in 5 seconds. And I could never get to my destination if I pull over every few seconds or walk a significant amount of road as Micheal is advocating.

If there are single lane ( in each direction) roads meant for commuters that are too narrow to share for significant distances, then these are very substandard roads and should be widened. I'm sure a slow bicyclist on these roads is the least of the concerns on such substandard roads.

Bicyclists are allowed to use the roads and often must use busy roads to get places. I know I'd rather take a quiet side street rather than a busy road. But that isn't always doable. And my safety and right to get to my destination is more important than a brief inconvenience of the motorist behind me.

Posted by: peteathome | Sep 18, 2007 9:03:38 AM

1st let me say sorry for the delay in responding, but a new cycling tagedy had befall us here in orrange county this weekend, and I've been checking the story, discussion, and site out for this blog.

Geoffrey: I agree that there is not always an alternate route, but when you find yourself in high traffic, little room situations, it is only common sense to proceed in the safest manner possible, and as far as I'm concerned, if I absolutely have to take a few minutes longer to get where I am going by getting off the bike, and out of the way, then so be it.

If I was in such a damn hurry to get somewhere, I'd be in the traffic jam with the rest of the Car loving set. ;-D

I also agree that instead of honking the horn at me for taking the lane that the sensible thing for a motorist is to be patient, or if the opportunity safely presents itself, to go around me.

Michael: A lot of cyclists take even the mere suggestion of yielding to motorists their right to "take the lane", and otherwise share the road, as an attempt to take away their rights, as you can tell from Geoffrey, but to act responsibly, and safely, a cyclist, like a motorist, may on occasion have to do something that slows them down a few seconds, or minutes.

Live & Bike, Free, or get injured, or die, it's your choice.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 18, 2007 2:22:39 PM

John, you are right, about the ignorance of motorists with regards to cyclists, but I'm one of those who are tired of some cyclists not just acting all affronted, but venturing into name calling, and finger pointing, with no attempt at some sort of dialogue.

This minority in our community makes us all look bad, and only fuels the misperceptions of many motorists.

Michaels fear, however misguided, is very real to him, and many others, and the best way for them to overcome it is to become better informed cyclists, and for motorists to become better educated about us.

You are right that we don't HAVE TO move out of the way, but are you prepared to say that there are no circumstances in which it might be safer for you to do so, even if it adds a few more minutes to your ride?

Some Motorists look at us, and think why should we "accommodate negligent, impatient, and outright homicidal" cyclists. ;-D

A dialog, and efforts at education, on both sides ARE neccesary, before things get worse.

I am truely tired of my Google Search Terms Alerts turning up nothing but accident reports.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 18, 2007 2:38:31 PM

Geoffrey, I too, have had such an encounter, though I only came away with massive bruises, and a bump on the back of my lower left leg that still affects me several years later, but raging against the machine does nothing constructive.

As you say "Bicyclists have every right to be on the road and have every right to be there safely."

I agree that "Police unwilling to back that up are incompetent", or at least ignorant of the laws of their own community, or state.

Passing laws, and educating the public, are more constructive than name calling.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 18, 2007 2:45:59 PM

Peteathome, when I shared Michaels piece I knew what would get the attention, it never fails.

The reaction is most predictable. ;-D

Little attention is paid to all but 2 of his points, because for the most part we all do those things to some degree or another, but when you try to even suggest a cyclist move over, or stop, all hell breaks loose. ;-D

Safely sharing the road we all use is as much our responsibility, as it is that of the motorists.

I don't think Michael is advocating an "Every 5 second" behavior, but the use of common sense based on the situation a cyclist finds oneself in.

You make some good, and constructive, points.

The more cyclists that thought this way when riding the better for all who share the road, but the trick is to educate more cyclists on how to safely do all this, and not be afraid to ride the road.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 18, 2007 3:00:36 PM

Sorry, we can't have a dialog where one side of the conversation gets to make up the terms. As much as we need to have a conversation about the rights and obligations of cyclists and motorists, we can't do it without a common language. And if motoring advocates refuse to distinguish between "I want" and "you must", then we don't have a common language. When Michael, the writer you quote, says "signal", "obey the signs", "use lights at night", he refers to requirements the law imposes. When he demands that cyclists get off the road to let motorists go by, he refers to something he, as a driver, wants. Cyclists have no responsibility to let motorized traffic go by. Drivers do not necessarily have a right to operate at the speed limit, or indeed at any speed at all. How can we have a conversation about the rights and obligations of cyclists and drivers without an agreement that the traffic laws and the rules, not the wishes of individual drivers, define the obligations of cyclists?

The safety argument will not get us around this problem, either. Cyclists who tell me they believe that, as vulnerable (and non-polluting) road users, they have no obligations to motorized traffic at all, use the safety argument as well. They tell me that in some circumstances (for example, to get away from traffic crowding them) they believe running a red light will make them safer. Can I think of a situation in which pulling off the road would make me safer? Yes, but I can also think of (and have seen) situations in which running a red light would make me safer, too. That doesn't change the general rule: in general, keeping the rules and taking my place in traffic makes me safer.

Your comment about negligent and homicidal cyclists misses my point as well. I responded to a specific point that Michael made:
"...there are some motorists who just don't care (or
worse, who actually try to hit you)."
I do not think motorists like that belong on the street, and I see no point in invoking them in a discussion of the obligations of cyclists.

Finally, you wrote: "...when you try to even suggest a cyclist move over, or stop, all hell breaks loose." I don't object to the suggestion that cyclists move over or stop, though I don't agree with it; I do object to the conflation of motorists' desires with the law. A discussion on that basis simply will not work. We have to state clearly the differences between what we want and what the law says (even if we want to change the law).

Posted by: John Spragge | Sep 19, 2007 4:19:54 AM

Thanks John, for your reply.

Comments such as those to this piece, that bring issues to my, and my readers, attention, that we may not be as familiar with, as we could be, are important in educating cyclists.

I agree that we need to be on the same page for such a dialogue to work, and that too many drivers don't consider us legitimate co-users of the road, and that is a major barrier to understanding.

I agree we don't HAVE TO let cars go by, and to stay the course is my own 1st instinct, but I'm glad, at least, that you don't object to the mere suggestion of stopping, or moving over when the situation makes it the most prudent thing to do ( 1 cyclist down, millions to go! hee, hee. ;-D )

You wrote: "How can we have a conversation about the rights and obligations of cyclists and drivers without an agreement that the traffic laws and the rules, not the wishes of individual drivers, define the obligations of cyclists?"

I agree that that is an important part of the discussion, but if that can't be the icebreaker, then maybe someone should find something else to get the conversation started.

I agree that learning, and keeping the rules ( & I am always learning something new myself. ), is the best thing a cyclist can do, and am just as frustrated as you about those cyclists who don't think they need to, and relish the opportunity to break the rules, and "stick it" to the "Smog Producers".

On my "Homicidal Cyclists" crack: I understand your point, but I guess I was trying to point out that I've actually encountered motorists who, based on their own experiences, and obviously colored by their views about sharing the road with cyclists in the 1st place, believe we are a dangerous menace to civilized, polite, traffic. ;-D

One of the 1st essays I ever wrote on cycling, and saw printed in a newspaper, was on this very subject ( The Motorist who willfully endangers a cyclist. ) after an attack on me>

The very 1st post on this Blog, on January 5, 2003, was a reprinting of that essay:


No-one has paid the piece much attention over the years, but it is still relevant, and I welcome comments over there. ;-D

I hope that anyone reading all this, who might have suggestions for articles, and books, and websites, that readers can check out relevant to this debate, and the issue of motorists, and cyclists sharing the road, post that infor here, or send me an e-mail about it.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 19, 2007 12:06:39 PM

As for other reading, let me get the ball rolling, by strongly suggesting 3 articles by John Spragge, himself, that are very relevant to this discussion, especially his own part in it, here:

Please click on all links in the stories, but most importantly click on the link in the title of each post.

Aug. 25th = Real and Imaginary Traffic Rules for Cyclists.

Sept 9th = Human-Powered Travel and Human Rights.

Sept. 16th = A Case in Point....

I've added His blog, Open Hand, Open Eye, to my sidebar. ;-D

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 19, 2007 12:34:32 PM


Being surprised that only out of towners, except 1, have replied to his peice online at the pater, and curious if any of his neighbors had written Letters to the Editor, yet, I wrote Michael.

While he says it might be a while before any Letters appear, he did tell me a story about something he witnessed, yesterday, that is relevant to our current discussion, and i will share it here:


Haven't seen anything yet. But it can take two or three weeks before the Courier decides to publish a letter(s) regarding a previous piece.

That said, this isn't a huge biking community. The Lycra Gangs are few and far between (not like in West Garden Grove where I used to live), and there ain't a lot of flat land around here. This is definitely not the place to be riding regularly on a beach cruiser. ;)

And irony of ironies, just yesterday (after reading some of the comments at your site) I was out on my front porch and saw two bicyclists head uphill on a street across from my house.

As is sooooooo common, they were riding side by side, not in legal single file...and they were riding smack-dab in the middle of the road!

Now that street goes uphill a ways and then crests.

The driver of a car heading in the opposite direction wouldn't see the cyclists until the vehicle was at the top of the crest from the other side...like maybe 15 feet (or less) from the middle-of-the-road-oblivious bikers.

Even at 25 mph (posted speed limit), a car (or truck -- pickups are pretty much the wheels of choice of up here) wouldn't be able to stop in time.

And you, as a cyclist, know full well that if you're huffin' & puffin' up a hill, it's virtually impossible to get out of the way of a vehicle suddenly approaching head-on.

Oh, and no, these bicyclers weren't wearing buckets.


Posted by: Michael Westlund | Sep 19, 2007 2:35:37 PM

Newspapers, are sooo slow, hee, hee. ;-D

What surprises me is that no locals, except our friend Jas, have left comments at the website, like I, and other out of towners have.

This article addresses them directly, and there have to be some local cyclists with something to say in response to you.

1st off, let me say that not all "Lycra Gangs" are innatentive, inconsiderate, menaces, and neither are all wearers of Lycra, who ride individually.

I wear Lycra ( Well, Ok, my jerseys say they are Polyester, but you get the idea! ), and I'm just a lovable, harmeless, little fuzzball, hee, hee. ;-D

While riding 2 abreast is sometimes fine under certain conditions, from your description this was not one of them, especially if this was the usual residential street, and the car, if one came along, was similarly disinclined to stay on its side of the available road, and these 2 were damn lucky to avoid an accident.

They compounded their stupidity by not wearing a helmet.

Of course, if an accident occurred, when fingers were pointed at the actions of the cyclists, there would be a few cyclists who would come out of the woodwork eager to defend their right to be stupid, and unsafe, and blaming the motorist.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Sep 19, 2007 3:05:07 PM

I remember from 11 years ago, when I did a weeklong tour in Arizona, that the state had a law that requires slower-moving vehicles to pull off the road when five or more vehicles are formed in line behind them.

That law still is in effect.

Posted by: Roger | Sep 23, 2007 1:30:00 PM

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