Last week’s news about the South Portland public school bus driver being charged for passing too closely to a cyclist in Portland grabbed headlines mostly for the blatant disregard the driver showed the cyclist. Caught on the cyclist’s helmet cam, the bus operator almost hit the cyclist when trying to pass on a narrow road filled with parked cars. The driver followed that up with arguing with the cyclist, saying the cyclist was riding in the middle of the road. While the behavior of the driver was clearly dangerous and his demeanor offensive in the widely circulated video of the incident, we understand the driver’s frustrations with a cyclist hogging the road, since we, too, have noticed that some cyclists have become more brazen in their use of the roads.

In recent years, cyclists have gained quite a bit of traction with the public, which now views bicycling as a healthier and environmentally friendly form of transportation. The slogan, “Share the Road,” has gotten the public to realize that, yes, cyclists have a right to use the roads, too. This is a positive development. Bicyclists, once thought of as nuisances, absolutely deserve a spot on the local roadways. And recently enacted laws have helped burnish cyclists’ image as co-equals on the roadways. Advocates, primarily the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, successfully lobbied for the 2007 Maine law requiring drivers to allow at least 3 feet of space between their cars and a bicyclist. While we’re glad to see cyclists gaining some respect out on the roads, the message that lawmakers and cycling advocates have been conveying, we think, is almost working too well. We’re all for sharing the road with responsible cyclists, but we’re frustrated with those cyclists who don’t share the road with vehicles. These dangerous riders give all cyclists a bad rap.

Some of these dangerous bicyclists think they can ride in the middle of the road at all times. We’ve all seen witnessed this. And it’s not just the large groups that sometimes travel at 25-35 miles per hour in a sort of race simulation. We also see individuals, strangely, regularly riding near the middle of the travel lane when it’s clear they could ride closer to the side of the road. According to the law, cyclists need to stay as far to the side of the road as is feasible to safely avoid obstacles. If there are no obstacles, there is no need to travel anywhere but near the white line or within a foot or two of the edge. The cyclist in the South Portland bus incident said on camera that he had a right to the road just as much as the bus. While that can be the case depending on the circumstance, most times it isn’t, and bicyclists need to heed the full reading of the law.

Bicycling along any road with drivers wielding vehicles weighing thousands of pounds is an act of pure faith, which we wonder if some cyclists truly appreciate. Drivers can be distracted by any number of things, and cyclists need to be aware of motorists just as much as they expect motorists to be aware of them.

While many will say a solution is building bike lanes for cyclists, the fact of the matter, at least in a lot of the towns Current Publishing covers, is that isn’t financially feasible. Motorists, therefore, are forced to cross the yellow lines to overtake most cyclists. The key, therefore, is for cyclists to realize their place in the hierarchy and ride as close to the white line as possible. They’re not cars and they shouldn’t be out in the middle of the lane. This is true when there is one rider navigating a roadway or a group of 101 riders. It is just common courtesy and common sense.

Discourteous cyclists – those who hog the roadway and fail to obey traffic laws – should change their act due to the impact their actions have on responsible cyclists. We’re sure the South Portland bus driver has passed a thousand irresponsible cyclists in his career and just snapped when talking to this seemingly responsible cyclist. Motorists are expected to watch out for cyclists, and we feel cyclists need to watch out for motorists, as well. Everyone needs to share the road.

-John Balentine, managing editor


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