Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Ok, time for a rant.

When I lived in Colorado, cyclists were treated with a sort of disrespectful contempt the likes of which I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. There are just so many people on bikes that they become a nuisance, a pest, an invasive species. The contempt isn't entirely ill-founded, either, given that cyclists use public roads and yet 1) effectively don't pay any tax to do so, and 2) tend to completely ignore the rules of the road, which apply equally to anything with wheels. During my stint as a park ranger, I would make a point of stopping anyone on a bike who wasn't riding single-file and remind them that the Colorado revised statutes required them to do so within 300 feet of any car. I knew a guy who, when making hay deliveries for the feed store he worked for, would purposely drive the flatbed truck just ahead of any cyclists on the shoulder, spraying them with fragments of straw. Another friend fashioned a prod from a boxing glove tied to the end of a broom handle, and would drive up and down the winding mountain roads near our college (popular with bikes) and poke at cyclists out the passenger window. There was revulsion, but it was mutual; bikers hated drivers and drivers hated bikers, and all was right with the world.
Ah, but Tennessee. Here in Tennessee, bikers still hate drivers, but drivers seem to treat bikers with the sort of frightened reverence usually reserved for large, man-eating predators. Perhaps it's sensible that here cyclists are considered an endangered species, as they do seem to be few and far between (for whatever reason - some are obvious, but not all are). I have seen drivers veer fully into oncoming traffic to avoid a bike on the shoulder. Of course, this makes no sense at all, and to me particularly it seems reason enough to revoke one's license. Strange as it seems, in this state I have probably seen more of those "Share the Road" signs and bumper stickers than I've seen cyclists.
Maybe the issue is that people in Tennessee don't actually have a good grasp of how far 3 feet is. Three feet is the legally required distance between a car passing a bike on the shoulder, but of course there are caveats. But I doubt it. My complaint arises in that the caveats apply to the cyclists, not the drivers, and yet the cyclists here never even appear to contemplate whether any laws might be in place. Let the idiot drivers move into the wrong side of the road, never mind riding single file or obeying traffic signals or staying "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge" of the shoulder. Cyclists, beware - I know the rules that apply to you!
The system in Colorado, while never explicit, may seem brutal - but it works. Cyclists and drivers alike share the road in a sort of mutual unease, making everyone safer. But if drivers in Tennessee are willing to face 55mph oncoming traffic instead of being 3 feet from a cyclist, and cyclists are willing to let it happen, then we'll never reach any kind of mutually beneficial accord.
I think I have some boxing gloves in the attic...


  1. As a pedestrian, I am also happy to be out of Colorado. I have never had a close call between myself and a motorist while crossing the street at a stop sign or stop light with the "walk" sign illuminated. However, I have had multiple close calls with cyclists, who feel they can fly through a stop sign or stop light when someone is crossing with a baby in a stroller.

    I would also like to say that three feet in some areas would partially put a car into oncoming traffic. A road like this in Golden took out a cyclist:
    The thing I didn't understand is there is a wonderful multi-use path that parallels W. 32nd on the other side of the river. I biked on it frequently because I volunteered a few miles down that path. In talking to my professional cyclist friends in Colorado, it is my conclusion that they like to express their eco-anger towards cars and can't do so on a path constructed for them.

    1. Interesting point. I know the path you mentioned, as well as many others (near where I live now, there are many bike and pedestrian paths and greenways), and yet still cyclists will use the road. If I was to bike to work, for instance, I'd make a point to avoid roads that had precious little shoulder space or that usually saw lots of motor traffic, but it often seems like this isn't a common mindset.
      I like the idea of having a network of "roads" for each use - one for cars, one for bikes, etc. It helps to make both cyclists and motorists safer.

    2. Drivers in TN may treat bicylists better as many bicyclist here have concealed carry permits and carry guns while riding. I know of several who do. This makes for a more polite society.


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