Bicycling Safety Tip of the Week – Same Roads, Same Rules

Bicycling – Same roads, same rules.

Obey traffic laws. On the roadway, a bicycle is a vehicle. Bicyclists have the same rights as drivers, but they also have the same responsibilities, including having to stop at stop signs and red lights. 

Comments | 10

  • Crosswalks

    Thank you Alice for this timely tip.
    For emphasis, I am repeating my comment from a few days ago.

    Submitted by tomaidh on December 21, 2013 – 11:16am. #
    Near Miss on Elliot
    Thursday, around Noon, I was crossing Elliot, near Elm, IN THE CROSSWALK, when a cyclist came barreling down Elliot and scared the bejazus out of me.
    She gave me a withering look as if to say WTF are you doing in MY street!
    Need I remind people that cyclists are bound by the same rules as automobiles with regards to crosswalks and stop signs?
    A few years ago, a close friend was struck by a bicycle on Western. He suffered severe injuries that are permanent.
    Bikes can travel as fast as cars on the Brattleboro streets.

  • Same rules, different reality

    This is a long and endlessly debated argument. I have no illusions that I will offer a definitive expression of the other side of it, but I will try to come close to giving it a voice.

    There are times when it is safer to break rules of the road. For example, if a moose wanders into your lane, no driver of a car or a bicycle would be faulted for swerving out of that lane and into an empty lane, if it was available, free of traffic and safer to do so. Safety would dictate that action as opposed to staying in the proper lane and risking slamming into the moose.

    Likewise with bicycles. At times, it is far, far, far safer to break the law, than to stay anywhere near the cars. It is the interaction with the cars nearby that is lethal most of the time, not simply interactions with the road. Icy road conditions can lead to lethal accidents, but usually it is ice plus road plus car that makes for death, not simply ice plus bicycle.

    The best way to stay safe is to keep as much distance between them and the bicycle. (The next best way is to be highly visible and predictable, ie, law abiding at all times. That’s good but not as good as keeping the hell away from the cars.Cars easily crush skulls and break spines. )

    So, I can often, when I want to, get far ahead and clear of them. I of course always give the right of way to pedestrians. Always. But if it is a red light, and there are no pedestrians, I am going to go through that red light, and park my bicycle, before the light even turns green again for the cars behind me. Ever time I do that, and succeed at riding on clear road, ie don’t share the space with a car, I increase my safety.

    This makes some car drivers angry, as though I have cut the line like a rude child as opposed to safety minded adult. Their rudeness I can ignore, as I know my motives and the risks that I avoid. There is a counter argument that this ire endangers bicyclists, as ire builds up towards bicyclists as a class by infuriated drivers (who maybe need therapy). It is an interesting argument, but I do not find it persuasive.

    I do however find arriving safely at my parking destination a relief, after driving near all those dangerous walls of moving steel.

    • And pedestrians

      It’s the same for pedestrians. It’s often far safer to cross a road a few yards away from the crosswalk at an intersection, rather than in the crosswalk.

      At most intersections, people turning right don’t bother slowing down or looking to their right to see if pedestrians are crossing until they’re already barreling around the corner.
      People turning left onto the street you’re crossing are looking at oncoming traffic and accelerating through the intersection before they actually notice you.
      And then there are the people turning right on red, who are pulled across the crosswalk, looking left, waiting for their chance to pull out.

      A few yards down the road, however, you only have to worry about two-way traffic, and everyone, or nearly everyone, is actually looking forward.

      As for bicycles, when I lived in Europe I bicycled everywhere. I bicycled through a major city and two towns to get to work. On days off, I bicycled all over the countryside. In Europe, people expect and respect bicycles on the road.

      When I moved back to the U.S. I tried biking to work a couple of times. People here will run you right off the road before they’ll slow down or drive around you. My bikes mainly decorate the garage wall now. Better than decorating an SUV grill.

    • re: same rules, different reality

      I heave that same sign of relief, Rolf. Every time.

  • Yes, but . . .

    I think that I understand the purpose of this post, to increase safety on Brattleboro streets. To say that bicyclists and cars have the same rights and responsibilities, though, is in my mind pretty simplistic.

    The average car in America weighs about two tons. The average bike weighs ~50 pounds. Guess who loses when they collide? Bike riders all know this, car drivers seem to forget it.

    On top of that, bike riders earn their translocation, pump after pump after pump, especially in a hilly town like Bratt. It’s hard work. And it’s carbon neutral.

    Lastly, every bicyclist on the street means one less car out there on the street, making it easier for all of the other cars not only in freeing up travel lanes and parking spots, but less exhaust.

    In my opinion, bicyclists are doing society a pretty major favor and should be acknowledged for it and maybe even recompensed in some way. I doubt I’ll see that in my lifetime, though.

    • Tell that to my friend

      Who got seriously injured when a bike hit him.

      And I’m still pissed at the woman who nearly hit me while crossing in a marked crosswalk.

      • Unwritten Rules of Road

        Tom — I’m sorry that the bicyclist nearly hit you on Elliot Street. From your description it sounds like she was acting not only rudely, but dangerously as well. And I am sorry that your friend was injured on Western Ave.

        Regardless of rules and laws, which law abiders will obey and anarchists will not, regardless of mode of transport, it seems to me that the responsible way to act if there is any doubt in a potential confrontation is for the person in the heavier, faster or more powerful mode of transport to yield to the one in the lesser mode of transport. It’s sort of an unwritten rule of the road (like motor boats yielding to sailing boats), and in my experience I’d say that folks in Brattleboro are pretty good about observing it. How this gets taught and instilled in people, I don’t know.

        • The Gospel of Gas

          It seems feudal, this society worships at the altar of automotive supremacy.

          In our realm might makes right and mass kicks ass. Trucks rule as gods, cars roll as royalty. Bicyclists are peasants, forced to scramble for scraps, thrust to the margins. Pedestrians are serfs, tethered to the edges, allowed a quick dash between bells. Yet skaters are lower still, outcasts and pariahs, barely tolerated, preferably banished.

          Although some remember the revolutionary motto; Liberty, Equality, such notion exists when it comes to the majesty of motor vehicles.

          • mmmm....?

            “this society” varies significantly. What you say may be true in this town, and so many others, but notable progress (lots) has been made in other places. Bikes, pedestrians, and skateboarders in the streets are very much part of the urban landscape and there is a completely different consciousness about who “rules” the road elsewhere.

      • Tomaidh, I am sorry that happened

        I am sorry that happened to your friend, and for the reckless bicyclist who almost hit you in the cross walk.

        My guess, and of course it is just speculation, is that the person who nearly hit you is probably also a bad driver when behind the wheel of a car.

        I will go stop and then go through a red light, but always give the right of way to pedestrians. I am not advocating recklessness, just trying to point out that it is sometimes safer for bicyclists to put as much distance between themselves and the cars as possible, even if that sometimes means breaking the law. However, I certainly am not advocating ceasing giving the right of way to pedestrians. I think everyone here wants safety to increase. It’s how to achieve that that is sometimes debated.

        Take care,


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