Bicycle sales are way up this year. Why? Because telling people they have to stay inside does not bode well. Instead, they dust off their old bikes or buy new bikes and hit the trails.
But how do you get to that trail? What if you’re a person who lives in the city and relies on your bike for more than fun? Bicyclists, regardless of necessity or recreation, deserve to feel safe and be safe wherever they ride.
When COVID-19 brought Lancaster to a standstill, vehicular traffic practically disappeared. Many cyclists and pedestrians noticed that the streets felt safer. Now, as traffic ramps up again, I implore drivers to refresh themselves on the rules of the road when it comes to interactions with cyclists and pedestrians.
First, and I cannot stress this enough, slow down. Our city streets are not highways. Please drive the speed limit, or less! These are places where people live and children play — no different from the residential suburbs.
Last year, I petitioned the city Traffic Commission to lower the citywide speed limit to 20 mph. Unfortunately, due to prohibitive state law, the city would be required to do an engineering study of every single street to implement a blanket lowering of the speed limit. The cost would be exorbitant.
My solution? Drive 20 mph within Lancaster city limits. I do it. Why can’t you? Half of the time, you’re going slower anyway because of construction. Speeding between lights does not actually get you to your destination quicker. When you drive slower, you are more likely to notice and yield (which is the law, by the way) to pedestrians.
Pennsylvania law requires that you must pass a cyclist with at least 4 feet in between your vehicle and the cyclist. Cyclists are also completely in the right to take an entire lane. In the city, it’s often done to protect us from parked cars. In the cycling world, we refer to it as “getting doored” when a driver opens their car door into the lane and a passing biker collides with it.
I’ll be cycling in the center of the lane and someone will pass me so closely I can feel the vehicle's mirrors graze me. Then, I see the driver give a double-parked car the berth of Texas when passing. What’s wrong with that picture?
The 4-foot rule isn’t only for city driving. If you come upon a cyclist biking in the middle of a rural road, give him or her a berth. Many cyclists will adjust their position in a lane to help signify to a car that it is safe or unsafe to pass. If they’re in the middle of the lane, please do not try to pass. When a cyclist moves to the right, pass away. Also, the cyclist simply might not hear the car; give that human the benefit of the doubt.
According to the Lancaster Active Transportation Plan, 64% of people are prevented from biking because the streets don’t feel safe. On top of that, 54% of people think drivers are too aggressive. And 70% of people think motorists do not respect the rules of the road. I recently spoke with two women who expressed a desire to ride into the city from their suburban homes. What’s stopping them? Fear. They see how drivers treat cyclists and how they speed down the road, and they don’t feel safe.
That I have to even mention this next point about vehicle drivers infuriates me. Get off your phone! Recently, I was riding behind a driver who kept tapping on the brakes at odd moments and swerving all over the place. I came up to the car at a stop sign and looked over. The driver was texting. Driving a 2000-pound machine while their face was buried in their phone. Your texts can wait. Human life is more important.
Let’s talk about paint on the road and bike lanes. Did you know that green paint means there is an area of conflict and that drivers and cyclists should be extra cautious when coming to the intersection? And what about a “sharrow” — the double chevron with the bike rider icon? That means you must share the road with the cyclist. And please do not park in and/or obstruct the bike lane. It forces cyclists into traffic, which is incredibly dangerous.
The City of Lancaster recently joined the Vision Zero movement to eliminate traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. This approach to design believes traffic deaths are preventable, not inevitable, and that saving lives is not expensive.
And bikes are better for our roads. According to a federal study, it would take 17,059 trips by a bicycle to equal the road damage caused by an average car.
Finally, I’m well aware that not all cyclists obey the rules of the road. I’ve been known to yell at cyclists going the wrong way on a one-way street, because I believe we all have the ability and responsibility to do better. Many people, both riders and motorists, are not aware of the laws that are in place to make our streets safer for everyone.
I encourage you, be you a motorist or a cyclist, to visit one of the awesome bike shops in the area and ask about the law. Or take a bike on a test ride through city streets and feel what it is like to ride in traffic. I guarantee you will become a better, more aware driver and have a newfound respect for what we go through on a daily basis.
It takes all of us slowing down and valuing the lives of those who choose alternative forms of transportation. Remember, 20 mph is plenty. And thank a cyclist for making our streets better, making our air cleaner and forcing us to slow down and value the lives of others.
Adriana Atencio lives in Lancaster city and is the co-leader of The Common Wheel nonprofit community bike shop and the chairperson of the Lancaster Bikes! Coalition.