Last spring, CAA gathered more than 100 cycling, infrastructure and public policy experts in Vancouver for Changing Lanes, a conference that examined the relationship between bicycles and motor vehicles on Canadian streets. The consensus: bike traffic is on the increase across the country – and both cyclists and drivers are uncertain about how to share the road.
“Because we could all use a refresher on road rules, we sometimes have disagreements about how we ought to behave,” says Scott Wilson, AMA senior policy analyst. A 2010 AMA study showed that fewer than 40 per cent of motorists would be able to pass the current learner’s exam. Cyclists are guilty, too, sometimes switching back and forth from vehicle to pedestrian roles, or not riding defensively enough.
Following is a summer refresher on road sharing – whichever wheels you favour.
Cyclists: Follow vehicle rules.
A cyclist is never “sort of a pedestrian, sort of a car.” By law, bicycles are vehicles and adult cyclists have to ride on the road (not the sidewalk) in the direction of vehicle traffic and obey traffic lights and signs. They must yield to pedestrians and indicate stops and turns with hand signals, and can only occupy sidewalks and crosswalks while walking or pushing their bikes.
Drivers: Give cyclists their space.
“The motorist also has to realize that cyclists are vehicles; they deserve their spot on the road,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. “If you’re going to pass, bikes get the full-lane width, same as cars. So do a shoulder check, then change lanes and go around.” If it isn’t possible to change lanes, motorists should leave a gap of 1.5 to two metres while passing and reduce speed.
When following a cyclist, stay two to three seconds back. Remember: bikes don’t have tail lights to warn of sudden stops. Also keep in mind that riders may swerve to avoid gravel, debris, potholes or rail tracks. When parked, always check side mirrors before opening doors.
Cyclists: Be visible, ride defensively.
“Give motorists a break,” says Lang, especially at night. No matter how vigilant, a motorist simply can’t see black-clad bikers in the dark. Wear bright, reflective clothing, and equip your bicycle with front and rear lights and reflectors.
Some precautions apply night and day: ride single file, except when passing another cyclist. Keep both hands on the handlebars (except when signalling) and don’t carry more people than your bike is designed for. Also make sure your bike is in good working order. Wheels secure? Tires fully inflated? Brakes working? Chain oiled and tight?
Drivers: Watch out for bike lanes.
These painted routes run along the right-hand side of the road (to the left of parked cars) – and sometimes beside the left lane, for cyclists turning left. Take extra care when turning across one. “Do your normal signal, your normal shoulder checks, but before turning the wheel, look in your right-hand mirror and do a strong shoulder check to make sure there is no cyclist coming up on your right,” says Lang. And remember that left-turning cyclists wait in the middle of the road (bike lane or no bike lane) with left-turning cars – only without the attention-grabbing blinker!
Cyclists: Don’t assume motorists are checking their blind spots.
After all, the consequences of a bike-car collision are more serious for a cyclist. “The cyclist may be in the right, but who wants to be dead right?” says Lang.