Op-Ed

Cyclists, drivers can share the road

Michael Galbraith of Lexington is a transportation planner and cycling instructor for the League of American Bicyclists.
Michael Galbraith of Lexington is a transportation planner and cycling instructor for the League of American Bicyclists.

The Herald-Leader's news story is an opportunity for cyclists and motorists to better understand the rules and responsibilities for vehicle interaction in our roadways.

Like all U.S. vehicle travel codes, Kentucky's Revised Statutes for use of the public right of way starts with the "duty of care."

Simply, this is the responsibility and obligation of all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to obey traffic laws respecting the rights of others. An example is "first come, first served" at four-way stops.

Kentucky law also states that slower-moving vehicles travel as far to the right as is "practicable;" bicyclists, read "safe."

This is the case in point for the Jessamine cyclist. A court ruling decided that Cherokee Schill was violating the law by maintaining a position in the middle of the road when a reasonable and practicable alternative was available on the shoulder.

In considering where it is practicable for bicycles to travel in the road where space is limited, the League of American Bicyclists' Smart Cycling program recommends the right third of the right-most lane. This avoids the curb, pavement drop-offs and litter of roadsides.

As importantly, it establishes the bicyclist's position so that overtaking vehicles do not attempt to squeeze by, threatening both the cyclist and oncoming traffic.

As stated in KRS, overtaking vehicles must slow until opposing traffic is clear, allow three feet of passing space and allow sufficient clearance after passing to move back to the right.

State law does allow for cyclists to control the middle of the lane for example when rounding a curve or approaching a hill where oncoming traffic is not visible.

It is also sensible when approaching an intersection to avoid overtaking cars from turning right in front of the cyclist. Movement into the lane, signaled by scanning over the left shoulder and pointing with the left arm for a left turn, is another generally prescribed behavior. Just like looking in your rear-view mirror and changing lanes or turning left in a motor vehicle.

Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. This is because these behaviors are understood and predictable.

For example, please don't try to wave a cyclist though an intersection. Though a thoughtful gesture, if other vehicles do not understand, the cyclist may be hurt by your act of kindness.

Simply follow the rules of the road, which are predictable behaviors. This is the duty of care and the law and allows users to understand and safely cooperate when sharing the travel space.

But conflict between motorists and bicyclists cannot be entirely seen as the fault of these users.

State and local officials who are responsible for maintenance and operations, including sweeping roadsides, are also at fault where bicyclists and motor vehicles must contend for safe travel space and conditions. The officials are obligated to use budgets for this purpose.

The new 2014 Lexington tax to increase street sweeping is an example. Safe travel can be enhanced by prioritizing heavily traveled bike routes.

Keeping roadsides clear allows cyclists to stay farther to the right, providing safer motor vehicle and bicycle interactions, and makes cooperation easier among competing users.

If motorists and cyclists understand the duty of care and the law and have safe, well-marked and maintained passageways it will help to counter misunderstanding against bicyclists who ride in the lawful and predictable manner.

The case against the Jessamine County cyclist reminds everyone that we all — motorists and cyclists — have a right to safe passage on our roads.

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