On The Road

Cyclists: Please don’t forget to be courteous

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
A cyclist rides along Foothill Expressway in Los Altos. Local cyclist Chris Hoeber recommends cyclists wear bright clothing so motorists can easily see them.

The reduction in traffic on many of our local streets has been the silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, and cyclists have been able to take advantage of the open roads.

I know we are all grateful to be able to get out of the house and get some much-needed exercise. The downside, I am afraid, is that without having to worry as much about traffic, some of us have become careless in our responsibilities with regard to sharing the roads with motor vehicles.

I’ve noticed this especially on Foothill Expressway. On multiple occasions, I have seen cyclists ahead of me, where there are wide shoulders (south of Edith Avenue) or a bike lane (north of Edith), riding side-by-side, with one of the riders taking up a third of the adjacent traffic lane.

This is completely unnecessary. Why are we doing this? I thought maybe it was my imagination that I was seeing this more and more often, but when I asked my family for suggestions for this column, it was the first thing that came up, along with the question: “Why are cyclists so inconsiderate?”

The origin of these columns was my desire to improve communications between cyclists and motorists. A lot of the animosity that exists between us can be traced to lack of courtesy. As a cyclist, what do you think when a motorist makes a right hook directly in front of you? The thought that all motorists are jerks may flash through your mind. That’s the same thought that occurs to motorists when they have to change lanes and merge with traffic in the next lane because a cyclist takes up the roadway for no particular reason.

I’d like to ask us all to think about that, the next time you are out on the road.

Navigating obstacles

The current construction on Foothill Expressway between San Antonio and El Monte roads makes this principle particularly important. The intersections are a mess, the shoulders are either constricted or nonexistent, and motorists must improvise to turn around the barriers. It is important as a cyclist to feel confident, signal clearly, and safely take the lane to get around the obstacles. Doing so depends on the goodwill of the drivers behind you, and you certainly don’t want them thinking about their last unpleasant interaction with a cyclist as you are both navigating the obstacles.

Group awareness

Similarly, if you are part of a large group ride, there will be times when you need to en-croach on the roadway to rotate back in the paceline. I know from the feedback I get from motorists that most of them won’t mind giving the group room, but that their attitude will change if they have just had to deal with someone who has simply been inconsiderate.

The other thing I have noticed recently in the late afternoon is the number of cyclists wearing black (or dark blue or gray) clothing; I even saw someone the other day with a black vest over his white jersey.

Part of being courteous is to let others know that you are there. It’s very hard to see you if the low winter sun is in the driver’s eyes and you are riding in the shadows on the shoulder. I think most motorists will actually appreciate you if it is clear that you are helping them with clothing or lighting that is easy to see. I’ve even had motorists yell at me after cutting me off – “It isn’t my fault; I didn’t see you.” That’s nonsense, of course, but you are inviting that response if you consciously contribute to your invisibility.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions or comments to [email protected]

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