Out on the open road, it can sometimes seem like the only kind of waving you do involves just your middle finger. Motorists and cyclists are supposed to share the road, especially since Florida law recognizes a cyclist as a driver and a bike as a vehicle. But what do you do when you, the valedictorian of cycling rules, follow every single rule and still encounter motorists who want to add you as a hood ornament? You try to learn the rules of the road.

Patrick Ruff, President of the Board of Directors for Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC), a local advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians, stressed that right now, NPC has two main goals: educating cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians to create a culture of civility; and promoting the 3 Feet Rule, meaning you must leave three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist or a disabled motor vehicle. Interested in more rules? Want to get to a place where all your fingers get equal finger-waving opportunities? Here are a few must-know rules, so phones down, heads up, and pay attention.

Rule One: Sidewalks are for WALKING
That’s right, motorists and cyclists. The people who belong on the sidewalk are the walkers, runners, strollers, scooters—NOT cyclists. Yelling at a cyclist to get on the sidewalk isn’t just incorrect, it actually puts a motorist at risk. According to the Florida Bicycling Association (floridabicycle.org), if a cyclist is on a sidewalk, motorists are more likely to hit them when entering or leaving the road. In an accident like that, the motorist would likely be at fault. And cyclists: remember the sidewalks are not short cuts. Stay in your lane and wait for a light to change instead of hopping up on the sidewalk and possibly endangering a pedestrian.

Rule Two: Cyclists are allowed to be in the ENTIRE Lane
What’s that? Are you shouting out your window for a cyclist to move over? Keep this in mind: The FBA states that successful cyclists ride big, meaning they are either placed in the middle of the lane, or actually on the left hand side of the lane.  This means that instead of passing with the cyclist on your right and coming way too close, a motorist must execute a proper passing procedure, crossing over the yellow line when traffic allows. This also keeps cyclists off the shoulder, where they can encounter a dangerous debris line. Driving in the gutter or hugging the curb is a mistake often made by beginner cyclists that do not know that riding in that gutter actually increases their chances of wrecking.

And bike lanes? It is certainly where cyclists feel most comfortable, especially on our congested Southwest Florida roads, but please beware—a painted line is just that—a painted line. “As a motorist, cyclists aren’t bound by that lane. Three feet of clearance needs to be maintained,” Ruff explained.

Rule Three: First Come, First Served
It doesn’t matter if you are in a car or on a bike—part of sharing the road is acknowledging that the first person there, no matter what they are on or in, has the right-of-way and the full use of the lane. Motorists wishing to pass must yield and wait until it is safe to do so. On the flip side, cyclists, if you ride up in a line of traffic, wait your turn. In the bike lane? Be aware, make eye contact with the drivers, smile, and most will nicely wave you on (with all five fingers) when the light changes.

Rule Four: Respect, and Be Respected
As a motorist or as a cyclist, act respectfully, and others will respect you. Wave a cyclist on if you wish, or assist a motorist in passing you. Use hand signals, or make sure you have a turn signal on in your vehicle. For every thousand considerate bikers and motorists, though, there is some turkey out to harass and escalate a situation. Do your best to smile and let it go, but also keep in mind that there are laws to protect cyclists. According to the FBA, you can contact the police if a motorist passes too close with the intent to scare you (assault) or if someone passes you at a high rate of speed (reckless endangerment).

“The onus is on us- pedestrians and cyclists- to set the example,” Ruff explained when discussing aggravated motorists. “If there is a conflict, pull back and stop. Be the example.” Ruff stated that NPC is working with local groups, such as Naples Velo and Gulf Coast Runners, to help create this culture of civility, since the reality is we all must survive on our roadways, and we all must share. And motorists- calm down. Ask yourself- why are you so upset? Why are you in such a hurry that you would endanger the lives of those around you?

Rule Five: Be Aware and Avoid
Cyclists and motorists can both do their part to avoid accidents. As a motorist, don’t pass a cyclist while making a right turn; a cyclist is likely going faster than you think. Always look over your right shoulder before merging or turning while on a road with a bike path. Again, cyclists are faster than you think, especially if you are in slow-moving traffic. You must yield to a bicycle just as you would to another car.

Always check several times before opening your car door, as many cyclists still hug the right side, especially in unfamiliar territory. And most importantly, keep to the 3 Feet Rule—law requires that you pass a cyclist with no less than three feet between you, and this can be problematic in wider vehicles such as rental trucks or vans that drivers are not used to handling.

What can a cyclist do? Be aware. With the increase in distracted drivers, be as aware as possible on the road and at every intersection, and make yourself ride big—use up the lane, don’t hug the right shoulder and make yourself as visible as possible to motorists.

Interested in more information? Naples Pathways Coalition (www.naplespathways.org) is a great way to become involved locally as they advocate for both safe biking and walking. More information is also available through cyclingsavvy.org on cycling safety and courses on riding safely.

Photo Credit: Naples Pathways Coalition
By: Anne Reed, a local triathlete, wife to an Ironman athlete, and Associate Editor of Fit Nation.

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