Austin's biking community is strong, and it's only getting stronger. With trails continuing to grow across the city, and the availability of rentable BCycles giving people who don’t own bikes an opportunity to ride, more people are using bicycles to get around.
Austin roads have dedicated bike lanes and and the city has its share of hike-and-bike paths, but motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians still must find a way to safely coexist. Bikes and cars in particular are often at odds, when some simple courtesy both ways could help make the roads safer for everyone.
Here are five tips for each to make the roads and paths safer for everyone:
Tips for motorists
Share the road: It should not be just a slogan. If someone is riding a bike responsibly in their lane and following the rules of the road, don’t try to crowd them, cut them off, or intimidate them. Just be courteous. It might seem cool to try to intimidate a cyclist, but trying living with it if you hit somebody and seriously injure them because you did not like seeing them on the road.
Pay attention: If you are on a road with bike lanes, pay extra attention. Give them a little room when you pass them. You should do this anyway, but stop texting and posting to social media, especially in heavy traffic situations. Especially near the bike lanes, you should always take a second look for both cyclists and pedestrians. (And in Austin, cars must yield to cyclists when turning arcross a bike lane.) Accidents happen every day from running red lights or blasting through turns on a red without stopping. They are much worse when they involve a cyclist or pedestrian.
Parking problems: Don’t park in dedicated bike lanes where parking is not allowed and put on your hazards on like that makes it okay. (It doesn’t.)
Stop with the “I pay for inspection and licenses and bikes don’t" arguments: You pay for inspections because you have a motorized vehicle that emits pollution. Bicycles do not. As for licenses, I would have no problem with cyclists having to get a license. But as we all know, that is no guarantee you follow the rules of the road or obey traffic laws.
Keep an eye out for pedestrians, too: Remember that pedestrians obeying the walk signs have the right away. Just be patient, let them cross the street and don’t creep up on them to rush them. (Memo to pedestrians: Get off your damned phone and don’t dawdle. Just cross the street).
Tips for cyclists
Obey the rules of the road: So many cyclists pay no attention to traffic laws. The idea is to share the road, not try to take it over. You can’t expect drivers to be courteous if you are not. Obey the traffic stops, don't take up all the lanes, and allow cars an opportunity to go past safely.
Share the bike/walk paths: Here is a simple rule: If you want to ride side by side and chat on a path, that’s fine, but when you see someone coming from the opposite direction, switch to single file until you pass each other, whether it is another bike or just someone walking their dog. Again, just be courteous.
Be aware on the paths and road: Recently, I participated in a group ride during which two men with wide handlebars rode side-by-side the entire trip. They almost hit several pedestrians, then forced a bike going the opposite direction off the path. They never even noticed, because they were completely clueless. Paying attention and not being oblivious makes for a good time for everyone. It seems like a simple thing, but awareness of others is a must.
Avoid the sidewalks: There are times you can’t do this, and if there are no pedestrians it’s fine. Cyclists get angry (rightfully so) when pedestrians start wandering into the downtown bike lane. They already have a little thing called the sidewalk. Cyclists need to leave that to them. The same courtesy you ask of cars, ask of yourself for pedestrians.
Do the little things: If you are in the right hand lane at a red light and are going to continue on without turning and there is a car behind you that wants to turn right, just move your bike to the sidewalk and let them turn, then return to the road. It’s a simple thing that can foster goodwill and does not impact you at all. If you find yourself in heavy traffic, just pull off the road and let it clear up. It's safer and does not clog up traffic. If you are on a busy road without a bike lane, go find someplace else to get where you are going. Slowing things down creates enmity everywhere. There are enough roads with dedicated lanes to get you where you are going.
It all comes down to simple courtesy on all ends. That really does mean “sharing the road,” not breaking laws, being jerks or ignoring others. If everyone can just be a little more decent to each other, the roads will be safer for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.