Cyclists are crazy. Unless they’re riding bike trails or riding on roads with bike lanes and/or shoulders, they’re just plain crazy. Riding bicycles on roads that aren’t designed to handle them is asking for problems. You can talk all day about sharing the road, but eventually you have to consider safety. Bicyclists should avoid roads that haven’t accounted for their presence for many reasons. I’ll discuss three.
The first issue is speed. Unlike a motorcycle, a bicycle simply doesn’t travel as fast as the cars around it, and speed discrepancy is a significant factor in the severity of an accident. The media and many special interest groups bring a lot of attention to drunk driving and distracted driving, but the real killer in the vast majority of accidents is speed. If everyone’s top speed was 25 mph, there would be a drastic reduction in fatalities from automobile accidents. Not just from the reduced speed alone, but because of the increased ability to react to things like bicycles and pedestrians.
Another issue is the suitability, or lack thereof, of a lot of roads. Lack of cushion on the sides of the road, like a shoulder or bike lane, provides no separation between traffic of vastly different speeds. Without a place to escape in case of danger, a collision becomes more likely. And danger will occur on roads that have no cushion. Why? Because most places don’t have perfectly flat roads. Hills decrease visibility. Oncoming traffic reduces options in case of surprises. Coming over a hill to see a slow moving bicyclist and an oncoming vehicle requires some quick thinking. Adding another factor to the mix, like fiddling with climate control, and the bicyclist is in significant danger.
The last reason I’ll discuss is that most cyclists I encounter don’t obey the rules of the road any better than people in cars. “Share the road!” they proclaim. “Cyclists should have the same rights to the road as cars!” they cry out boldly. Yet when you see them on the road, do you see them stop at stop signs? Do they wait in line behind the other cars when there’s a red light? Do they signal at all, or even know the appropriate hand signals? In most cases, no. And this only further serves to make their presence a dangerous one on many roads.
The bottom line is that we don’t live in a perfect world. We can’t make decisions based on how things ought to be or whether or not something is fair. We have to take reality into account. We humans are not known as the most patient creatures on earth. We’re much more likely to make the convenient decision than the correct decision. We’re more likely to try to squeeze by rather than wait. We’re more likely to try and pass even if we’re not sure it’s safe. Riding your bicycle on a road with no shoulder or bike lane is the same as tempting fate. It’s a bad idea.