Bikes & Cars: Tips for Co-Existing

Posted by Steve Prudente on November 1, 2016

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I (we) have spent a considerable amount of time advocating safe cycling practices while shedding light on how we as Wash Cyclists perform our daily duties in all conditions.  What you might not know is that…

I use a bike and a car every day.

I have a particularly unique delivery route because a regular part of my business involves driving in addition to delivering on a bike.  Thanks to our friends at ZipCar, I’m able to serve three emergency shelters in North Philly, a ministry in Camden, and a hotel in the Philly suburbs in an environmentally-friendly and affordable fashion.  This has also given me a first-hand view of both sides of the constant “Bikes vs. Cars” battle that takes place every day in and around most major US cities.

Unfortunately, I believe that battle is the correct word in this case, but I also believe that it doesn’t have to be.  Take it from someone who hasn’t had a traffic incident in more than 15 years.  Bikes and cars can co-exist, and here are a few tips from the other side of this battle to prove it:

Give the Cyclist Room to Ride
In Pennsylvania, state law requires cars to give a cyclist 4 feet of space when passing.  This law is largely ignored.  Accepting the fact that there are some narrow streets in Philadelphia which makes this difficult to adhere to, most cyclists will try to give you as much room as we can without compromising our own safety.  That said, the onus is actually on the motorist to give the cyclist room to operate.  Pass with care, and if you don’t feel you have enough room to do so with safety…

Be Patient and Understanding
If a cyclist is riding in the middle of the street, there’s probably a very good reason.

I’ve been known to do this when street work leaves large potholes that could damage my tires and make the ride very unpleasant or even dangerous.  I’ve been unable to get out of a trolley track lane in rainy conditions, because turning rubber bike tires on wet metal will most certainly cause a cyclist to crash.  I’ve stayed to the center to avoid large debris fields (We could talk about Philadelphia’s litter problem, but that’s for another blog).

These are just some examples, but basically, if you encounter a cyclist riding in the center of the road, lay back and understand that there’s probably a very good reason for doing so.

Be Alert
Combatting distracted driving has been a major focus of transportation safety efforts in the last 10 years, and it absolutely affects cyclists just the same as it does pedestrians.  Keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes on the road until you’ve reached your destination or a safe parking spot.  Diverting your attention from driving increases the likelihood of hitting a cyclist, pedestrian, cars, or any obstacle.

Additionally, be aware when opening doors.  When parked, your driver’s side door may open directly into the path of a cyclist or bike lane just the same as other traffic, so it’s always best to look twice before opening your door.  And speaking of bike lanes…

Bike Lanes are for Bikes Only
Here’s a scenario I see all too often: I’m driving a car, I get stuck in traffic, and all of a sudden see a car to my left or right go speeding by in the bike lane.  This is wrong on so many levels.

I can’t stress this enough.  Unless the street is marked as a mixing zone, no parking or driving your car in bike lanes!  It’s not only annoying, but it’s also illegal and potentially dangerous.

Be Obvious
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve of all are drivers and cyclists who don’t use turn signals and lights properly.  Simply put, use signals whether you are driving or cycling.  There’s no reason not to.  If you’re dealing with inclement weather or darkness, be sure to have working lights and make sure they are turned on.

These simple things are often forgotten but can make all the difference in the world and potentially save lives.  We’d like to thank our friends at ZipCar for always helping us out (but especially when the weather is not cycle-appropriate) and wish all of you safe commuting!

In addition to writing on the Wash Cycle Laundry blog, Steve Prudente is a Cycling Route Manager. He has been with Wash Cycle since October of 2014, and you can find him regularly wash cycling throughout our North Philadelphia region.