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Do You Share the Road?

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers – proud Portlanders declaring to the other drivers on the road that they share the road or brake for people. As a bike commuter, I admittedly like knowing that there are people driving their gas-powered tons of steel who are theoretically going to make every attempt to avoid running me over.

And because my commute takes me across the Sellwood Bridge, it is usually comforting to know that many Portlanders do profess to share the road. Unfortunately, there have been a few incidents where some annoying driver has been less than patient having to share the roadway with a bicycle.

I suppose I understand where they are coming from – I can certainly be an impatient driver myself. I mean, come on people – keep right except to pass! Although a driver being annoyed by another car not following the rules of the road is a little different… I guess I’m a good environmental tree-hugging Portlander who can appreciate people taking alternative forms of transportation. So I don’t think I have ever not treated a cyclist as a saint while I was behind the wheel.

Back to my rant about the Sellwood. So here it is, the busiest 2 lane bridge in the state. Two narrow lanes with a deterioriating roadbed, expansion joints that threaten to swallow bike wheels faster than a set of railroad tracks, and a narrow sidewalk that is scary enough to run across, let alone try to ride across. Although those of us who run across the Sellwood have all seen plenty of cyclists riding on the sidewalk. If you haven’t, you have likely never attended the Wednesday night Pub Run.

Yes, there is a sign that tells cyclists to walk their bikes across the sidewalk. Yes, there are still plenty of cyclists who choose to still ride their bikes across the sidewalk I(regardless of whether or not they have seen the little sign). Yes, staying on the roadway would be the appropriate place to be in order to legally keep pedaling across the bridge.

But as someone who always rides the roadway, I can’t blame them for making that choice. As someone who probably averages 5-10 mph faster than the average bike commuter, I have to admit that the sprint across the Sellwood is the worst 60 seconds of my 60 minute commute. Even riding 25 mph across the bridge means a car that encouters me has to slow below the speed limit. OK, I guess that’s only if they stayed behind me. I tend to stay to the right, partially because that’s the smoothest pavement I can find, but also to allow a vehicle to pass (although on the Sellwood, that generally requires no one to be coming the other way since the lanes are narrow).

Plenty of vehicles do pass me. I don’t have any issue with those who do a good job of waiting until they have the room to move out around me and safely pass. Some people choose to drive behind me – I admittedly really like those people, since it means they keep any additional cars from trying to pass me in a less than safe manner. And then there are the people who no doubt have convinced cyclists that chancing a ride on the sidewalk is worth it. I have only had a handful of incidents, but every yahoo who has passed me too close while laying on their horn or yelled out their window to “get on the sidewalk!” is seared in my brain.

In fact, one of my co-workers told me that she had a City of Portland vehicle pass her and tell at her to get on the sidewalk. I’m not sure I buy that, since certainly a city employee would know that the roadway is for riding and the sidewalk is for walking. Plus, the vehicle no doubt had an “I Share the Road” bumper sticker on it…

The moral of the story? I think all too many of us get too focused on our own mode of transportation and forget about the circumstances affecting others. And I think it’s because only a few people utilize multiple transportation modes (car, bike and pedestrians) to understand what the issues are for the other users. Any runner driving a car is more likely to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street. Bikers are more likely to give bikes enough space when they are driving an automobile.

But what I’ve found is that there aren’t enough runners who understand cyclists (and vice-versa). The Sellwood is just one example – it seems like every time I do the Fulton and we encounter a bike on the sidewalk, there is someone who feels the need to inform the cyclist that they are in the wrong. Although all I can think is now that cyclist feels the same level of hatred I feel from a few drivers on the roadway.

And while trying to ride your bike past a line of 20 runners does seem stupid, I would venture a guess that a lack of awareness of the needs of the other users is part of the issue. Even if the sidewalk was wider and multi-use, like the Hawthorn or the Springwater Corridor, the lack of awareness on those is still an issue. There will always be cyclists riding too fast past pedestrians, annoyed with anyone who dare slow them down while on their workout. And who hasn’t seen a group of runners 3 abreast blocking most of the trail? It’s funny how runners or walkers think that leaving enough space for another runner to pass is sufficient for a bike to get past safely.

My advice? Be aware of the other users out there. If a few more people were willing to share the road, sidewalk, or multi-use path, everyone would all get where they are going, those using a mode of alternative transportation would get some exercise, and the world would be a happier place.


One Response to “Do You Share the Road?”

  1. Great article. It’s true the cars hate the bikers, bikers hate walkers, and walkers hate everyone else. Well not really but it does look like that. As a person that walks in downtown Portland I have almost been run over by as just an many bikes running stop signs as I have cars. When I drive I find that I have to stop on a dime because some one walked into the cross walk leaving me less then 10ft to stop. It’s all about getting along with each other…everyone is in such a hurry they ignore the needs of others.

    Posted by cupcake | February 25, 2012, 10:07 am

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