This year I set a goal to ride my bike to work more often. During the month of May, National Bike Month, I rode to work 5 times, equaling over 125 miles on the bike. I drive a pretty fuel efficient car, but I still was able to save almost $12 in gas. But this isn’t the topic I want to write about. Last Thursday (June 9, 2016) I set out to ride to work and my mind was racked by the events that happened just two days prior.
As I prepared to ride to work, my stream of conscious went something like this:
“Tomorrow’s going to be such a beautiful day,” I thought as I packed my pannier with work clothes preparing for my morning commute. As I laid in bed, my mind kept pondering about the tragedy that struck Kalamazoo. “Why do things like this keep happening? That could have been me. I’m kind of scared to ride tomorrow, but I don’t want to be. I shouldn’t have to be afraid! I hope whoever did it, gets justice! I hope the families will be ok!”
The next morning I carried on to ride. As I mounted my bike, I turned on my rear flashing LED light and sent my wife an eCrumb so she can know where I am while I ride. It gives her a lot of peace of mind, and me as well as I have a medical condition. My stream of conscious continued to flow as it normally does . . . “Ahh, what a beautiful morning. The air smells amazing. It’s a little cold though. I’m sure I’ll warm up soon enough.” I pulled out of the drive way and continued to ponder, “Hmm, sounds like a car is coming up. Man it sounds like it’s coming pretty fast. Why do I feel so nervous? . . . Holy sh*&t! 5 people were killed by a truck! This could be it! Is this guy going to hit me? Am I ready to die? Will my wife and two sons be ok without me?”
Ironically, it was a red chevy pick-up truck that passed me, going a little too fast and driving a little too close, but without incident. It was a blue chevy pick-up truck that struck all those cyclists. From that point on, I was nervous every time I heard a car passing. I could feel my hands begin to shake, and I instinctively veered as far to the right of the road as I could go without moving into the gravel shoulder. This wasn’t normal behavior for me. When riding on the road, the safest thing to do when a car is passing you is to hold your line and make your presence known. By swerving I was increasing my chances of hitting a stray pothole, hitting some loose gravel or hitting the lip of the road where the asphalt lines up with the gravel. Hitting any one of those things could result in a crash, with me lying in the road way waiting to get run over by the next car.
Hmm, sounds like a car is coming up. Man it sounds like it’s coming pretty fast. Why do I feel so nervous? . . . Holy sh*&t! 5 people were killed by a truck! This could be it! Is this guy going to hit me? Am I ready to die? Will my wife and two sons be ok without me?
Eventually as the ride went on, my nerves calmed and I made it to work as I always do. I reminded myself how blessed I was for the opportunity to ride a bike and enjoy God’s beautiful creation without a windshield in front of my face. I reminded myself that I will never be too afraid to ride my bike. No person, no matter how stupid or reckless they are, has the right to take away my passion. I will never give in to fear. But I also reminded myself that I need to be more vigilant and more careful. While I am a cyclist, I am also a motorist. Given the right circumstances, it could have been me who hit a cyclist. While I try to give the utmost respect to cyclists on the road while I’m driving, I do give into the temptation of distracted driving from time to time. There are a few things we all need to keep in mind as responsible road users.
Firstly, for motorists, know that cyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of using a public road just as a motorist. Cyclists pay taxes and have just as much of a need for the road way. Taken directly out of the Michigan vehicle code, here are a few relevant road laws to be aware of:
- MVC 257.657 states: “Each person riding a bicycle . . . upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter . . .” There are special provisions for bicycles limiting certain behavior for safety. This includes:
- (MVC 257.660a) A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows:
- “When overtaking and passing another bicycle or any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction.”
- “When preparing to turn left.”
- “When conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe or reasonably unusable by bicycles, including, but not limited to, surface hazards, an uneven roadway surface, drain openings, debris, parked or moving vehicles or bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstacles, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.”
- “When operating a bicycle in a lane in which the
traffic is turning right but the individual intends to go straight through the intersection.”
- “When operating a bicycle upon a 1-way highway or street that has 2 or more marked traffic lanes, in which case the individual may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.”
- When passing a cyclist motorists must take due care. MVC 257.627 states: ” . . . Motorists must have their vehicle under control when following bicyclist to be able to react safely if the bicyclist has to make an emergency maneuver.”
Michigan bike laws can be found in the Michigan Vehicle Code. I wanted to emphasize the bit about riding as far to the right as possible, as many drivers seem to get enraged by cyclists who “ride in the middle of the lane.” Just know that they aren’t doing it to piss you off. They are doing it for their safety!
A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows: When conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe or reasonably unusable by bicycles, including, but not limited to, surface hazards, an uneven roadway surface, drain openings, debris, parked or moving vehicles or bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstacles, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.
One of the most dangerous things I see while riding is motorists trying to pass me when oncoming traffic is present. This is dangerous, this is illegal. Don’t do it! Slow down, wait for traffic to clear, and pass safely. I guarantee that you will be safely around me in less than a minute.
One good thing that will hopefully come out of this incident (that’s another thing, a car hitting a cyclist is not an accident. It’s a serious crash that should have serious consequences for the driver.) is the introduction of vulnerable road user laws in Michigan. This type of legislation has been proposed in Michigan before and voted down. But since the tragedy in Kalamazoo a new bill has been fast tracked. According to the Detroit Free Press the new legislation, if enacted, will make it a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison for a driver who causes death to vulnerable road users including cyclists, pedestrians, or people in wheelchairs. This is important, because under current law a motorist who kills a cyclist must be proven to have extreme negligence in order to experience any severe consequences. It is not uncommon for motorists who kill cyclists to get off with a mere traffic violation or a few community service hours. The proposed bill is SB1029 and the relevant sections state:
“A person who commits a moving violation that has criminal penalties and as a result causes injury to a VULNERABLE ROADWAY USER OR person operating an implement of husbandry on a highway in compliance with this act is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.”
“A person who commits a moving violation that has criminal penalties and as a result causes death to a VULNERABLE ROADWAY USER OR person operating an implement of husbandry on a highway in compliance with this act is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $7,500.00, or both.”
I really could go on and on about laws and cycling incidents, but if there is just one thing to remember after what happened in Kalamazoo it’s that we as humans have a responsibility to watch out for each other. We must practice grace and humility. We must learn to slow down and put others before ourselves. We must remember that any one of the 5 people that were killed while riding their bicycle could have been you, it could have been your son or daughter, your wife, your husband, or your dad. Is getting to work 30 seconds faster or driving home before you sobered up more important than their lives?