A lot can happen between motorists and cyclists on a 12-foot wide strip of pavement and it takes a great deal of cooperation to make sure none of the interaction is bad.
On secondary roads, cars travel 30, 40, 50 miles per hour and easily overtake two-wheelers doing 10, 15, 20 in the same lane. This arrangement can sometimes lead to a few tense moments.
There’s only about six feet from shoulder line to middle dividing line and, given the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) “Share the Road – 4 feet’’ law (passed in 2012, with violations carrying a $25 fine for first offenses), it’s up to both parties to reach a safe, happy accord.
We mention this, in part, because of races such as the upcoming 11th annual Bucks County Duathlon on Sunday, Sept. 4.
About half of the BCD’s 10-mile bike segment is contested on River Road, a scenic, straight, flat byway which hugs the Bucks County side of the Delaware.
An estimated 100 multi-sport athletes will be riding at top speeds and the paved span in Upper Makefield will be open to vehicular traffic.
Our advice to cars, trucks and the like: Please be vigilant, just as you should be whenever you see someone pedaling along a road with or without an adequate shoulder.
According to Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code:
>Motor vehicles must allow 4 feet of distance when overtaking a bicycle and travel at a careful and prudent speed. It is the motorist’s responsibility to provide this distance, not that of the cyclist.
>Motor vehicles may also overtake a bicycle in a no-passing zone to avoid excessive delays, but this must be done with due care and while providing the required 4 feet of clearance.
In addition, it’s OK – in fact it’s recommended – for cars to cross over the center stripe provided there is no oncoming traffic. The trick here is to make sure there is a proper distance afforded to the other lane’s traffic before steering over the middle line.
Veteran Bucks County cyclists say motorists are, for the most part, courteous and many go out of their way to make sure there is at least four feet and more between the two parties.
But occasionally there is the “I’m in a hurry’’ type who simply stays in a straight line and misses the left side of a cyclist by mere inches.
For cyclists, the best plan is to keep cool in these situations and chelk it up to “understood risk.’’ Even though drivers don’t own the road, they sometimes act like they do.
Over the past 10 years, more and more “Share the Road’’ and “4-feett minimum’’ signs have been appearing on BC streets and highways. Now it’s just a matter of paying attention to them.
John O’Brien got hit by a car while riding back in his 20s and it took him a long time to summon up the courage to get back in the saddle again.
“Riding on open roads you have distracted drivers and ones who seem to be in a hurry and unwilling to wait for a safe place to pass,” O’Brien points out. “River Road is always a challenge since it’s a popular road to ride, but is lacking an adequate shoulder in most places and has enough bends in it to reduce sightlines for drivers.
“A lot of drivers almost push us off to the side as they rush past rather than wait a few extra seconds to get somewhere safe to pass. Cars frequently pass within a foot or two without even slowing down. I try to ride near the side as much as possible but the edge of the road is often in rough shape so I need to move over a bit just to keep the ride a bit less bumpy.
“Though Pennsylvania law has the mandatory 4-foot clearance minimum, I feel we rarely get that clearance. It feels like a lot of drivers don’t seem to think we have a right to be on the road and are unwilling to provide them the bare minimum when passing.’’
Tom Fuoco believes, however, that things seem to have improved in recent years.
“It’s been my experience in the last year or two that motorists are more courteous to bicycle riders,’’ he said. “I haven’t had a driver come within inches of my left leg in several years. The vehicle behind me will slow down if there isn’t enough space to pass at the same point in the road.’’
Donna Fay rides with a group of accomplished BCRR cyclists (safety in numbers) on Saturday morning and keeps her eyes and ears open.
“Drivers don’t see some of the obstacles on the shoulder that cyclists are trying to avoid,’’ she said. “And sometimes cyclists don’t see them until the last minute. Even though I might feel nervous about riding alone, I do it anyway because it’s great exercise and a way to challenge myself. I feel safer when riding with a group, but group rides, especially at my pace, are not always available.’’
Having more signs posted probably would help the situation, according to Bill Schaffling.
I think it would help a lot to have the signs displayed much more, especially on busy roads,’’ he said. “I believe most drivers are considerate. It’s the few who aren’t we worry about. I have been passed far too closely but fortunately not hit. Some cyclists can also do better to stay to right in single file on really busy roads.
No one has to tell BCD co-director Harry Betz about road awareness for both two-wheelers and four-wheelers.
“The most profound improvement for a cyclist’s safety is the advent of LED safety lights,’’ Betz maintains. “A cyclist even wearing bright clothing can blend in and not draw the attention of drivers on their phones.
“I run front and rear lights. My number of incidents of being cut off ahead of me has dropped drastically and drivers passing me tend to give me a little more room due to the visibility they afford. The four-foot rule is a start but we really need more protected bike lanes.’’
5K Any Way & Color Fun Run, 8 a.m, Macclesfield Park, Yardley. Contact www.irun.redpodium.com
18th annual Steelman Triathlon, 8 a.m., Lake Nockamixon, Quakertown. Contact www.steelmanracing.com
Sunday, Sept. 4
11th annual Bucks County Duathlon, 7 a.m., Washington Crossing Historic Park, Washington Crossing. Contact www.buckscountyduathlon.org