I was out riding yesterday along Loop 360 here in Austin. It’s a fairly bike friendly road with a wide shoulder. The only tricky spots are at intersections that have overpasses. The problem is that as a cyclist, you have to ride right across a exit ramp or entrance ramp. The speed limit on this road is 55 in most places. I feel pretty vulnerable when I’m crossing. When I’m crossing an exit ramp, I usually maintain my position at the very left hand side of the shoulder and ride straight across the ramp to where the should begins again. It’s a leap of faith each time. I’m assuming the cars can see me, anticipate my intentions and navigate around me. I always right with flashing lights to improve my odds. I also assume that cars will be decelerating as they approach the exit ramp.
Crossing the entrance ramp is a bit trickier because cars are accelerating to highway speeds and beginning to look for traffic on 360 as they prepare to merge. In this case, I usually wait until there’s a gap in the cars to cross the entrance ramp as quickly as possible. In this case, I’m making fewer assumptions about the ability of cars to see me, even though there’s a warning sign telling them that they should be expecting to see me crossing the ramp. Technically, I have the right of way, but why take unnecessary risks?
One of the blogs I follow is bicyclelaw.com. There’s a lot of really good info out there on laws as they related to cyclists and, unlike a lot of other sites that rail against motorists, it takes a pragmatic view of the situation. You’ll also see a news ticker of bicycle/vehicle accidents and their outcome. I keep reading about cyclists who are struck by motorists and it makes me sad when they are seriously hurt or killed. What makes me upset is the seemingly cavalier attitude by drivers and law enforcement about cyclists and their safety.
But, I don’t think the problem is necessarily limited to cyclists. As a society, we’re very forgiving, and that’s good. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that we seem to have relaxed when it comes to accountability. When you’re driving a car, you have a pretty big responsibility to do it in a safe manner. There are all kinds of traffic laws telling you what you can and cannot do. If you violate these laws, there are clearly defined consequences that should be enforced. However, it doesn’t happen consistently and that may be part of the problem. This uncertainty makes it difficult to anticipate what’s going to happen. If you were certain that you would be penalized for violating a traffic law, you’d probably adhere to the laws. If those consequences were significant enough, it would get you to think twice about electing not to respect the laws. Would it be enough for you to pay closer attention to what’s going on around you on the road? Would it be enough for you to see the sign warning you about cyclists crossing the ramp and navigate around them? Or, would you be angry, as some motorists seem to be, and send a warning sign to the cyclist by veering dangerously close to them while honking your horn?
Let me know what you think?