Drivers can learn ways of sharing the road

While Memphis isn't the worst place to ride a bike, it certainly isn't the best. We definitely have our share of road rage, rough streets and chronic speed demons.

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Published February 19, 2007 by  MemphisCommercialAppeal.com

TN — We've all heard it, perhaps even said it: "Only a Memphis driver would do that!"

While Memphis isn't the worst place to ride a bike, it certainly isn't the best. We definitely have our share of road rage, rough streets and chronic speed demons.

I think Memphis motorists, on the whole, are well-intentioned. But most cyclists will tell you that Memphis motorists are also often unsure about how to drive in proximity to a bicycle. Such confusion is precisely what leads to accidental aggression.

Drivers and cyclists in Memphis must become more educated on how to share the road. While bicycle lanes and other accommodations are helpful, proper road sharing techniques are an immediate way to improve the Memphis streets.

Be aware

Remember that cyclists are traffic, and should be treated like other slow-moving vehicles, such as tractors and mail trucks. But because cyclists have no "crumple zone," they are incredibly vulnerable in the roadways.

Take the same precautions you would if your small child were riding in the road. If a cyclist is hit by a car, the potential for injury is exactly the same for a small child as it is for a 28-year-old male.

There are few fender-benders on a bike. A cycling accident usually lands the rider in the hospital.

Driving directions

If you need to grab a cyclist's attention, flash your lights. Horns startle cyclists and could cause them to swerve into the path of your vehicle.

As you pass a cyclist, it helps to use your blinker, just as you would when passing a car. If the road is narrow or clogged with slow-moving traffic, hit your hazards as you pass.

The blinker is a simple way to provide the cyclist with an increased sense of security. It sends the message that you are passing safely.

Many motorists speed up when passing a cyclist. Though the intention is good, passing quickly sends an aggressive message to cyclists. They call it the "angry accelerator."

A sudden burst from the accelerator can be as startling as a horn, especially to a recreational cyclist not used to urban riding.

When making a left turn, make eye contact with the cyclist passing through the intersection so he can be sure that you have seen him.

Eye contact is always important to cyclists. It sends the message that you are driving with an increased awareness of cyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorized vehicles in the roadway.

Finally, practice seeing new things. Check the rearview mirror before opening the car door and look for things not normally observed, such as cyclists, runners, signs and trees. This will train you to see objects other than cars in the roadways.

Perhaps the best safety advice for motorists comes from the Tennessee Driver's Manual: "Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the streets that drivers do, and in most cases, they must share the lane … If possible, give the cyclist the entire lane."

A two-way street

Sharing the roadways is a two-way responsibility. Cyclists and motorists must work together to establish safe roadways.

The League of American Bicyclists states that "The best way to educate motorists on bicyclists' rights to the road is to ride respectfully and have facts on your side."

This week's question:

Legally, bicycles are classified as traffic — just like cars or motorcycles. This makes sense in cities like Amsterdam, where bicycles out number cars. Does it make sense for Memphis?

Give your opinion or comment on this column at our Healthy Memphis blog. Go to blogs.commercialappeal.com /health, click on the "Life Cycles" entry and then on "Comment." Add your two cents' worth.

Native Memphian Anthony Siracusa is a full-time student of history at Rhodes College. He is a member of Memphis' Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, executive director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop and a daily cycling commuter. Contact him at revolutionsmemphis.com. Life Cycles will run once a month in Health & Fitness.