Move over and make room for bicyclists

November 20, 2018

Sharing the road signs made sense as a reminder to drivers that cars and trucks are not the only users of city streets.

However, the signs did seem to imply that sharing was a kindly suggestion aimed at good-hearted drivers. By state law, however, bicyclists have the same right to be on the road as car and truck drivers. It’s not sharing when all parties are considered equal by law. Motorists need to remember that.

To help educate drivers, the Santa Fe City Council will be considering new signs for city streets that remind all the cyclists are entitled to use the full driving lane. Bicyclists don’t have to ride smack down the middle. Cyclists can move to the right to let a faster vehicle go by, they can use designated bike lanes, or they can remain in front of a car, no matter how impatient the driver is. But the new signs offer a clear message: The road is for all users, so motorists, get used to it.

Right now, the proposal to swap the “share the road” signs is moving its way through city committees, perhaps arriving before the City Council in early January. City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, chair of the bicycle advisory committee, believes the proposed new signs will make drivers better understand they don’t have exclusive rights to city streets.

Such understanding is important in a city that is seeking to encourage more bicycle use by residents.

After all, every bicycle trip instead of a drive made in a car or SUV means fewer emissions into the air and a smaller carbon footprint individually and eventually for our city. Reducing emissions is important in a city that is actively seeking to reduce its carbon footprint. Consider the impact more trips via bicycle could make.

Over a year, a small car that travels 10 miles round trip five days a week is estimated to use 68 gallons of gas and expend 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide. Those emissions ramp up with bigger vehicles, with a midsize car using 124 gallons and emitting 1.3 tons of C02 and an SUV using 170 gallons of fuel and emitting 1.9 tons of carbon dioxide. (All estimates are from the youcanbikethere.com website, which promotes biking in the Bay Area.)

Additionally, biking as exercise is certainly healthier than sitting in a car, expending no energy. The health benefits of cycling — so long as a bike rider can avoid a collision with a car or truck — are immense, especially in an era when adults and children alike are battling obesity and overweight.

For bicycle commuting to be possible, of course, both cyclists and drivers of cars and trucks have to respect each other on the road. Cyclists, when they feel safe, can move over so that other users of the road can go about their business. They should follow traffic laws and especially at night, make sure their bikes and their persons are visible. Drivers behind the wheels of cars of trucks must remember that cyclists belong on the roads; no honking just because the bike in front of your monster truck is going too slowly to suit you.

However, even better than cyclists and drivers in the same lanes of traffic — especially on narrow city streets where there is little space to pass a bike rider safely — is for city leaders to continue improving and expanding bike trails. That way, bike commuters can move through town without having to worry an overly anxious motorist will slam into them.

For now, traffic signs rooted in actual law will take us in the right direction.

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