Raleigh rolled out some new bike lanes and safety markings without much fanfare, and the changes have been confusing to some drivers. The effort is well-meaning, designed to make things safer for bike riders and to mark off lanes to clarify things for drivers.
But the city, for its part, needs to do a major public relations campaign to explain the rules. When can drivers cross bicycle lanes, if ever? How do vehicles safely make right turns when a bike lane is on their right? Will bike-riders also have to more closely obey rules of the road as if they were regular motor vehicles? Many do not do that now.
Into the mix now come proposals from the state Department of Transportation for new laws that would encourage drivers to be more aware of bicycle riders but also would put new limits on cyclists.
Cyclists have gotten more and more privileges in cities such as Raleigh, with the addition of bicycle lanes being the main example. But there remain some cyclists who seem to want things both ways: more rights for them, but status quo for motorists. That’s not right, and DOT is trying to find a smart balance, and the first priority of that balance is going to be ensuring the safety of bicycle riders.
Toward that end, DOT would give drivers more leeway when it comes to crossing double-yellow lines that mark no passing zones if they needed to give a wider berth to bicyclists. Other ideas, despite opposition from some cyclists’ groups, also are sound: Cyclists could not ride more than two abreast, would have to have permits for large informal group rides and would be required to stay in the right half of travel lanes.
Cyclists argue these things are too restrictive. Some say, for example, that they ought to ride in the center of lanes so cars can see them and that their presence discourages drivers from passing other cars when they shouldn’t. The problem is that some drivers perceive somebicyclists as too aggressive in asserting their rights of the road.
Do bicyclists have rights? Of course they do. But streets in a city the size of Raleigh are designed to move automobile traffic efficiently and safely. Bicyclists have to understand that, and they also should appreciate the fact that the proposals are designed primarily to protect their safety, to reduce or eliminate disturbing statistics that an average 19 cyclists die and more than 600 are hurt on the state’s streets and highways each year. In many cases, accidents result from drivers trying to pass bicyclists and not giving them enough room.
In addition to the proposals, city and state law enforcement personnel should more strictly enforce the rules for motor vehicles as they apply to bicycle riders. If cyclists are going to demand their rights, and they should, they should expect they’ll be held to account to follow the rules of the road.