Local governments have felt the power of a group of lobbyists who roll into town not with fat wallets for campaign contributions or wine-soaked receptions or highly-paid advocates with their hands squeezing the elbows of elected officials as they bombard them with facts and figures.
No, these lobbyists come on two wheels with helmets and stretch suits, and all they want is a fair share of the roadways and rules to protect them from those with a heavier, faster claim on those roads because they’re steering tons of steel.
Bicycle riders in recent years have made some big strides with city councils around the country, particularly in big cities where an interesting evolution has taken place: More people moving to town, and thus more traffic, but in a city such as Raleigh, many of those newcomers are young people who prefer transportation they can put in their living rooms — bicycles.
Now the state has gotten in on the process, conducting meetings with law enforcement, truckers and others who have worked with the Department of Transportation to determine the best and most protective rules for bike riders.
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Some cities are adding to bike safety by adding bike lanes, but in Raleigh, the newly designated lanes are “in progress.” There are things to be worked out. Some are confusing, others little used so far.
But there is one emphatic truth that all motorists must remember always: Bicycle riders have the right of way, period. They are at tremendous risk when sharing the road with motor vehicle drivers of varying skills who may grow impatient and even reckless if they think bicycles are holding them up. The truth is, bike lanes as a way to slow traffic are a good idea. On streets in Raleigh, with speed limits of 25 or below, people drive entirely too fast as it stands.
However, it’s also true that bicycle riders need to obey the rules that apply to other motor vehicles — stopping at red lights, yielding to pedestrians, obeying turn lanes — and not breeze through Stop signs or traffic signals. And it may be that part of establishing the rules of the bicycle road is to bar bicycles from some busy streets, at least at certain hours, with Raleigh’s Wade Avenue coming to mind.
The state’s efforts are worthwhile, but the blending of more bicycles into urban traffic patterns and planning remains a work in progress at city halls across North Carolina. And bicycle riders and motorists need to stop thinking of themselves as on opposite sites, but as parties with a mutual interest in safety.