As more people discover the convenience and cost savings of commuting by bicycle, we will see more bicycles on the road, especially during the spring, summer and fall. A few intrepid souls continue to bicycle in the winter, but I usually put my bike away when the snow flies. Last year this happened two days after Halloween. In other years I’ve bicycled into December.
My commute is about ten miles, between my home in Bangor and my job at the University of Maine. Frequently I fling my bike onto the rack on the Community Connector bus for the morning trip up to Orono, and bicycle back to Bangor in the late afternoon. Most of the route has wide paved shoulders and good visibility. Drivers, perhaps used to the presence of bicyclists along this primary route between Bangor and UMaine, are almost always courteous and considerate.
The only place I ever have a problem is at the intersection of Route 2 and Kelley Road, pictured above.
Southbound Route 2 splits into two lanes at the intersection. The right lane turns onto Kelley Road, toward the Interstate; the left lane continues straight on toward Bangor. A bicyclist going straight must get out into the left lane, to avoid the cars turning right. A green arrow on the traffic light allows cars to turn without stopping after the light for the left (straight) lane turns red.
Experience has taught me to be super-careful when approaching this intersection. The speed limit through here is 35. A slight rise precedes the intersection, and since I am of, shall we say, a certain age (and don’t wear Spandex), I’m not going fast when I approach the light. Using the side mirror on my left handlebar, I first check to make sure no cars are coming up fast behind me. Then I give a broad arm signal and move from the right side of the road out into the left lane.
Here’s where the problems start. I can’t use the right lane because I would impede the drivers turning right. And if I keep to the far right edge of the left lane, speeding cars will attempt to pass me on the left. I’m in danger of being passed at the same time by a car on either side, neither giving me the three feet of space required by law. I’ve even had cars pass me on the left, then zip in front of me to make the right turn at the light.
This is a classic situation in which the bicyclist must and should “control the lane” in traffic parlance. I need to get out into the middle of the left lane, and any car coming up fast behind me will be unable to pass. I’ll try to do this when the light is red, but if it turns green, I’ve got to keep going. As soon as I’m safely through the intersection, I can move to the right side of the road and allow the car(s) behind me to pass.
I can do everything right – mirror, hand signals, lane control – and still be honked at and yelled at by drivers who apparently don’t want to slow down for a bicyclist, for any reason. Never mind that this necessary maneuver takes at most thirty seconds. In less than that time, I’m though the intersection and back over on the far right. Are those few seconds really worth the aggravation?
The danger at that intersection, and intersections like it, stems not from the presence of bicyclists, but from the aggressive behavior of a few drivers. Bicyclists are here to stay, because the option of bicycling rather than driving to work makes sense in many ways and many places for many people. It’s a growing movement, and a beneficial one. As the popularity of bicycling grows, roads become safer for cyclists and drivers alike.
In some areas of the country, municipalities have replaced the vague and generic “Share the Road” signs with signs that read: “Cyclists May Use Full Lane.” But many Maine drivers, unaccustomed to bicycle traffic, don’t know what that means.
Education is part of any worthy movement. Orono probably has more bicycles per capita than most Maine towns; as the seat of the state university, it ought to take a leadership role in things like transportation. A good start would be to put up such a sign on southbound Route 2 at Kelley Road
It might just save somebody’s life.