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Bicycling Fallacies of the “Car Culture”

There are several common fallacies about bicycle operation on the road.  The worst of these are the Three Big Lies” about cycling.  These were invented by the “Car Culture” to push cyclists out of the way so motorists can drive faster.

Here are some facts to refute the Three Big Lies.

  1. The “fear from the rear”:  There is great danger in riding on the road because of traffic passing from behind.  Not true!  Most non-cyclists and novices believe this — there are so many cars passing so close and you cannot see them coming.  But bicycling crash studies show these kinds of collisions are extremely rare, especially for urban cycling in daytime.  Hint:  if cars are passing closer than you’d like, move left — further into the lane.  Yes, this is counterintuitive but it works.  Try it!  If you “control the lane” you show passing drivers that they must change lanes to pass you.  And that makes them give you more space.  And the faster the traffic, the more you need to ride assertively, so they can see early that they need to do something — slow down or move over.
  2. Roads are for cars.  Cyclists’ greatest duty is “staying out of the way”.  Not true!  Actually, the roads belong to all citizens.  Except for a few limited access roads, you have the same right as anyone else.  And, if you try to stay out of the way, you encourage motorists to squeeze past with inadequate clearance and you also make it more likely that they will make other mistakes that put you — and them — at risk.
  3. The rules of the road do not apply.  Cyclists do not need (or cannot learn) to follow the rules of the road.  Not true!  All states define a cyclist as a driver of a vehicle in one of two ways: (1) Explicitly, by defining bicycles as vehicles or (2) Implicitly, by stating that cyclists have the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles.  This means when you ride on the road, you are driving and that means following the rules of the road.  Standard, uniform rules make the roads much safer for all.

The above are compounded by the fallacy that there is nothing to learn about bicycle operation except steering and balance.

“Bicycle advocates” reinforce Car Culture fallacies by promoting facilities that get cyclists out of the “car lanes”

The money spent on separate (segregated) facilities is not available for education.  Worse, the facilities reinforce the fallacies – they are “anti-education” that teaches exactly the wrong lesson.

Many of these facilities are downright dangerous in themselves.  Bicycle sidepaths, door-zone bikelanes, bike lanes to the right of turning traffic, bicycle boxes, etc. all create explicit hazards, especially for the novices that they pretend to protect.

The photo at right shows a “Suicide Slot” bike lane that routes bike traffic to the wrong side of right-turning traffic in the motorist’s blind spot.  While the blue paint may alert some motorists about the hazard created by a facility that violates roadway safety principles, it does not make up for bad engineering.

The bike lane reinforces the fallacy the cyclists must stay at the right edge of the road at all times.  It would be much safer to ride near the middle of the right lane here or even the left tire track.  This position would allow turning traffic to pass safely and turn on the right using a diverging route rather than crossing the cyclists’ path.

For more information about the “secret” of assertive lane position, see Why Cyclists Should Stay Out of the Gutter.

There are some really good education materials at Commute Orlando and Cycling Savvy. Here are some examples.


[1] Photo by Ryan Conrad, Portland, OR.

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