Give us a brake, turn your lights on

Cycling is one of the healthiest best forms of outdoor exercise available to us. It’s good for the environment, saves money and gets you fit by providingprovides the same health benefits as walking, jogging, swimming and other aerobic activities. Among its other benefits, it reduces weight, improves blood pressure, and improves cholesterol levels, muscle strength, mobility and coordination. It also offers the sheer joy of riding through glorious landscapesclose to nature, especially with the wind in your fat your backace, a song in your heart, unencumbered by a cage of plastic, steel and glass.

Bicycling is also dangerous.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 more than 1,000 bicyclists died in the United States, and there were almost 467,000 bicycle-related injuries, many of them the result of bike-car collisions. Data from 2010 show fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries to bicyclists resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $10 billion.

As an avid bicyclist myself—and as one who has been seriously injured while riding—I’d like to suggest both a perspective that might help drivers share the road with cyclists and three ways motorists can help cyclists ride more safely. (Cyclists, of course, need to do their part and ride safely and in accordance with the law, but that’s a subject for another column.)

First, the perspective. One of the oft-made arguments is that bicyclists do not pay for road construction or maintenance, as motorists do through tolls, gasoline taxes and license fees, and therefore cyclists are not entitled to “share the road” or to any special deference from motorists. According to the Tax Foundation, however, in FY 2013 (the last year for which state data are available), in Vermont user fees and fuel taxes paid for only 25.4 percent of road funding; the rest came from general revenue, primarily income and sales taxes.

At a more local level, road maintenance and repair in Charlotte is paid for largely by property taxes. Charlotte’s road budget for 2017 is $903,000 a year. The state contributes approximately $195,000 to partially offset that budget. All the rest—$708,000, or more than 78 percent—comes from local property taxes, paid in equal measure by bicyclists and their families who own property in town.

Moreover, cyclists and their bikes, unlike motorists and their cars and trucks, impose no damage on roadways. As I write this I’m looking out my window at a recently repaved section of Thompson’s Point Road, watching cars and heavy trucks pass by, musing that my bicycle—indeed all the bicycles in town—was responsible for none of the damage that made repaving necessary.

Three ways to help us ride more safely

Avoid going three abreast when passing us. A routinely dangerous situation for cyclists is when we get three abreast with two cars, one coming up from behind in our lane and the other from in front in the oncoming lane. There is no good outcome for the cyclist if one of the motorists misjudges, by even a foot or two, the space available for passing. If you’re coming up on a cyclist and another car is coming toward you and all three of you are going to meet at the same point in the road, slow down and let the oncoming traffic get clear before passing the cyclist.

Turn your lights on. Most cyclists ride with a small mirror attached to their handlebar or bike helmet. It’s far easier for us to see you coming in our mirrors and to make the appropriate adjustments in our riding, like getting into single file, if your lights are on. This is particularly true if your car is dark colored. Darker cars often blend into the asphalt and are often invisible in our mirrors to cyclists until they are directly fairly close behind us. Not so, however, if their lights are on.

Wait for us on blind curves and hills. I was hit by a hay wagon being towed behind a pickup truck when the driver passed me on a short hill that turned a corner and curved left at the top; the driver pulled in front of me too quickly, and the hay wagon ripped me off my bicycle, onto the pavement and into the hospital with broken ribs, a punctured lung and a mild concussion (I’m convinced my bike helmet saved my life). It also resulted in a legal judgment against the driver and a cash settlement that, even after my lawyer took his cut, was enough for me to buy a new car. If the driver of the pickup had slowed down and waited for an extra 20 seconds or so, I would have crested the hill and the curve at the top and he would have been able to pass me safely—and avoided the time and hassle of the ensuing legal procedure and the multiple years of increased insurance premiums.

In short, give us a brake, especially on hills and curves, and turn your lights on. And tell remind yourself as you slow down and delay your arrival somewhere by a few seconds, or even a few minutes, that the cyclist in front of you is someone’s child, father, mother, grandmother or grandfatherparent or grandparent doing something that contributes to their health and well-being on a road that they helped pay for.