Spoke Talk: Dangers of riding the thin line
October 11, 2011
Last month, I felt the thin line that separates cyclists and drivers on our county roads narrow as a truck passed by me at a high speed with inches to spare. I was on a straight road with clear visibility and no oncoming traffic, and despite the fact that the law requires that a passing vehicle give me 3 feet, this driver made his point by passing beside me at 6 to 12 inches with his foot to the floor.
I was enjoying a quiet road ride with a friend, soaking up the warm afternoon sun and talking about what an amazing place the Yampa Valley is to live. In seconds, the conversation was reduced to the fact that it was amazing that I was still living.
Near-misses often are great moments for reflection. If that driver had miscalculated, or, worse still, aimed a little closer, my day would not have ended with a sunset and a beer. How would my two kids handle growing up without a dad? Would my business survive without me at the helm? Would my friends miss me on a powder day? Would that driver really feel better with one less biker on the road? Would authorities ever catch him?
In my world, I take every challenge as an opportunity. For that reason, I couldn't let this pass without comment. My opportunity was to think, learn and share what I know to help prevent a near-miss, or something worse, from happening again.
So what can I share? There is a lot to this situation, but in simple terms, I think it's about respect, or the lack of it. It's not just about people driving big trucks too fast on county roads. I see that it goes both ways, and I fear that many cyclists in our community are riding a thin line because they don't see this. We are the most vulnerable road users out there, so sharing the road is something we have to do with respect for other road users — that is, if we want them to respect us back.
It's true that we have all seen (or even been) bad drivers — breaking the speed limit, turning without indicating, rolling through a stop sign, etc. But when we are bad riders, we create a poor image for cyclists. That is not a good thing as cyclists are a group that is vulnerable to being judged based on the actions of others. When we roll through a stop sign or, still worse, weave without hesitation through a four-way intersection, or fail to move over when approached from the rear when riding in a group, it says to drivers that we don't respect them or the rules. With that logic, it's no wonder that some drivers take liberties with the 3-feet-to-pass rule. It's just payback, right?
The problem is that the payback soon will lead to a fatality, and with the rage that is out there, I predict it's just a matter of time.
I wish I had the chance to get the truck driver's license plate number so that I could call it in to the Colorado State Patrol hotline (*277). Perhaps it would have led to a ticket and a reality check for one driver.
In the meantime, some of us need to change the way we ride our bikes. In Steamboat, bikes now stand out. We are visible as a sign of health in our community. We are showing our kids that there is more than one way to get to school or to work than a car or bus. We are wasting less of the world's resources. We are doing all the right things. So let's not spoil it by the way we ride. Please give a little more respect for the roads and the drivers, and perhaps, if we play by the rules, they will respect us back.
To the driver of the big white truck on Twentymile Road: You know who you are. Please remember that I am a person, a dad, a husband, an employer, and I respect your rights on the road. Please respect my life.
The Colorado State Patrol's Star CSP (*277) aggressive driver program was implemented July 1, 1998. The CSP partnered with several cellular companies to provide a phone number, free of charge, to be used by motorists to report "real time" aggressive driving behavior. Since the program was started, the CSP has received more than 230,000 reports of aggressive drivers.