The image at the top is what happens when cyclists ride on the edge of a highway. This is our story on how we learned the easy way to stay safe.
When I first started out, I didn’t have a clue but now I know.
I know that the biggest problem with getting people to accept cycling as a viable means of transportation is not a lack of bike lanes. It is instead the human condition. What we lack is knowledge and critical thinking skills. This idea that you have to be “fearless” to ride a bicycle on certain roads is complete bunk. Knowledge of the laws and why we have said laws or rather the lack of such knowledge is far more crippling to cycling than the lack of bike lanes.
How can I be so sure?
Because I was faced with the choice of keeping my kids locked up and confined to a small town. A town which doesn’t have a single movie theater, museum, or anything remotely kid friendly for entertainment. A town that moved it’s one form of entertainment a.ka. the local library, and put it so far out of reach that we had to ride our bicycles through a high-speed road where dump trucks were accessing the entrance to the local rock quarry. A town where there isn’t a single bike lane and all roads are driven at 35 mph or greater regardless of signage. A town where a family of five burned up in a fiery high-speed crash and a pedestrian was mowed down while crossing her residential street to visit a neighbor.
My choice was to educate my children on how to safely group ride from one town to the next.
In the beginning they were nervous and my youngest said she was down right scared. I told her that if we decided it was too scary we would turn back and go home.
So we discuss our route. I explain where we are going to ride on the shoulder and I explain where we are not going to ride on the shoulder. I explain the different movements that vehicles make and discuss driving theory 101 with them.
We pretend to be people driving cars and one of us pretends to be on the edge as a cyclist. They get a first person experience in a closed environment and learn about why people drive the way they do and how we can prevent common mistakes.
We start out.
The first thing we do is turn onto the shoulder at the junction of Wichita lane and U.S. 27. Very quickly we approach that section where riding on the shoulder is no longer safe. Motorists go flying past us at full speed. 60 mph + onto the off ramp. We are not a part of traffic. We are irrelevant to them. We stop and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait. It starts to get tense. Sitting still while cars go flying past you is very uncomfortable. There on the edge my daughters fear rises as motorists blindly fly by, her anxiety climbs. I’m feeling it too. As soon as it is clear, we dart across the on ramp and continue on the shoulder. Things go well. My daughter starts to feel better and before we know it we are now at the off ramp. This is the junction where U.S. 29 meets U.S. 27. It is important to note that these ramps are marked as 15 mph. However they are engineered in such a way that you can take them at full speed and take them at full speed the locals do.
We all stop in the center “no mans” land. It was the shoulder but now it is an island of doom. Cars are whizzing past us on both sides. The break comes sooner than last time and we make our way onto the road. This time we do something different. We ride the travel lane. The shoulder here is like all the other shoulders covered in rumble strips, broken glass, gravel, bits of metal shards and other garbage strewn across it. The travel lane is smooth and worry free.
As we bike down the high-speed road I ask my daughter how she feels. “This is a lot better than the shoulder” she says, I was surprised. Shocked really. I was sure that she would “feel safer” on the shoulder. My daughter explains: “When I was on the shoulder all these cars were just whizzing by us like weren’t even there. Once we were on the road it was like they saw us and a lot of people slowed down and passed us at slower speeds. I didn’t have to worry about someone running into us”.
We ride the travel lane over to Etter Dr. and after we make it through the intersection we move back to the shoulder at my request. Both kids were asking why we had to be on the shoulder. My son was saying “Come on mom. We can be in the travel lane. Let’s just move over.” I was determined to keep us on the shoulder and we kept on going. Right up until we came to Raising Cane’s. This is another section of road where the engineers designed a nice high-speed right turn. My fear is that someone will take that right turn at typical speed and plow right into us. So we waited and waited and waited and waited for traffic to clear. Then we carefully navigated the rumble strip and we rode the travel lane. Once again the anxiety that had been building in the kids quickly dissipated and even though we were honked at and screamed at by passing motorists. Everyone enjoyed their ride in the travel lane. People in cars noticed us. They slowed down to normal speeds and acknowledged us with honks and screams. We shook our heads at the sorry ass motorists and kept on biking.
We went through the intersection and just like before, we signaled and moved onto the shoulder. Same thing again. Ride the shoulder, anxiety increases, fear mounts, and then we come to an area that is no longer even remotely safe to be in so we move over to the travel lane and the anxiety decreases, the fear disappears and we are safer than we were before.
Motorists are anxious. They don’t like us to be in the travel lane. They honk at us. Scream at us. Call us idiots. But we are not idiots. We feel safe and carefree in the travel lane. It was after all built and engineered for traffic. The rules of the road are dictated by the lane. We are following the rules of the road and it feels good. My daughter laughs. My son shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes. Life is good.
As we wait at the light that intersects Business U.S. 27 from U.S. 27 I ask them if they want to move over to the shoulder after we get past the on ramp. They say “NO”. We are safer here in the lane they insist. I shrug and say o.k. but inside I am bursting with pride. My kids are smarter than Andy Clarke of L.A.B. infamy and Carl Overton of Lexington who at 30 something is afraid to ride his bicycle on anything other than 25 mph roads.
Cars drive past in the left lane. We ride on in the right lane. My kids are practically bouncing up and down on their respective seats. “This is fun!” my daughter screams at a motorist who aggressively honks as they pass us. They flip her the bird. She laughs and flips them the bird back. “Fuck them” she says. I chide her on her language. “They flipped me the bird first.” she says. We agree to let it go and continue our ride.
We make our first pit stop at Catnip Hill Road. We stop at the BP and get sodas. We talk about the route so far. We discuss how we felt on the shoulder as opposed to the travel lane. My kids are practically walking on air. They high-five each other and shout “We are riding the travel lane.” and off we go.
We take a left from Catnip Hill Road back onto U.S. 27 and this is where the safety of the travel lane is re-enforced into our mental psyche. As we are riding along a motorist comes flying out of a local strip mall shopping center and slams to a halt right on the shoulder. You can see from the tire marks on the pavement that this is normal motorist behavior. My son says “Good thing we weren’t on the shoulder”. My daughter says “Yea, they would have hit us for sure.” We ride on.
As we continue down U.S. 27 I point out the potholes, rumble strips, and broken pavement. They point out the rocks, gravel, and broken glass. We all agree that the travel lane is best.
We had a great time in Lexington and half the fun was traveling there. We rode back home without incident and on the way back my daughter said “I can’t believe I was afraid to ride my bike.”
Fear for fears sake
Fear of the unknown
Propaganda fueled rhetoric about making cycling safer isn’t helping anyone. So shut up and put up. If you can’t ride the ride then you have no place deciding what is or isn’t safe.