A bicycle commuter manifesto

This post, originally shared on Facebook, answers some of the questions posed to urban cyclists.

As a bicycle commuter who enjoys riding everywhere from country trails to urban roads I get questions from non-cyclists who are confused or angered by my presence on the roads. Some questions are posed online, and some are shouted from moving cars as they pass by. I’d like to answer some of them as best as I can.
1) “Why aren’t you on the sidewalk?”
Bicycles are required by law to use the roads and to stay off of the sidewalks. This is for the safety of the cyclists as well as pedestrians, especially in retail areas where store doors can open up unexpectedly in front of a cyclist. Also, a cyclist can be seen sooner and from further away by a motorist if the cyclist is riding in the road than if she rides on a sidewalk. Every state grants the right to ride on most roads other than freeways.
2) “Why do you run stop signs and red lights?”
To those who don’t ride regularly, it might sound counter-intuitive but it is often safer for us to enter the intersection before the light turns green, provided that the cross road is clear of traffic. By getting in front of the cars accumulating behind the red light and starting before they do, cyclists are more likely to be seen and less likely to be literally run over by the mass of traffic. Some states have legalized what has become known as the “Idaho Stop”, which allows cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights a yield signs. In other places where this is not the law, many cyclists will gladly choose to pay a ticket than to place himself in unnecessary danger. To put it another way, we’re more concerned with our safety than in the feelings of the drivers around us who might be annoyed.
3) “Why is this cyclist to the left of my car at the intersection instead of way off to the right near the sidewalk?”
Most experienced cyclists will position themselves in between the right-hand turn lane and the thru lane or left-hand turn lane when waiting at a red light. This is to allow cars behind them to complete a right-on-red without getting in the way. This is legal. They will also place themselves in the left-hand land in order to more safely turn left. This is all legal. Refer to the link under point #1.
4) “Why should cyclists have access to the road if they don’t pay taxes?”
We do pay taxes. I pay federal, state and city taxes. I pay a state sales tax on the bikes I buy. Most cyclists also own cars and pay registration fees.
5) “Shouldn’t cyclists ride on the left side of the road?”
Absolutely not. This confuses drivers, particularly at intersections and when pulling out of driveways and parking lots when they expect to see traffic coming from the left and not the right. If you’re confused check the painted bike path symbols painted in the road. The arrows point in the same direction as all of the other traffic.
6) “There’s a nice bike trail over there. Why don’t you stay on that?”
There’s a nice freeway over there. Why don’t you keep your car on that? Oh, you say you don’t work, live or play near the freeway? Well, the bike trail doesn’t go where I’m headed today either.
7) “Cycling is so dangerous. It shouldn’t be legal and you shouldn’t be in the road.”
Even if I grant your premise, lots of things are dangerous and we don’t outlaw those practices, especially if they don’t endanger bystanders. Some people mountain climb and skydive. Some smoke, some eat nothing but junkfood and spend all of their free time watching tv. Some people forget to buy their wives birthday presents. None of those things are illegal and all of these things can be fatal. Personally I’d rather have fun than sit around living in fear.
8) “Why should government pay for bike lanes and bike trails?”
Several studies have shown that bike trails and bike lanes increase property values, increase traffic to local businesses and lower health costs to those nearby.The benefits of bicycle infrastructure greatly outweigh the costs.
9) “New bike lanes slow down car traffic and reduce the number of parking spaces.”
This isn’t necessarily so. New York City increased the number of miles of pedestrian and bike space, all while decreasing the amount of time needed to cross town by car.
10) “Don’t you know that those bike shorts look ridiculous?”
Yes. Yes, I do.
11) “I am going to ignore all of these valid points because I am the kind of person who goes out of the way to misunderstand people so I can continue to have the arguments I had my heart set on having.”
You sound fun to be around. Do you know what I find fun? Commuting to and from work every day is one of my favorite activities. Seeing communities and nature as it passes by at 15-20 mph allows me to experience and notice things that I normally wouldn’t see. The cycling community is a vibrant, thriving subculture in the city of Detroit populated by exciting and interesting people I might not have met otherwise. Cycling has changed my life in great ways.
If you’d like to join us, many cycling groups are easy to find on Facebook, each catering to different skill levels and different riding interests. If you choose to continue to be an angry, misinformed hater, that’s more a problem for yourself than it is for us because we’re not going anywhere.
Stay safe!

TL;DR: some of the things that cyclists do that confuse or irritate motorists are done because they are more concerned with their own safety than they are with a few drivers’ feelings. Cyclists often have good reasons for what they do even if you don’t agree.

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Just Live, Dammit.

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For you non-truckers out there, an HOS violation is an hours of service violation. We only have 14 hours from the time we start working to get to where we need to be at the end of the day.

Have you ever had the feeling while visiting a place that you love that you might not ever be back again?  I had that feeling today. I felt the urgent need to carpe me some diem. Rather than grabbing lunch at the truck stop I did what I normally do and I rode that angst out.
In the time it took some other drivers to watch an episode of Law and Order in the TV lounge (Seriously, what is it with you guys and Law and Order reruns?) I did the following:
– I got on my bike and set course for some place I had never been to before.
– I immediately changed course and turned right when I approached a red light and didn’t feel like slowing down.
– I repeated the last step over and over again until I was in an area with which I was completely unfamiliar.
– I met a homeless woman named Pam and gave her my sandwich and some water. I talked to her about whatever she wanted to talk about, which was her leg injury. Being homeless in 90 degree weather is no picnic.
–  I went to the courthouse to see if there were any protests going on today, but there were not. Those were yesterday apparently.
– I quickly conquered many very steep hills.
– I raced in traffic.
– I almost got run over by a careless driver making a right hand turn into the space I was still occupying. Now that’s exciting!
– I watched the boats on the harbor.
– I nearly fell off my bike startled when the USS Constellation fired its cannons for the tourists.
– I took a lot of pictures and posted them to Instagram.

I’m sure that rerun of Law and Order was fun too though.

Listen to that voice in your gut pushing you into action. This might actually be your last day here.

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Here’s my route if you’re interested.
Give it a try, but I’m not kidding about those hills! Stay closer to the harbor for a flat ride.
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Summer 2015 Photo Album

So how has your summer been so far? Mine has been great, and very busy. Here are some of the cycling highlights.
In May some friends of mine and I participated in the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City. Approximately 30,000 cyclists participate in this annual ride which takes participants along a 40 mile course through all five boroughs on roads and freeways which are closed to auto traffic for the day.
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New York City!

New York City!

We made a couple side-trips on the way to New York City, including Pittsburgh, and the abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Breezewood, Pennsylvania.
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Earlier this month some friends of mine took a 36-mile bike trip from Marine City, Michigan into Canada and down to Harsens Island, Michigan. Click here for the MapMyRide route.

Here we are on the ferry that transports cars, cyclists and even 18-wheelers across the St. Clair River from Michigan to Ontario, Canada.

Here we are on the ferry that transports cars, cyclists and even 18-wheelers across the St. Clair River from Michigan to Ontario, Canada.

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Shepard Fairey, the artist famous for Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster created several new murals in Detroit this Summer.
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Gross Ile Bridge
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Critical Mass Detroit made a side-trip to the Dorais Velodrome on our July ride. The track had been abandoned for years but it is now being revitalized by area cyclist volunteers.
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This is one of my favorite spots in Detroit. I like to stop here after group bike rides and before sunsets. This photo was taken right after I bought my 80’s Peugeot Monaco on Craig’s List. Right after I took this shot a young woman described the bike as “an 80’s power ballad, if a power ballad could be a bike. I think that was a compliment. I love the bike, and it has become my favorite.
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You know that no photo album of mine would be complete without pics from my regular bike rides around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I still can’t get enough of Baltimore!
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Baltimore sunrise, June, 2015

Baltimore sunrise, June, 2015

Inner Harbor sunrise, June, 2015

Inner Harbor sunrise, June, 2015

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I hope that you’ve had a nice summer. Mine has been busy. Stay tuned for a new post with some photo highlights of my recent bicycling adventures including pics from May’s Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City.

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There are some things that truck drivers would like all drivers to know:

1) It only takes one of you to create a traffic jam. If you’re on the freeway are anywhere other than the far right lane, and you see cars lined up behind you, you need to move to the right. I don’t care if you’re going the speed limit. Roads are safest when everybody has plenty of room, and nobody is impeding anybody else’s movement. If you’re the guy in the passing lane blocking people, you’re causing a traffic jam, all by yourself. The same goes for blocking the center lane on a three-lane highway. If you’re in the center lane with trucks behind you, you need to move to the right. Don’t expect the trucks to pass you in the far-left lane, since it is illegal in most states for trucks to be in that lane.

2) You shouldn’t expect truck drivers to make room for you when you merge onto a freeway. Most on-ramps are long enough to allow you to adjust your speed accordingly to fit into any available open spots in the right lane. If they are not very long, like some in big cities, there is often a yield sign. The yield sign does not mean “let’s forge forward quickly and hope that trucker gets out of my way in time”. There are several reasons why a truck driver won’t move to the left to make room for you. Even if there isn’t traffic next to him or her, there might be some quickly approaching from behind. Don’t expect him to slow them down just because you didn’t merge properly. If, for some reason, he is able to get over for you, quickly make room for him to come back to the right lane. If you simply mosey along, refusing to let him back, then you’re likely to become the driver described in my first point, creating a traffic jam all by yourself.

3) Do not hang out next to trucks. Leave trucks, and yourself, plenty of room to maneuver out of unplanned situations. I might see an obstacle ahead before you do and need to change lanes. My trailer tire could blow, sending shredded tread your way. I check my tires every time I get into the truck, but there are 18 of them. Stuff happens, and you don’t want to be right next to me if it does. If you’re going to pass, go ahead and complete the pass quickly. Do not hang out near the trailer axles for miles and miles. If you do, I will turn on my turn signals to make you think that I’m coming over, only to turn them off when you get out of my way. I’m protective of the space around me, and you should be too.

4) If I’m trying to pass, don’t be a jerk and speed up just to prevent me from doing so. That just causes traffic behind us to back up, and then I have to slow down to get back behind you. Why in the world do you want a 75,000 pound truck travelling 65 mph behind you?

5) Sometimes truck drivers are jerks. I’m not, but they’re out there. I read all kinds of crazy explanations of why you sometimes see two trucks rolling down the freeway at the same speed, side-by-side, going for miles down the freeway. The actual reason is simple: They are probably both driving trucks governed to go no more than 62 mph, and the one on the right is stubbornly refusing to let the one on the left pass. In an ideal situation, one of them should give up, so the lane can be freed up and traffic can move around them.

6) Without us, you’re living in a 19th century economy. Every single thing you buy required a truck, several trucks actually, to be produced and shipped to the store or to you. If we all decide to stop working on Monday, you’re all screwed by Tuesday. We’re not planning on doing that, I’m just stating a fact. Truck drivers are job creators. We create all of the jobs, in fact. Most of us are just really hard workers trying to get our jobs done safely and legally. Don’t be the guy blocking our way.

Be safe.

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You can’t see America hiding behind your TV: Another closer look at Baltimore

On Tuesday, the day after the unrest in Baltimore following Freddie Gray’s funeral, I took a short trip into one of my favorite cities to see how my favorite people and places were holding up. I stuck to my usual route, the places I can reach from the truck stop without ruining my strict 14-work day schedule. Since I usually have to get back to Flint, Michigan in that time, that means two hours tops in Baltimore.
I saw an overwhelming police presence, including hundreds of National Guard troops, armored vehicles and police officers from around the state. I saw a few boarded up storefronts, and several work crews fixing other buildings. Most importantly I saw the same amount of Baltimorians milling about, going about their normal day and enjoying the beautiful weather.
Baltimore is a beautiful city. It broke my heart to see what happened to Freddie Gray and then to see the unrest on Monday. America had got some issues, but we won’t solve them by hiding in front of our televisions. Get out there this weekend and talk to people. Meet some strangers and see what they’re thinking.
Click here to see my route from the truck stop and back, including the water taxi ride.
On a side note, I’ll be in New York City with some friends this weekend for the Five Boro Bike Tour. I’m very excited about it. There will be about 35,000 other cyclists enjoying 40 miles of roads closed to traffic on a route talking us through all five boroughs, and over several of the cities bridges. Stay turned for pics.

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Normally I object when police park in the bike lane but I let this one slide.

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Just another beautiful day on the Inner Harbor

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On the Baltimore Water Taxi

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Start your Spring right, join the 30 Days of Biking movement

Why do I love ‪the 30 Days of Biking movement?
Because it encourages you to stop making excuses for not riding. It gets you to start your Spring right, by teaching you that you do in fact have time to ride, if you make the time. It starts good habits for the rest of the year. 
I will admit that last April there were one or two days when my ride consisted of a quick ride around the block at 11:45 pm. The length of the ride isn’t the most important thing here. I work a lot, driving 600 miles on most weekdays. Making a point of riding every single day got me in the habit of thinking about how I was going to fit a ride into my schedule, instead of simply assuming that I would be too busy. The rides always made me feel better about my day, and were great for releasing stress. 
You don’t need an expensive bike or special bike clothing. I have none of that. Just bring your love of the freedom that cycling gives you, and maybe a friend or two. 
Do it.
Join by clicking here.
See what I did last April by clicking here.
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