Every Sunday, I would ride my bicycle for 26 miles round trip and over two bridges to Pensacola Beach. Taking bike lanes most of the way, the trip always felt safe, the weather always perfect, and the view from the bridges was worth the effort. I wondered why I didn’t see more cyclists on my weekly ride.
And then the weather got warmer. Teenagers piled into jeeps, cars drove bumper to bumper for three miles, more motorcycles took to the road. My once peaceful, uninterrupted ride was now filled with teenage boys honking loudly as they passed me, cars merging into the bike lane, and motorcyclists using the bike lane as their passing lane, narrowly missing cyclists.
I’m not a serious cyclist. I don’t wear spandex and I drive my car when it rains. I just love riding my bicycle and having a reason to be outside a few extra minutes each day. My 11 mile round trip ride to and from work wakes me up, helps relieve stress, and helps me feel less guilty when I consume a whole pint of ice cream. I’ve been commuting for four years, two of those in my hometown of Chicago. Even on eight lane roads, Chicago tried its best to make commuters feel welcomed and I never feared for my life as a cyclist on the road, unlike in Pensacola.
Pensacola should be the perfect biking city. The weather is ideal 10 months out of the year and the roads are never crowded with cars. So, in an effort to spare me a painful accident, and to make our city more bike friendly, I present, three ways to not kill a cyclist.
First, share the road. It is illegal to ride on the sidewalks and our bike lanes are scarce. Riding in the gutter is dangerous; the edge of the road is filled with debris that can puncture my tires and is uneven. I am going to try to “take the lane,” which means I will be about three feet from the edge of the road. Don’t holler at me out the window, don’t honk, don’t get close to me to teach me a lesson, just pass me by and let us both get on our way.
Second, look for cyclists before getting out of the car. When parking on the edge of the road, motorists often forget that cyclists are biking past them and open their car door right in front of a cyclist, not giving them enough time to break. I’ve seen cyclists that have been doored and it is not a pretty scene. Sometimes, they just flip over the door and face-plant into the street. Most times, they go through the window. Motorists look for cars before opening the door, look for cyclists, too.
Finally, watch for cyclists at intersections. I know it is tempting to speed past me, not wanting to wait for me to pass by, but motorists often underestimate how fast a cyclist can be. Cyclists cannot brake on a dime, so don’t expect us to. I try to meet the eyes of a motorist at intersections to make sure that I am seen. Acknowledge cyclists and please don’t run us over. It’s bad for me and would probably get a car very dirty.
As a cyclist, I am doing a lot while on my bicycle. Not only am I peddling and keeping my balance, I am watching for debris, potholes, obeying traffic laws, throwing hand signals, listening for cars that pass by me too closely, looking at motorists at intersections, watching for cars that drift into the bike lane, and making sure my sweaty hands don’t slip off my handlebars. It’s a lot to do and it would be great help if motorists took some of the responsibility.
Even though the ride can be frustrating, and I feel like a dork in my helmet, when I am riding home, taking my route over the Barrancas Bridge, and I see the sunset over the mirror-still bay, it’s all worth it.
Lilia is a grant writer at a local homeless shelter and a Chicago native. She loves reading, sewing, cats, and her husband. She rides her bike to offset her extreme obsession with pie.