Yes, bicycles are vehicles! by robert j. mang

This article was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2012.

As a new resident to New Mexico and a long-time cyclist, I often hear how our state has become much more “bike-friendly” over that last several years.  Oh?  I shudder to think what it must have been like before this transformation!

I’d like to present a few reminders about our state laws (taken from the NM Drivers Manual) that pertain to bicycles on the public roads, and how cyclists are often regarded in practice.

Bicycles are vehicles, and have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of cars. This does not mean a driver should pass closely to a cyclist while screaming, “Bikes don’t belong on roads that my tax dollars pay for”.

Keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist, trying for at least five feet… passing them only when safe and legal to do so.  This does not mean a driver should pass within inches of the bicyclist, sometimes while laying on the horn.

Treat the bicycle as a legal, slow-moving vehicle such as a backhoe.  This means a driver my actually have to apply their brakes when approaching a cyclist.  This does not mean a driver should pass the cyclist (elbow-close), and if there is an oncoming car, then the bicyclist had better be prepared to ride in the ditch, ‘cause I ain’t slowin’ down.

While bicycles should usually stay on the right side of the roadway, they are legally allowed to take the whole lane by riding in the center of the traffic lane when necessary.  This does not mean it’s OK to lay on the horn, pass closely, or throw a Coke can at the cyclist to get his attention.

“Sharrows” are “shared lane pavement markings.” They are painted on the pavement when a road is too narrow for side-by-side road sharing with slower vehicles. They indicate that bicyclists are encouraged to take the whole travel lane and that motorists shall yield to the bicyclist as needed.  See above.

Bicyclists will typically take the whole lane to prepare for a left turn, to avoid being squeezed on a narrow street, or to avoid hazards, grates and debris…  This does not mean the cyclist is expected to ride through broken glass, potholes, or other detritus often found on the shoulder.   The shoulder is not a recognized bike lane.

Do not make a sudden right turn after passing a bicyclist on your right. Instead, slow down and merge behind the bicyclist before turning.   Yes, a driver may have to delay their turn by 3 or 4 seconds while waiting for a bike to pass the intersection.  

Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. (NM Statute)  That does not mean cyclists should be screamed at for riding two abreast, and while single file may be appropriate in some instances, it’s not required in all instances.      

Some bicyclists, especially young children, will behave unexpectedly. Stay watchful for sudden movements and lane changes.  That means drivers can’t simply be oblivious to people on bicycles.

Of course, cyclists need to adhere to the rules that govern their behavior.  The clubs I ride with in Santa Fe are very conscientious of their roles and responsibilities when sharing the road with cars and trucks, if for no other reason than self-preservation.  

Cyclists make mistakes, and some ride with disregard to their road-sharing obligations.  However, too often when I’m riding and following the laws, I get harassed by a driver who clearly believes that I don’t belong on “his road”.

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