Motorist Questions for Bicycle Riders

by Dennis Hickethier

This month, borrowing an idea from another columnist, we are going to answer some questions that motorists might be thinking or wanting to ask bicycle riders. We hope this helps us to share the road with a better understanding of why cyclists take certain actions.

Q1.  I wanted to pass a cyclist because no vehicles were approaching me but there was a double yellow line.  What am I supposed to do? Good news! Pennsylvania law allows drivers to cross a double yellow line to pass a cyclist when there’s no oncoming traffic. 

Q2.  Why don’t you move to the shoulder when you know a vehicle is coming behind you? There are a couple possible reasons. (1) There is often debris, gravel, or obstacles in the shoulder that make it unsafe for us to ride there. (2) If another vehicle is approaching from the other direction, we might be concerned that you’ll be tempted to squeeze between us and the oncoming car as you pass, creating an unsafe situation that doesn’t give us the four feet of safety clearance required by law. (3) We may be approaching an intersection and planning to turn left, so we need to move into the proper lane for turning. (4) By law, bicycles are permitted to use the entire travel lane, just like motorcycles and other motor vehicles. Honestly, we’re not trying to be difficult! Typically, we’re trying to ride in a way that’s safest for everyone. 

Q3.  Why do cyclists ride on hilly, winding country roads with no shoulder? It’s dangerous when I come over the top of a hill and suddenly find a cyclist in front of me. Many cyclists enjoy riding country roads—in addition to being beautiful and scenic, they typically have a lot less traffic. Cyclists bear some responsibility here: they should wear bright, highly visible clothing and use flashing red taillights so you’ll notice them quickly. You bear some responsibility too: If you find yourself cresting a hill on a quiet country road, consider that you don’t know what’s over the top of the hill—yes, there could be a cyclist there. There could also be a pedestrian, a deer, a stopped car. It’s always best to proceed with caution when you can’t see that far in front of you.

Q4.  Why do cyclists sometimes ride two abreast?  That makes it harder to pass.  Could be they’re friends enjoying a chat! Riding two abreast is allowed by Pennsylvania law, same as for motorcyclists. Most cyclists will form a single-file line as soon as they hear a vehicle approaching from behind. (With a larger group of riders, it may take a few moments for word to be passed up the line that a car is approaching.) Although this is not required by law, it’s a courtesy that the vast majority of bike riders follow – and one that we strongly encourage. 

Q5.  Isn’t it better for a bike to ride against the flow of traffic? No. Bikes are required by law to ride in the same direction as traffic because it’s safer. For example, when you pull up to an intersection in a car to make a right turn, you look to the left for oncoming traffic. If a bike were coming from the right (against the flow), you wouldn’t see it and might pull out in front of it. It’s safest for bike riders to act predictably like any other vehicle in traffic.

Dennis has been riding the roads of Adams County for 27 years and is retired from federal government service. He is the secretary for the HABPI board.