Rodney King’s poignant words could be applied to many aspects of our lives today, but one area is of particular concern to me: the frequent verbal and physical confrontations between bicycle riders and motorists in the Napa Valley.
The bike riders I’m referring to are those seen throughout the valley in colorful garb and on bikes ranging in price up to $10,000 or more. I’m not referring to the children, teenagers and some adults to be found dangerously zigging and zagging on our streets.
Let’s start with the basic law pertaining to bicycle operations. Vehicle Code Section 21200 states that “bicycles have all the rights of motor vehicles” on the roadways of the state. Drivers must consider a bicycle rider to be the same as another car — a slow-moving agricultural vehicle, slow truck, etc.
I believe that none of these cyclists ever get up in the morning and say, “Let’s go out and annoy as many drivers as we can.” I seriously doubt that drivers get up and tell themselves, “Let’s get out there and yell at some cyclists, flip them off or intimidate them by coming as close as possible.” None of us enter the roadways predisposed toward confrontation.
Cyclists partake in their activity for physical, psychological and social reasons. On many roads where shoulders are wide or traffic is very infrequent, they will ride side by side to talk as they ride. This is totally legal by the code; there is no requirement to go single file as a vast number of Californians incorrectly believe.
Additionally, many drivers believe that the white line on the right edge of the road means the cyclist should be on the right side of that line. Again, not true. The white line defines the shoulder of the roadway. Anything to the right of the line is considered outside the road. Cyclists ride in this area at their discretion, not by directive from the Vehicle Code.
As a matter of fact, many of our roads have the white line literally on the very edge of the pavement, with no space for a rider or anything else to the right of the line. The exception is when a designated “bike lane” exists and the rider is required to ride within the lane, unless conditions are unsafe (Vehicle Code Section 21208).
As you drive your vehicles you are most likely unaware of the trash present in almost every shoulder and bike lane where no road maintenance ever sweeps the broken glass, wire, metal fragments, gravel or sticks from the area. Additionally, potholes and cracks in our poor-quality roads must be part of the cyclists’ directional calculations at all times.
Given these conditions, you may never know why a cyclist has moved into the right edge of the roadway; you’ll just be annoyed that they are there and because they may actually cause you to apply some degree of adjustment to your direction or speed.
A new law goes into effect soon and will require a minimum of 3 feet between your vehicle and the cyclist as you pass. This measurement includes all projections, including mirrors, which means drivers should plan on clearing riders by at least 5 feet from the front fender or more if other things are hanging or extended from the vehicle.
As we enter the roads of our beautiful Napa Valley, let’s make a greater attempt to accommodate one another. Seldom do we find ourselves driving vehicles on a mission of life and death, so a few moments slowing down, analyzing the situation and safely proceeding shouldn’t be asking too much.
Cyclists have no desire to impede your journey, but we do believe we have a right to use the roads along with the vehicles. Actually, it’s in the law.
Burnett lives in Napa.