Viewpoint: Sharing the Road

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What is being called "urban cycling" or "cycling for transportation" — as opposed to cycling for recreation — is growing.

Viewpoint: Bob Passaro

A Portland businessman named Bob Huckaby was in the news recently, proposing a ballot measure that would require you to have a license to ride a bicycle in Oregon. His proposal also would mandate license plates on bicycles. He reportedly has a lawyer drafting on the language.

What is being called “urban cycling” or “cycling for transportation” — as opposed to cycling for recreation — is growing.

Unlike some people who avidly ride bikes around town, I’m not vehemently opposed to this idea. My response is to sort of shrug. I don’t think it would be a terrible inconvenience, and I don’t think it would discourage people from riding bikes.

But I do think it would be a waste of time. And money.

A ballot measure is the easy way out. It may be a way for Huckaby to feel like he is doing something useful. But I doubt it would fix the problem he wants to fix — which is to say, cyclist sailing off the sidewalk and through a crosswalk, running a red light, or otherwise flouting the law.

Some do. No question. But if we think requiring a license for cyclists will stop them from running red lights, why do I encounter motorists — who presumably have licenses, not to mention license plates — driving 85 mph on the freeway? How come nobody actually drives 25 mph on south Willamette Street? That’s the speed limit. Why are there no ballot measure to address that? In fact, we seem to accept it.

We are in a time of change. What is being called “urban cycling” or “cycling for transportation” — as opposed to cycling for recreation — is growing. People are riding to work, running errands by bicycle, riding around town with kids on their bikes.

They are more visible — and so is their lawbreaking.

What may be happening is that we are starting to witness the breakdown of the “Share the Road” concept, the idea that we can all get along on the same roads, happily coexisting, waving and smiling at each other.

Don’t misunderstand. A lot of people do wave and smile. Most motorists — and cyclists, too, I think — try to share the road and be considerate.

But if you listen to serious cycling advocates — and I don’t necessarily consider myself one — you will hear many say that what we really need are better ways to separate bikes and cars. In fact, there are some good people in Eugene who are working very hard to do this, to create more routes like the new “cycle track” on Alder Street, although that certainly isn’t a perfect solution.

Maybe someday we’ll get there. Maybe someday we’ll be more like Denmark.

But for the moment we must make do with a problematic system: “Share the Road.” Essentially, it advises us to be nice. Like telling my two young kids to share the same space on the couch. It isn’t a bad thing to encourage, but I never assume that it’s going to end well.

Here are some other things you should never assume out there sharing the road:

Never assume everyone in a car is a jerk.

Never assume everyone on a bike is an arrogant scofflaw.

Bob Passaro.

Never assume that the lack of a flashing turn signal is any indication of a motorist’s true intentions.

Never assume that a cyclist will consider a red lights anything more than advisory.

Never assume that the motorist pulling out of a parking lot or driveway ahead of you is actually going to look in your direction before rolling into the bike lane.

Never assume that, because you ride a bike, you are above reproach.

Never assume — when trying to make eye contact with the driver of a car with dark tinted side windows — that the operator of said vehicle is not actually a monkey.

You never know.

About this week’s guest viewpoint contributor:

Bob Passaro of Eugene has been commuting by bicycle for 30 years, 14 of them in Eugene. He owns a car, too, and does possess a valid Oregon driver’s license. He blogs about local bike culture and bike news at eugenebicyclist.com.

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