Knoxville drivers: How to pass a cyclist

Patrick Beeson Government, Local Living 5 Comments


UPDATE: I’ve amended a sentence referring to Knoxville planners not allocating shoulders or lanes for bicyclists. It now puts the onus on county, city and state planners. Also, I was made aware that new and expanded roads must include room for bicyclists due to the 2002 Bicycle Plan’s accommodation policy.

Cycling season is well underway now that spring has sprung in Knoxville. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to venture out on the area’s roads willy-nilly.

Many Knoxville drivers are ignorant of how to share the road with cyclists. This is a brief lesson on how to pass a cyclist safely.

And with gas prices rising on what seems to be a daily basis, this information will be increasingly relevant for everyone.

I’ve been a cyclist for almost 15 years, and during that time I’ve had more than a few close-encounters with errant drivers that seem to have no clue about how to operate their vehicle. This isn’t specific to Knoxville — I’ve lived in many Southern cities including Bristol, Tuscaloosa, Roanoke, Boone, among others — though the city perks with bad drivers.

Bad form in passing cyclists is among the worse offenses I’ve noticed as of late. And it’s not that hard, really.

The approach

A driver should always slow down when approaching a cyclist or a group of cyclists. It’s hard to hear approaching cars, especially in a head-wind. Despite this fact, you don’t need to beep your horn to alert the cyclist. This only seeks to spook us, which could cause an accident in itself.

Once positioned behind the cyclist — don’t follow too closely — patiently wait until there is ample room in both your lane and that of on-coming traffic to pass.

Be advised that the cyclist should be given at least a quarter of the lane to ride (more if there is a group). Cyclists hate to ride on the shoulder of the road not only because it gives cars reason to muscle them further off the road, but also for the many broken bottles, metal shards and other debris scattered there.

Also, city, county and state transportation engineers for this area rarely provide adequate road shoulders (or bike lanes) for that matter.

The pass

The actual passing of a cyclist can be a little hairy depending on the road, and level of on-coming traffic. Use good judgement in all situations.

I suggest drivers only pass on straight stretches of road because you can’t see on-coming traffic on bends or curvy roads. You’d think this is common sense, but I’ve seen many, many drivers come close to a head-on collision because they don’t wait to pass until it’s safe.

Honestly, it’s not worth your life, the cyclists’, or that of other drivers’ to save a few seconds.

Knoxville has its share of mountainous roads, which makes this a valuable point to remember for locals.

In the process of passing the cyclist, give them a foot or two of space but not the entire lane. We expect the car to be close and will ride accordingly. Swerving into the next lane or passing within inches of the cyclist is bad form.

If you make a move to pass, but then decide against it because of an on-coming car, simply apply the brakes and duck back behind the cyclist. Do not under any circumstances assume that the cyclist will run off the road for you because you made an error in your judgement.

Cyclists are not protected by hundreds of pounds of metal and airbags. We have a helmet and thin clothing — pavement hurts folks.

If you run a cyclist off the road, they have a legal right to report your vehicle to the police. They can also sue you.

Again, it’s not worth saving a few seconds to pass a cyclist unsafely.

More information and resources

The Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization has put together some great resources on cycling, including a PDF of Knoxville traffic laws relating to cyclists. It’s also worth checking out the other information listed on their Web site.

Honestly, much of this should be basic review for most folks that studied for their drivers’ license but it’s always worth reviewing.

The most important thing to remember is that a cyclist has a legal right to use most roads for transportation just like drivers. Respect everyone on the road, and feel good that you are doing your fellow man/woman a favor.

If you have any questions about proper etiquette for sharing the road with cyclists, please post a comment on this entry or contact me directly.

Note: This entry was originally published on Patrick’s blog.

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