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Sharing the Road: Bicyclists, bikers and motorists have same rig

The Orlando Sentinel: Sharing the Road: Bicyclists, bikers and motorists have same rights and duties under traffic laws

A common misconception is that bicyclists do not have the right to ride in the middle of a traffic lane for their safety.

May 16, 2011

Robin Henningsen-Bruce has suffered bicyclists' and motorists' ignorance of Florida's traffic laws.

Nearly 50 years old, every day, she pedals 20 to 100 miles near St. Cloud. A confirmed "roadie" after surviving cancer, she rides for health and the pleasure of spinning along at 20 mph.

Each trip comes at considerable risk in a state where too many motorists consider bicycles and motorcycles nuisances. Yet state law requires all three to share the road.

"Too many, on both sides are vastly ignorant of the laws and rules that regulate our roads in Florida," Henningsen-Bruce wrote in an e-mail. "I can't blame it all on vehicle drivers as I see a lot of cyclists who blatantly give us a bad name by running lights, stop signs, riding salmon style (against traffic) and just crossing at will."

Two teenage bicyclists caused her worst crash by riding the wrong way on an Osceola County bike lane. After being rammed head-on, Henningsen-Bruce flipped over the handlebars with her riding shoes still clipped to the pedals .

"I was lucky that no vehicles hit me, but I broke my finger and herniated 2 of my disks for which I had to have them surgically removed," she wrote. "The kids split."

Other incidents included an SUV driver on a cell phone who ran a stop sign and crushed her bicycle. And another motorist who demanded, "Why didn't you stop?" after cutting off Henningsen-Bruce and forcing her to brush the side of his van and careen off the road.

A common misconception is that bicyclists do not have the right to ride in the middle of a traffic lane for their safety, according to Mighk Wilson, a smart-growth planner and bicycling advocate at MetroPlan Orlando. Known as "controlling the lane," the practice allows riders to avoid dangerous obstacles on the roadside and enables them to safely make left turns.

Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Montes knows what bicyclists and motorists face sharing the road.

"Motorists are not giving us three feet," Montes said, citing a safe passing law and years of riding bicycles with her son in Orange County. "Motorist don't want to share."

Bicyclists cause safety problems as well.

"The biggest thing we see bicyclist do is wear headphones — so they can't hear traffic — and riding the wrong way," Montes said, noting two common traffic violations.

Just like motorists, bicyclists must abide by the same traffic laws including riding with the flow of traffic, obeying stop signs and red lights, and not riding at night without mounted headlights and taillights. A common complaint is over packs of bicyclists riding more than two abreast, especially on rural roads in Lake County where racers regularly train on weekends.

"The sad thing is that common courtesy could defuse the whole thing," said Alan Snel of the South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, a Tampa Bay advocacy group of 11 bike shops and 3 law firms. "Both groups can settle it if they show each other respect."