Dr. Traffic

Don’t expect that cyclist to cling to the curb

Let’s say you’re approaching an intersection that has a four-way stop. A cyclist is in the bike lane to your right. The rider is enough ahead that you’re both likely to reach the intersection at nearly the same time.

What will the rider likely do as you both close in on the stop sign?

Best answer: He or she might do something you don’t expect.

The rider could pull in front of you, to turn left. He could also stay close to the curb to avoid traffic while continuing straight ahead. Then there’s the right-turn option.

The point is that drivers shouldn’t expect cyclists to cling to the curbs, says biking advocate and instructor Pamela Murray.

A bicycle is a vehicle, by state law, and that gives the rider the right to use any part of the road, even when there is a lane set aside for two-wheelers.

“All travel lanes are for all roadway users,” said Murray, a founder of Charlotte Spokes People and an instructor and cycling educator for Cycling Savvy, a program of American Bicycling Education Association.

In fact, a cyclist might not consider a bike lane to be the safest option, depending on the location and other factors, Murray said. And safety is always an issue here.

In Charlotte, bike riders are more likely to collide with a car or other vehicle than other city in the state, according to a 2014 report by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. Intersections were more often the place for those dangerous encounters, according to that research.

“There’s no disagreement there,” Murray said. “That’s not just for cyclists. Crashes for cyclists, cars and pedestrians all occur at intersections.”

More than 9,700 bicycle-motor vehicle crashes were reported by North Carolina agencies between 2003 and 2012.

The most recent five years averaged 4 percent more crashes compared to the first five, with increases occurring generally in urban areas, the report says. There were 520 crashes in Charlotte during that period, compared to 430 in Raleigh and 239 each in Wilmington and Greensboro, according to the report.

About half (49 percent) of all crashes occurred at or related to an intersection (including signalized commercial driveways).

There’s a high risk for a collision when a bicyclist is moving straight at an intersection and a motorist is turning right, according to the N.C. Driver’s Handbook.

Murray wants to help four-wheel drivers and cyclists more aware of the law and what’s practical for bicycle riders.

To pass a cyclist, change lanes when possible. A driver should leave two feet of space between the vehicle and the bicycle when passing, according to the N.C. Driver’s handbook.

When passing on a two-lane road, go only when there is no oncoming traffic in the opposing lane.

Murray’s best advice can serve all of us:

“Everyone should be more aware of all roadway users,” she said.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms