Ok, so in Belgium, I bike in what can only be called bike-friendly territory. While the bike-filled streets in various cities in Belgium can feel like the Wild West for pedestrians in congested spaces (bikes really do take the road, and on my first trip, I nearly had my clock cleaned by more than one cyclist) and sorting the sidewalks from the bike lanes can be confusing (uh, the brick-red paint on the path and the white bike outline are your clues) as a cyclist, I appreciated the dedicated bike lanes, the dedicated traffic lights, and the (mostly) deferential drivers.
But back home here in DC, it was time to run my errands: get groceries, head to the post office, the day-to-day stuff. The bike lanes give some comfort and confidence to the city rider new to major routes, but what about those areas where the bike lanes drop off, or those roads without the bike lanes?
I tend to follow the advice from the folks at WABA (Washington Area Bicyclist Association)http://www.waba.org/areabiking/safecycling/ and try to behave as a vehicle. That means I will, if I can do it safely, 'take my lane', stop at stop signs and signals, and signal my intent to turn by using the hand signals I learned as a kid. When pressed or feeling sketchy, I'll take to the sidewalks as allowed by law in DC (outside the downtown business districts).
For some drivers then, I am a nuisance or a road hog. Those drivers don't see bikes as a part of traffic. For others, I am an accepted part of the urban streetscape, just like a motorcyclist.
I find that as a driver, a pedestrian, or a cyclist, the more clear I am about my intentions--the more obvious I am--the safer I am. And so far, so good. The closest call I've had so far? Another cyclist who nearly rear-ended me when I stopped at a stop-light. He blew right past.
More about scofflaws on both sides of the handlebars in future blog posts. For now: take a look at what WABA advises. Discuss among yourselves. Then have fun, and stay safe.