“Share the road” is a common phrase used to reconcile the interests of drivers and cyclists on the road. Everyone is trying to get somewhere, and the roads are not safe when the people using them are not working together.

Bicycling is a healthy, environmentally-friendly way to get around, but there are differing opinions on whether or not bicycles should be allowed on public roads, or if they should just be confined to the sidewalk. In this article, we will discuss the different viewpoints on sharing the road, as well as alternatives to doing so and a rundown of what some American cities are doing to make the roads safer for both cyclists and motorists.

The negative viewpoint(s) from motorists

Bicyclists and cars have had a long-standing contention, and often, this topic gets confrontational. People who are against “share the road” policies point out that bicyclists aren’t able to keep up with cars, and they slow everyone down as a result. They, essentially, are a barrier to peoples’ travel and should not be allowed on the road. Motorists also point out that cyclists are hard to see, even when they are wearing reflective gear (which many don’t) and they, therefore, increase the likelihood of an accident.

There is also an economic argument that occasionally makes it way around. Motorists claim that cyclists don’t really pay for the roads, as they don’t pay the fees, tolls, and taxes that are generally considered the “rites of passage” for people using public roads.

Negative viewpoints from cyclists

Cyclists don’t have arguments against themselves sharing the roads, but they do have complaints that they level against car-drivers. They claim that cars are indifferent to their safety on the road, and they only care about getting where they are going, not about treating other people on the road with respect. Cyclists’ main contention is that they feel as though they are the victims of a mentality that prioritizes vehicles over bicycles because vehicles are more popular. And, indeed, car-on-bike accidents are both common enough and devastating that there are trial lawyers who specialize in personal injury cases of this nature.

They also claim that in the city, they are in fact able to keep up with cars, as the speed of a car doesn’t necessarily outpace that of a bike during peak hours of city traffic. Cyclists believe that their option is healthiest for the environment (and for themselves), and they object to people's’ apparent inability to respect the same.

Positive perspectives

In addition to environmental benefits, it is important to share the road just from the viewpoint that people are free to travel the way that they want, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else. Cyclists are seen as peaceful additions to the road, and cars don’t encounter them frequently enough when driving in high-speed areas to really be angry about their presence. Cycling is a healthy alternative to consumption of fossil fuels, and with the obesity epidemic in America, exercise generally won't be viewed as a bad thing.

Alternatives to sharing the road

An alternative to “sharing the road” is to not share the road and instead relegate bicycles to sidewalks and, in areas where there are no sidewalks, prohibit them from cycling. This idea is born out of safety concerns for cars and bicyclists. It is a compromise—cyclists have a place to ride, and cars don’t have to worry about accidentally crashing into someone on a bike. However, this alternative is one that cyclists don’t find very fair -- they then have to share the sidewalks with foot traffic, who are slower and more vulnerable to being struck by a bike. They also feel that the streets, being paid for by their tax dollars, are theirs to use by right.

What some cities are doing to make people safer

In some cities, there is a better compromise to sharing the road. They are installing bike lanes that are solely for cyclists’ use. There are also programs being adopted that hope to make it safer for both parties. For example, the American Trucking Association’s and the ATA’s “Share the Road Highway Safety Program” often travel from city to city, giving presentations on the importance of sharing the road.

Recently, the Association was at Woodson High School, in Virginia, giving a presentation to high school kids. High school kids are just learning how to drive, and teaching them about the importance of this at a young age is vital to maintaining road safety in the future.

Sharing the road is something that both cyclists and drivers are going to have to come to terms with. There is a lot of antagonism between the two groups, and even conversation can get heated. Hopefully, with greater awareness, understanding, and the allocation of public funds to deal a public issue, a compromise will be found that allows everyone the right to safe and equitable transportation.