I wish I could remember where I got this letter to the editor a few years ago, so I could give credit to the author. Longish but very eloquent and worth the read:
"I ride my bike year-round as my main means of transportation. My bike is not a toy. I don't aspire to be Lance Armstrong. I'm not too poor to afford a car. I choose a bicycle because it’s healthier for me, and healthier for the city I live in. I'm not riding in the middle of the lane to slow you down or thwart you. I'm just trying to do the same thing as you – get from point A to point B safely.
I ride in the middle of the lane if the lane is too narrow to share safely. This is actually a courtesy to you, because you don't have to guess how wide your vehicle is versus how much space is available, and decide if you have to change lanes or not. If the lane next to you is wide open, it really isn't necessary to blast your horn or yell things out your window. Maybe you think there's room for me to be riding in the gutter, but I really have a better view of the pavement there than you do. There's debris there that will flatten my tires, and potholes that can break my bones. If I need to swerve to avoid some garbage someone threw out their car window, I need room to maneuver. It’s not going to make either of our days if we collide.
While we are on the subject of yelling things out the window, your vehicle is loud. Unless we are both stopped at a traffic light, it is unlikely I can make out the words you are saying. Maybe it’s better to focus your attention on not hitting things that are in front of you. I also know where the bike paths are, I have a map. But where I'm going is not on the path.
I put on lights at night so you can see me. I ride in a predictable line so I don't surprise you by my presence. I don't weave between parked cars so I don't startle you when I emerge from behind one. I'm sorry I didn't move over so you could use the three car-length gap between parked cars as your personal passing lane. In an ideal world I would ride far enough away from your car door that it wouldn't matter if you flung it open when I least expected it. But the streets are sometimes very congested and there's not a lot of space available. So please look before you open your door.
While you may fancy yourself a very competent driver, it’s still a good idea to leave at least 3 feet when passing me. While you may not actually brush me when you pass too close, it is still frightening to have thousands of pounds of steel a few inches from one’s shoulder.
Some roads have bicycle lanes painted on them. In an ideal world cyclists and motorists should be able to share the roadway without special lines. But after being honked at one too many times for taking a narrow lane, or buzzed too close by attempting to share one, bike lanes become a place of refuge. Please try to have some respect for this refuge by finding a different spot to park your car when you want to run into Starbucks, and definitely do not think of this space as the way to get around a left-turning vehicle.
Remember that the bike lane is there when you want to turn right and that there might be a cyclist in it. The lanes are dotted near intersections for a reason; you should merge into this lane when you want to turn right. Note that merge does not mean cut off. You aren't doing me a favor by waiting to turn right while leaving the bike lane open. I will never pass you on the right when you are signaling right, as I have no idea if you see me or not. If you merge, I have room to pass you on the left in your lane of traffic to go straight while you wait for pedestrians crossing, etc. If you don’t merge, there’s no room for me to go around easily.
Remember those hand turn signals from the driver’s education handbook? I try to use them as much as possible to let you know what I'm going to do. While it might seem redundant to signal a stop when approaching a four-way stop, I know that not all people on bicycles stop. The signal is a courtesy to you, so you know that you can proceed because I will stop. Sometimes I need my hands on my bike but you should be able to infer from my lane position what I am going to do. If I am in the left lane of the road it means I am going to turn left. I'm not there to enjoy the scenery. If you want to turn left as well, this means you should wait behind me. Trying to turn left from the right side of the roadway is only going to put us both in conflict.
I try to make my best guesses what you might do next from your lane position. You can help reduce the guesswork. While it may seem that the turn signal has gone out of fashion, I really do appreciate when you use it in advance. This helps me anticipate what you intend to do, so we don’t have any conflict.
The world will not end if you cannot make a right turn on a red light. If there was a car in front of you, would you honk because you wanted to make a right turn? Because I am small enough to move over to let you do so does not always mean it is safe to do so. If it is safe, and I see you signalling behind me, I will move over and let you go by. Please do not try to squeeze between me in the middle of the lane and the car in the next lane when there clearly is not enough space. Repeatedly leaning on the horn will only get on both of our nerves.
While you may think a bicycle is too slow to be practical for transportation, I can move faster than you might think. While you were so anxious to pass me, perhaps you didn't notice that I have caught up with you again at the next red light. It isn't a race from red light to red light, so if you need to slow down for a few seconds it isn't the end of the world. Think how much more I would slow you down if I was a full-width car trying to make a left turn onto a side street in busy traffic. If you cannot judge how fast I am moving please err on the side of caution when turning left in front of me, or pulling out of your parking spot.
I appreciate your kind attempts to let me have the right-of-way when it is not mine. But please refrain. If you stop unexpectedly, the driver behind you might get surprised and rear-end you.
Just as there are motor vehicle drivers deficient in common sense, there are people riding bikes without common sense as well. I don't happen to know the Joe Clueless you saw riding a bike down the center of a busy one-way arterial in the wrong direction snarling traffic. Please do not assume I'm going to behave like Joe. Or take your anger at Joe out on me by honking or yelling at me from the other side of the road, where I cannot possibly be in your way. Also be glad Joe was not driving a car where he would be a real danger to everyone.
I am very aware of my surroundings when I am on a bicycle. I can hear when you are behind me by the sound of your engine and tires. You don't need to toot to let me know you are there. I'm never sure whether you are trying to let me know you are there, trying to say hello to me, wanting me to move, or whether you are just angry.
Please treat me with the same respect you would treat any other road user. But I would add an extra caveat. Please recognize that cyclists are more vulnerable road users. Before you wish them off the road, remember they are helping to ease traffic congestion, improving air quality, fighting the obesity epidemic, and reducing our dependence on nations who encourage terrorism. When in doubt as to who should go next, let the more vulnerable road user proceed. And keep in mind that leaving space always helps road safety, whether it’s an extra foot when passing a cyclist, or an extra few feet following the car in front of you. When we work cooperatively on the roads rather than engaging in a mad competition, we can all get where we are going just a little less stressfully.
Thanks. And thank you to the motorists that already get it. Thank you for waiting before opening your door. Thank you for leaving a safe amount of space when passing. Thank you for waiting patiently behind when it was not safe to pass. Thank you for signalling. Thank you for respecting the speed limit which makes the roads just a little bit saner to be traveling on. Thank you for slowing to let me in when I stuck out my arm because I wanted to move into the left turn lane. Thank you for not using your horn when it was not necessary. Thank you for all the little ways that you cooperate."