Jonathan Maskit unabashedly takes the lane on his bike commute from town, up a hill, to Denison University where he’s an associate professor of philosophy and writing a book that navigates why that deceptively simple act, of a cyclist moving from the unswept margin to the space of the road that it is allowed to be as a legally recognized vehicle, is so fraught and counter instinctual.
“This notion of sharing, what does it mean?” Maskit asked a group at Case today. “Who are the Share the Road signs for?”
Answering himself, Maskit says those triangular neon yellow signs ask motorists to share their road.
“It is illegal to ride (a bike) on the shoulder of the road,” he says. “Motorists are telling you to break the law.”
For a philosophy professor, Maskit is amazingly well versed in bike law, and the gray area that is biking in America.
“Roadways are a public space,” he adds. “They are owned by us communally."
Yet most state laws governing bikes tell cyclists to move as far right as possible. Ohio has improved recently with designating 3 feet of space around cyclists when cars overtake them.
He also knows what to advocate for to bring about mode balance.
Though Maskit takes the lane, he makes a strong case for barrier separated bike lanes. Biking in countries like the Netherlands and Germany means being assured that drivers have been trained on how to look out for you. It also means having separated bike-only lanes.
“The solution is segregation,” he says. “It would make cyclists and motorists happy. I think motorists have an interest in paying more taxes to have separate infrastructure.”
Cyclist need this space because they are slower moving vehicles and are too fast to mix with pedestrians on sidewalks. It is one of the structural deficiencies that lead to anger between drivers and cyclists.
“Most cyclists are aware of being treated like second class citizens,” he said.
Back to the Netherlands, Maskit applauds their foresight in the 1970s when the price of oil skyrocketed and they made a decision to tax each citizen $10 a year to pay for separated bike lanes.
“It worked. The Dutch were not cyclists. They are now,” he said about the shift from few to 40% of their population riding bikes.
How we get there in America is through political engagement, Maskit says. He recommends joining a local bike group like Bike Cleveland, a statewide group like Ohio Bicycle Federation and a nationally focused group like the League of American Bicyclists in advocating for fair use of roadways to include bike lanes. He says to exercise your rights means to take the lane. Maskit admits there are risks, like being pulled over, but assures, the law is on your side. He adds that “civil disobedience,” like monthly Critical Mass rides in lots of cities, including Cleveland, are beneficial because they make motorists more aware of cyclists and provide cyclists feeling of safety in numbers.