After looking at the interest generated by Shelon’s “Bicycles are traffic, not targets” article and being recently bombarded by the seemingly endless list of cycling-related ‘accidents’ (most publicly, the bike messenger allegedly killed by an Ontario AG) I was curious as to what (if any) sort of resolution can be come to between those behind the wheel, and those on top of two.
Having been in both scenarios (ie. behind the wheel, and on top of two wheels) I will admit that there are times cyclists are a little lenient with the ‘rules of the road,’ myself included. I’ve seen cyclist routinely blow through red lights, skim through traffic, and cruise through crosswalks full of pedestrians. But, as one of the commenters mentioned in our last article – that’s the beauty of being on a bike – you’re not firmly leashed to what a vehicle can and cannot do.
Cyclists live somewhere in-between.
With that said, I’m not certain the seemingly deep-rooted hatred drivers have for cyclists is founded. I might put forward that many of the problems stem mainly from one source: a drivers mentality.
For many, the commute to work is one of the most stressful events of the day, though interestingly, that same commute is generally stress-relieving experience for those that commute by bike, foot, or public transport. I’m not sure what it is, but you put somebody behind the wheel of a car and they’re instantly in a hurry to get somewhere. It doesn’t matter where they’re going, all that matters is that you get the hell out of their way. Their obstacles include cyclists, pedestrians, even other drivers.
When a driver is in a hurry, it’s understandable that they get a little frustrated with all the impediments placed in front of them… They have to slow down for traffic, they have to deal with construction, they have to stop for pedestrians, they have to be on the lookout for cyclists, they have to be aware of other drivers… All this, while focussing on rushing from one place to the next. No wonder road rage is rampant and patience is short. In fact when researchers really started to look at drivers mentalities behind the wheel the results were a little scary to say the least:
It is likely that most if not all drivers regularly experience exchanges with other drivers that are upsetting, denigrating, and aggressive. We feel badly treated by other drivers and we in turn treat them badly. We yell at them, we give them the ‘stink-eye,’ we threaten them by tailgating, we close ranks in our lane so as to prevent anyone from changing lanes. Even worse, mentally we insult them and in our fantasy we ram them, torture them, ridicule them, even kill them. What causes these horrifying impulses? How can we protect the community from the danger that these feelings might suddenly break out into the open in acts of insanity and violence?
I understand there exists a wildly grey area from the worst offenders to the best examples, but how do we bridge that gap and make drivers understand the power they have, and the responsibility that comes with it?
Society carries a prejudice, regrettably amplified by police investigations, that automatically blames a cyclist in a car-bike collision. There are many reasons for this, but it’s simply wrong. It’s not statistically valid. It marginalizes cycling as a legitimate form of transportation and is inimical to progress for cycling as a healthy and environmentally beneficial alternative to the automobile. It vitiates legislative remedies to protect cyclists. It essentially excuses and perpetuates actions which, had they involved a second driver instead of a cyclist, would result in manslaughter or homicide charges being filed.
With the nearly endless reports of cyclists and motorist clashing, what can we do? Despite being great community builders for cyclists, I don’t think something like a Critical Mass does anything to positively promote cycling in the eyes of drivers. I think that the rules have to be changed. Luckily, there are places around the world that are starting to agree. Cyclists are a unique and special vehicle and deserve to be treated as such. Here are some of the tactics being used in more ‘progressive’ locations:
- Bike boxes
In almost any major city you’ll see some sort of bike lane, but Portland is taking things one step further and has developed the ‘Bike Box’ – effectively an extension of a bike lane that helps bring cyclists to the front of traffic and give them priority crossing/turning and reduce problems with the right-hook. They’ve also painted the bike lanes/boxes in intersections to increase visibility.
- Motorist crackdown
There have been a few times in Alberta when there has been safety concerns around crosswalks. Many times police will ‘stage’ a fake pedestrian against traffic and ticket motorists that aren’t yielding to the pedestrian/crosswalk. Not entirely fair perhaps, but a hefty ticket later and motorists will be rethinking their righteousness pretty quick.
- Look at softening laws made for cars, not for cyclists
One of the pivotal differences between cars and bicycles is that cars require next to no effort to operate. Gas = go, brake = stop. On a bicycle, it’s not so easy… Maintaining momentum is paramount to getting from A to B efficiently. Now imagine for a moment that you could treat stop signs as yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs. I know many cyclists do this already, but imagine if it was legal!! Sound too good to be true? Well, this dream is a reality, not in Amsterdam or some other cycling mecca, but in Idaho. I think this step alone would go a long way to further the cyclists cause – cyclists finally being given different and specific laws, because they are different.
With all this said, we need to be our own advocates and be mindful that every negative action motorists witness further fan the flame of their animosity. Despite motorists often reprehensible behaviour, sometimes I think the best approach may be to turn a cheek to these actions. In many cases any sort of confrontation has resulted in a more angry motorist that often threaten cyclists with violence.
The answer, I’m not sure… Write a letter? Start a conversation with an alderman? Perhaps. Key a car? Yell at a motorist? Probably not. Motorists are for the most part oblivious and will remain so until something comes into play that starts to change their opinion. I think the only way to cut through the current drivers mentality towards cyclists is for change to come at the hand of somebody else. Drivers don’t care and they don’t have to. They’ll just run you down. No biggie.
If you have a hankering to read a bit about crazy drivers (and crazy cyclists) here’s some of the articles I’ve run across: