Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cycling and road rage

Tom Vanderbilt writes in Outside magazine about what makes some drivers so irrationally hostile toward cyclists.

I've never been a commuting cyclist but I have known a few, and as a driver I have tried to be understanding toward them. As a frequent pedestrian, I think I comprehend some of the points of conflict between bicyclists and drivers. Pedestrians, after all, are in a similar position of relative power toward cars as bicyclists, which is to say, "not much."

There is fault to be found on both sides. Drivers are often preoccupied when they should be paying attention to the road, they're often driving too fast, they think they own the road, and if the rest are anything like me, they're frequently late. The least unexpected wrinkle in the drive finds them woefully unprepared to accept it, emotionally and sometimes physically. (Physical unpreparedness is what leads to accidents.) And as Vanderbilt notes, cars are dangerous even when they're parked: many bicycle-car accidents result from car doors swinging open unexpectedly, the driver (or passenger) having failed to keep an eye out for bicyclists.

(The unexpected opening door catches other drivers off guard, too. Hell, a police officer did it to me the other day in a place where the lanes were exceptionally narrow. I came close to swerving into another car because it looked like the cop's door was going to hit mine.)

Cyclists, for their part, need to understand the psychology of drivers a little better. Bicycles can come up surprisingly quickly on cars, especially when the cars are stopped at intersections. We drivers don't intend to cut you off there, but when we checked five seconds before we didn't see anyone, so we figured the coast was clear. (Yeah, we should have had the turn signal on: that's another one you can hold against us.)

Two observations about some bicyclists, though, make me angrier as a driver than anything else:
  • They blow through stop signs and even red lights when traffic permits. I'm getting over being mad about this one because I can see how it makes life easier not having to pedal from a standing stop all the time. Nevertheless, this behavior pisses off a lot of drivers because it reinforces the belief, mistaken or not, that cyclists routinely thumb their noses at laws drivers must observe. Asking that drivers "share the road" with bicyclists is a tough sell when drivers think the cyclists are hypocrites about following the law.
  • They don't understand how invisible they are at night. They don't outfit their bikes with lights and reflectors, or they don't use enough of them, and they wear dark clothing.

There's no excuse for the visibility issue. Drivers are expected to maintain their cars to a minimum standard not only for their own safety but for that of others on the road. Bicyclists must be held to a minimum standard as well, and the number one priority must be to make themselves noticeable amidst a sea of overly bright car headlights and moving shadows.

Why am I so upset about invisible cyclists? Because I'm scared to death I'll nail one of them by accident. My heart accelerates to triple-time whenever I spot a bicyclist at the last second. I don't like the shock to my system and I blame the cyclist for bringing the situation about.

I like to think I'm getting better at actually sharing the road with cyclists, but it's a process that will take time. Cyclists, be patient with drivers like me, and help the process along.

No comments:

Post a Comment