Since I’ve been posting occasionally on my experiences as a cyclist trying to share the road with motorists, I’ve had some fascinating feedback from friends of mine. While my fellow cyclists nod wisely and confirm that they have had a similar experience with angry drivers, non-cyclists tend to look at me dubiously, convinced that I am exxagerating the amount of vitriol that gets directed my way.
Well, I’m really not. And my experiences are based on a history of road riding that goes back to the early eighties. If anything, considering the volume of car traffic I now experience in the city, the average driver is probably more considerate in Portland than in the more rural areas I used to ride in. It may be a cliche, but rednecks in pickup trucks really are some of the worst offenders.
But I continue to be amazed at otherwise reasonable people who sincerely believe that bikes should not be on the streets. I went out for coffee with one of my coworkers the other afternoon, and he made it very clear that he thinks bikes have no place on the road with cars. It’s too dangerous, bikes don’t obey the law, they’re unsafe because cyclists get tired when they ride (apparently impairing their reaction time), and because bicycles don’t pay for the roads and so have no right to use them.
I didn’t bother arguing with him. This is someone who would zealously argue that the government has no right to limit what he does on his own property. Nonetheless, he is arguing that the same government should be able to prevent me from riding my bike on public roads. Frankly, once someone tells you that you shouldn’t be riding on the street because you haven’t paid for it, I think reasonable discussion is over. He, too, believes I wildly exxagerate the hostility faced by cyclists.
Crazy Biker Chick, a cyclist and blogger in Toronto, has written a very thoughtul Open Letter to Motorists Who Dislike Cyclists. I urge you to go read it. Much of what she writes resonates clearly with my own experiences.
In particular, she writes about the well-meaning motorist who does something dangerous in an effort to be kind to a cyclist:
I appreciate your kind attempts to let me have the right-of-way when it is not mine. Being on a bicycle its hard losing your momentum again and again at every stop sign. But most of the time its easier if you just go. If you stop to let me cross mid block the car behind you might get surprised and rear-end you.
This has been driving me crazy lately. It’s hard to get too angry, because these drivers mean well, but honestly, you aren’t doing me any favors by stopping in the middle of traffic, and waving me in. Chances are, you are putting yourself at risk by doing it, not to mention putting ME at risk at the same time. My safety depends on my riding predictably, and what you are doing is the precise diametric opposite of predictable. Plus, a lot of the time some well-meaning driver has stopped and is waving me into another lane where traffic isn’t stopping. In that case, I’m not going to go, no matter how vigorously you wave me over.
Anyway, go read Crazy Biker Chick’s letter. She does a better job of stating the case than I could have.