Are bike riders trying to piss off drivers?
There are idiots who ride bikes. There are also idiots who drive cars. But idiot or not, we all deserve the right to live through a bike ride and be treated with respect as humans, whether we hold up the traffic or not.
I’d be willing to bet that most of my non-cyclist friends secretly hate me because I’m a cyclist.
I have have sat quietly (this will shock many people who know me well) while people I admire and respect have gone on epic rants about cyclists who take the lane, cyclists who ride in groups that slow down traffic, cyclists who roll through stop signs, cyclists who weave in and out of traffic, cyclists who… the list goes on.
I long ago lost the urge to engage in arguments in an attempt to defend myself and my fellow riders.
I firmly believe that unless you ride regularly you just have no idea why a bike rider does what he or she does on the road. I also know that most folks who don’t ride have no idea what the rules of the road for a cyclist actually are.
Fact: In California it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk.
The vehicle code in California classifies a bicycle as a vehicle. Sidewalks are exclusively for the use of pedestrians. Bikes on the sidewalk present an immanent hazard to pedestrians. They also present an immanent hazard to cyclists. A driver pulling out of a driveway looks left, then right, then left, then right and pulls quickly into traffic. He or she looks for slow-moving pedestrians on the sidewalk. A teen boy in my community was recently run hit and seriously injured when a car pulling out of a driveway, whose driver never saw him coming, hit him because he was riding on the sidewalk.
In spite of this I hear many, many drivers complain that they wish cyclists would stay on the sidewalk, where they believe we belong.
I do wish that this country structured our transportation systems to account for all modes of transport. I lived, briefly, in Amsterdam and loved, LOVED, the segregated lanes that belong to cyclists and cyclists alone. I loved, LOVED, the thousands of miles of bike trails, immaculately paved and maintained, that crisscross the entire country. These exist though because Dutch culture embraces the bicycle as a MAJOR mode of transport. The attitude of Americans towards bikes is mostly hostile. A bicycle is a toy for children. Adults who choose to get around on bikes are laughed at and/or cursed at.
I don’t currently have a job that is conducive to using a bicycle as my primary mode of transport, but that was not always the case. For several years I rarely drove. I commuted from the burbs to the big city by a combination of bike and ferry. I know many people who do commute, grocery shop and basically get everywhere they need to by bike. What a bike commuter deals with, on a daily basis, in this country is an attitude of derision and disrespect, when what he or she should receive is gratitude.
Drivers get annoyed by cyclists who they perceive as impeding traffic, without considering that every person on a bike who commutes that way is one less car on the road.
Cyclists who ride recreationally, like myself, get perhaps even less respect. I have had full soda cans thrown at me from fast moving vehicles by people who cursed at me as they did so. I have been run off the road, cut off, yelled at, honked at and even once had a bucket of ice water thrown on me (what boggles the mind is realizing that in order to have a bucket of ice water to throw on me or any other cyclist the driver and passenger had to plot to do this very thing and then seek out a cyclist to toss it at).
I think the perception of us is that we’re obnoxious hobbyists who are ruining the road and slowing traffic for drivers, who feel entitled to exclusive use of the roadways. These folks also should be grateful we’re out there. See, me and my kind are moving. We’re using our muscles, we’re working our hearts and lungs. We are far less likely to need long-term care for lifestyle diseases, or to become a burden on society (and the tax dollars of motorists). Not to mention that when said motorists are, themselves, enfeebled by their chronic lack of physical exertion it will be us fit and spry elderly cyclists who are still productive members of society, contributing our tax dollars to their end of life care.
I’m being a bit flippant, but also a bit serious.
Ultimately, what this comes down to for me is a profound sadness that our culture has become so centered on getting from one place to another with as great of speed as possible that we have built our infrastructure to optimize moving rapidly through the world instead of fully inhabiting it. Don’t get me wrong, I love zipping along on my bike, but the thing that drives me to NEED to get in the saddle is the experience of simply BEING in the world.
I don’t know. Perhaps, just perhaps, the thing that antagonizes drivers about cyclists is that they perceive themselves as not having time to play the way we do. Maybe what drives the anger from the man behind the wheel towards the man on two wheels is that he’s in a hurry to get somewhere he doesn’t really want to go.