A quick scan of my Facebook friends list will reveal that I have a lot of friends who ride bikes. But I also have a lot of friends who don’t ride bikes. My newsfeed includes lots of bike updates but also theatre updates from the 15 years I spent working in professional theatre and higher education, with a large concentration of my theatre friends living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and other metropolitan areas. Interestingly, these are all areas where there are also large populations of people who ride bikes.
From time to time, one of my non-bike friends will post about bikes. Typically it’s a rant, often expressing frustration at the erratic behavior of bikes, riding dangerously, or slowing down their drive because they’re “in the way” on the roads we share. I often respond, trying to be rational and educational, not emotional, and hoping to enlighten these non-bike friends (and their friends who may or may not ride bikes) about the world of cycling. The response is typically positive. Hopefully, I’m able to help my friends understand bikes a bit more and to be safer drivers with respect to sharing the road.
When I started riding a bicycle in 1999, I became a much better car driver. I saw the road in a new way. For the first time in my life I SAW bikes on the road. So, dear friends, let me share some thoughts with you, because I know all my friends are AWESOME and want to be the best darn drivers they can be!
Since I can get a bit verbose, I’m going to start with my most important take-away. Simply put, we are not BIKES, but rather we are PEOPLE who ride bikes. We are mothers and wives, sisters and daughters. We might be your co-worker or your best friend. Someone LOVES us and would be very sad if we didn’t return home from our bicycle ride. And when we throw a leg over the bicycle, we are VULNERABLE. Our safety depends on our ability to co-exist with other road users. When a collision between an automobile and a bicycle occurs, the bicycle NEVER WINS. Oftentimes, these collisions result in injury and sometimes death, as well as damage to our little tiny bicycles caused by your big huge car.
I’m the first to agree that there are some very BAD bicycle riders out there. There are riders who IGNORE the law, who behave erratically, and take undue risks. There are also riders who DON’T KNOW the law and don’t know how to be safe, predictable riders. But there are also riders who are considerate, follow the law, and respect other road users. So please, when you get angry with ONE rider, don’t transfer that anger to ALL riders.
When you rant on Facebook or other public forums, you’re sending a message to all who might be in your audience that bicycles are not okay. When you make an off-handed comment, perhaps trying to be funny, that “you should hit him and teach him a lesson,” you’re encouraging violence and (heaven forbid you ever accidentally hit a cyclist), setting yourself up for criminal charges (yes, twitter feeds and FB posts have been used to incriminate drivers who have hit bicyclists). And when you post your displeasure with bicycles, you’re encouraging others to share your anger. You’re making it okay for us to HATE. You might be condoning violence. You might be responsible for one of your friends to road rage against a bicycle in the future.
And just like SOME riders are bad, there are many car drivers who are bad: law-breakers, distracted drivers, aggressive drivers, etc. Heck, there are SOME bad people in every social situation. Maybe you have a co-worker who snaps his gum all day long. But does that mean that ALL your co-workers are annoying? Or that girl on the bus who wears too much perfume? That doesn’t mean that ALL girls who ride the bus are inconsiderate. So yes, there are definitely SOME people who ride bicycles irresponsibly, but that doesn’t mean that ALL people who ride bicycles do so.
The number of people who ride bicycles is steadily increasing in the United States. In addition to riding for recreation, more and more folks are using a bicycle for transportation: commuting to work, running errands, forgoing the car for a short trip. And many municipalities are creating safe infrastructure for bicycles and cars to co-exist on city streets, as well as educating both car drivers and bicycle riders how to co-exist safely. Bicycles are here to stay, so it would benefit all of us if we approached our road use with patience and an understanding of how bicycle riders approach co-existing with you in your car.
Tomorrow, part 2 of this post will cover lots of great information about how we ride our bicycles (legally), common riding conventions, and how you, as a driver, can learn how to co-exist with bicycles in your daily driving.