Thursday, November 16, 2006

The bane of motorists

To all bicyclists using major arteries as most Americans are going to, or leaving work,
-- Michael, Penfield, NY.

I usually assume that motorists pull out in front of cyclists or pass them too closely because they don't see them. Michael provides a timely reminder that some people endanger cyclists because they do see them. I discovered his "Bicyclists: The Bane of Motorists" because he included a link to Bike Year, describing it as good place to check out "lots of bike-crybabies."

Maybe Michael's not as troubled by bicycles as he claims to be. Perhaps he's demonstrating his crankiness in hopes of scoring a sidekick gig on a small market classic rock station's morning zoo crew. But let's pretend he's for real. His chief complaints, as far as I can tell, are:

1. He doesn't like it when cyclists ignore traffic regulations.
2. He disapproves of their fashion choices.
3. He hates sharing the road with slower vehicles.

I can dig what Michael's saying on the first point. Although I would include not just cyclists, but all vehicle operators who ignore traffic regulations. As for the second point, I'm occasionally amused by the costumes some folks don before going for a ride, but their clothes don't anger me as they do Michael. On the third point, he excuses the slow pace of tractors and construction equipment, noting that "they are almost always used for work, not transportation," but he can't stomach the idea of following a bicycle until it is safe to pass.

He thinks bikes aren't fast enough for public roads. I think cars are too fast for public roads. And so it's here that Michael and I can find no common ground. Or can we?

I have a solution that will work for both of us. Instead of the "bike-free" roads or "bike's only" lanes Michael proposes, a more practical solution is strict enforcement of 25 mph speed limits for all vehicles. That way, the gap between bicycle and car speed virtually disappears.

Michael might be happier traveling at a less frantic pace. He wouldn't be forced to "lock down on" his brakes after "rounding a difficult curve." There's not much call for brake lock downing at 25 mph. He will also find the difficult curves easier to negotiate at lower speeds. On the other hand, what about those times Michael wants to go faster? Well, unless he's using his Honda Accord as some sort of freelance ambulance, there's simply no justification for speeding. After all, cars are almost always used for transportation, not work.


Jim said...

Sounds like a delightful character.

Seriously, I'd like to see the community where cyclists really are the bane of motorists. I drove for 11 years before getting on a bike, and I can't recall cyclists being a bane. Even when I used to commute along busy streets at rush hour on my bike, I can't imagine that I ever delayed any motorist's trip by more than 5 or 10 seconds (I was always mindful of not causing a hassle unnecessarily). At the very most, motorists pulling out of driveways and parking lots had to wait for me to pass before they could safely pull into the street. But that would be true if I was driving a car, so I don't see a major difference there. Adding another car to an already crowded street is likely to slow down traffic at least as much as a cyclist will. I suppose if my commute involved taking the lane up a narrow and twisty mountain pass, with a string of cars behind me, I would see the point of Michael's gripe. But where I ride, for the most part, drivers are easily able to get past me with room to spare, and nobody suffers a delay.

And I wear regular-looking clothes and follow the principle of "better safe than sorry" with respect to traffic laws (stop signs and such).

I think part of Michael's rationale involves the widely held view of bicycles as toys (to be frank, a lot of cyclists regard their bicycles as toys also). With this view, a skewed perspective of one's self-importance takes on new dimensions when some child-like cyclist is "playing in the street" while real people, the adults in the world, are just trying to get to work and back. I think that's where the clothing critiques come in. The lycra costumes are pretty hard to take seriously, especially to a non-cyclist. My unscientific research suggests that motorists are less angry at the cyclist in khaki slacks.

Jay said...

"My unscientific research suggests that motorists are less angry at the cyclist in khaki slacks."

My experience is the same. While riding to work in long pants, and home in well-worn shorts and t-shirt or sweatshirt, I seem to get mostly smiles, of the type you'd expect from people who pity you for not being able to afford a car like everyone else. I'm dorky-looking enough already, without compounding it with a lycra costume.