Sightline’s reluctant cyclist checking in here—although I might have to take “reluctant” out of my title: over a month into my cycling adventures and I can count the days I haven’t been on my bike on one hand.
Drivers and cyclists alike probably noticed that today is National Bike to Work Day. (I’m still coming down from the caffeine buzz of slurping down three cups of free coffee provided to bike-commuters on my ride into the office.) It was great to see so many folks on the road.
Of course, such a massive event doesn’t come without backlash. Across the blogosphere, Bike to Work Day posts will draw heat from drivers and worked-up cyclists alike (maybe they had too much coffee, too?). For example, check out Danny Westneat’s excellent piece on bikelash at the Seattle Times, and its comments.
Personally, I haven’t encountered much ill-will from drivers on the road yet—the only time I’ve exchanged words was when a driver stopped to compliment me on my hand signals—but I have had my fair share of close calls with cars.
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I’ll be honest: I can see where animosity comes from on the side of bikers. Every time a distracted driver (I’m talking to you, Mr. Dog-On-My-Lap-While-Talking-On-Phone) zigs when they should zag, or rolls into a bike lane without looking, I get hot under the collar. After all, it’s my life they’re putting on the line.
But I can sympathize with drivers, too. Bikes are often unexpected, sometimes hard to see, and slower-moving. Frustrating? Perhaps. But cause for anger? That seems excessive.
No doubt rhetoric exacerbates the problem. Witness the imaginary “War on Cars” that crops up semi-frequently in the media. Or news stories cataloging drivers’ complaints when a bike lane gets added to their street. And no anti-bike conversation would be complete without the Tale of the Scofflaw Cyclist. (FWIW, I think complaints of errant cyclists are overblown—for every reckless biker I can spot at least one car making similar transgressions.)
Unfortunately, the burden of acceptance falls on us bikers; such is the story of any change to the status quo. Riding predictably, establishing well-known bikeways, and obeying the law are all a given. But, at least in my eyes, getting more riders on the road is the most important factor. Witness today: Bike to Work Day draws thousands inspiring people to ride, knowing they’ll be surrounded by kindred spirits (all the free stuff certainly helps, too).
Recently, we’ve written about some of the demographics of cycling. There are some surprises to be sure—like biking might not be as white and rich as you think, and ladies, where are you? I think those numbers give us some clues as to what’s working. The next challenge is to figure out what’s broken and how we can fix it.
So, dear readers, what do you think we can do to get more “reluctant cyclists” out on the road?
Photo credit: IMG_8392 / Don Brubeck / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Bike facilities should be the norm for any road. Sharrows for narrow roads that don’t have enough room for a lane, bike lanes for those that do, and just enough separated paths to enable most people to overcome their perception of low safety while cycling. (The one caveat with this is that we should roll this out gradually, so that we retain the density of ridership in bicycle-friendly corridors that helps makes cycling feel much safer in those areas—e.g. Dexter Ave.)Every facility should include seamless transitions at intersections.Every traffic light should change automatically, rather than by in-road detection that often misses bicycle wheels even for those cyclists that know how to trigger them. Note that this is just common sense for complete streets, and it helps pedestrians at least as much as cyclists.Specific to Seattle, we should eliminate the portion of Aurora that is limited access. Every street that abuts to a concrete divider should instead be a signalized intersection. This will also relieve congestion for cars and enable more people via all travel modes to more easily access Seattle Center and Lower Queen Anne from points east of 99.Signage should be better. Major bike facilities (anything where bikes are not in traffic) should be branded as such, with directional signs from nearby side streets. (We need to do this with transit too but that’s a whole other problem.) Signs telling people to yield to bikes in sharrows and bike lanes and give 3 feet should be seen often enough to be noticed. Someone without local or specialized knowledge should be able to find a bike route from any major arterial in the city just by following the signs.
Matt the Engineer
Elevated bicycle freeway. Through downtown. I’d put it over a sidewalk on 2nd or 3rd, with on/off ramps on 3rd or 4th (to keep them more or less level). Eventually extend it to each of the neighborhoods. Nothing fancy like the Velo City idea. Just a simple raised sidewalk with railing – something like the pedestrian bridge to the ferry.
I was a pedestrian today, about to cross at a clearly marked zebra crossing, when a bicyclist sporting a neon-yellow jacket (so he would be clearly seen by pedestrians???) didn’t yield to or stop for my right-of-way… Made me think of this post and wonder: What hand signals was Eric Hess complimented for, since this particular cyclist was clearly in need of some good bike-etiquette lessons…
Matt the Engineer
Sorry about that [Ped]. To be fair, you were a full lane away and though it’s technically the law for me to sit around and wait for you to cross all the way across (or at least a lane away from me in the other direction), sometimes it’s smarter to use the intent of the law rather than the letter. Your yelling “IT’S A STOP SIGN!” was quite helpful, though a little passive aggressive (ok, the passive part is debatable).(Of course that might not have been you, but I noticed you didn’t mention that the bicyclist put you in danger any way, just didn’t yield to your right of way – if they really did endanger you then I apologize fully for my bicycle brethren. My point is that a little tolerance on all sides goes a long way.)
Nope, no stop sign, no yelling. Just a pedestrian trying to cross a road marked with zebra crossings that are there so pedestrians CAN cross safely. The experience turned out to be a good reminder to ALWAYS look BOTH WAYS before crossing since bicycles are so silent. I was glad I saw the neon-yellow jacket out of the corner of my eye BEFORE I stepped into the street because the bicycler clearly had no intention of stopping or yielding for pedestrians at a crosswalk.
Matt the Engineer
Then I do apologize for them – that’s obviously not cool. But does this happen to you a lot? I’m a pedestrian far more than I’m a bicyclist and I haven’t had any problems with bicyclists disrespecting my space. Actually, I may just be lucky, but considering I commute using almost every mode of transportation possible in Seattle (feet, bike, scooter, car, bus, and once snow shoes) I haven’t had a lot of problems with people using another mode. Even on a bike I feel fairly treated by cars*. In fact, the only place I ever feel that others are being rude is when dealing with other drivers when I’m in a car.* Ok, once someone honked – but I was in the left lane. though it was 3rd and I’m not sure why they were there since it’s buses and bikes only. But the feeling of anger subsided quickly on my part.
Does this happen a lot? I’m new to this part of town (Tacoma), so am still learning what’s “normal” and what’s “not.” All I know is that the situation seemed very awkward—a pedestrian at a zebra crosswalk yielding to a bicycler on the main road. Nevertheless, it was a very good reminder for fellow pedestrians to stop, look both ways, and then safely cross the street.
In my personal experience, Ped and MtE, cyclists rarely stop for pedestrians who are at cross walks (marked or unmarked). Of course, cars don’t either. In fact, when I stop my bike for pedestrians, they are often confused and wave me onward. (I wrote about cars not stopping at x-walks here: http://www.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2007/04/19/car-head)
Hi Alan,Ironically (or courteously?) in this particular case, the cars on the other side of the road were stopping for me at the x-walk, which is why I almost forgot to look both ways since I was assuming cars on my side of the road were also stopping (which they were). But I had forgotten completely to look out for bikes! I’m finding that drivers on this side of town are nicely polite to pedestrians. 🙂
Traffic in Seattle has a culture of a “fairness” attitude, wait your turn, don’t honk, don’t cut the line etc. The friction between drivers and cyclists is often due to the perception that cyclists are violating this perception of fairness, drivers may wonder why a cyclist can get away with dodging through a long line of cars at a red light light and then head out the front side even though they got to the intersection well after the cars and then hold up the whole line because bicycles don’t get up to speed limits? Result, one errant cyclist, 12 irritated drivers.Fair or not, one errant cyclist can irritate a whole line of cars, while an errant driver due to their speed etc. usually only irritates a single cyclist with their bad behavior. The clear fact that a driver’s bad actions are more dangerous to a cyclist than vice versa does not alleviate the initial irritated reaction, hence the disproportionate vitriol directed to the cyclists.
That’s an astute observation, Ruffner. I think you’re onto something there, and not just with regards to Seattle.
“Mr. Dog-On-My-Lap-While-Talking-On-Phone” must be married to:
“Mrs. Dog-On-My-Lap-While-Talking-On-Phone-While-Smoking-And-Drinking-Coffee” – I’m not making her up, BTW.
Self-driving cars can’t get here soon enough!
The Tim Channel
I heard a story over here in Germany I want to share with you folks. During the fuel crises of the early 1970’s, they occasionally shut down the German autobahn to auto traffic and let the bikes uses it.
Apparently, the tradition still continues in certain places around here from time to time: