Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On the Thoughts of Drivers, BBB Archives 3/09/06

March 9, 2006--We all think we know what drivers think about cyclists. So often they let us know. "Get off the road you idiot," said one to me. Another, a very large woman who clearly never walks or does any other form of exercise as she rammed me off the road (9W, a signed bike route), screamed, "I have seen kids ride better than you." Clearly, no kid would be safe with her on the road.
But when a driver lets us know how they really feel about cyclists, and it shows up in print in a major tri-state newspaper, the content surprisingly, still surprises. Here I have reprinted, the thoughts of a female driver who, it appears, would like to drive down our country's roads unemcumbered by the riff-raff that test her (or her husband's) driving skills.

"Bicyclists are safety hazards

On Sunday, my husband and I were traveling northeast on Route 202 from
Oakland to Mahwah. This road is a narrow, two-lane road. A bunch of
cyclists going southwest toward Oakland would not yield to any cars.
Drivers who wanted to pass them had to use the opposite lane. Cyclists
just laughed as one oncoming auto almost hit our car.

Something has to be done about this. Cyclists need to be licensed and have to pay insurance if they are going to ride the much-used main roads. Licensing will bring much revenue to this state.

Bicycling is wonderful, but it causes hazards on our main roads. When a bunch of children are killed on a winding road because of cyclists, then maybe someone will wake up.

Betty Callahan, Mahwah"

Here are some responses, (reprinted with permission) from cyclists who use the route she is referring to:

"Typical suburban pose. Blame the cyclists on their small, light bikes most likely following the law while giving the driver with the multi-ton behemoth most likely breaking the law, a free pass. What she failed to point out is that since much of the area that segment of 202 cuts through is sparsely populated, with few connecting roads and mostly small, dead-end sidestreets (parkland on both sides), drivers like to speed through the whole segment. Considering how narrow and winding it is, with poor sight lines, aggressive passing at all costs is both dangerous and stupid.

The bit about children is hilarious. I guess she's referring to a potential result of a chain reaction where a driver goes on the wrong side of the road to pass a cyclist, and then runs into a car heading the opposite direction being driven by a soccer mom and filled with the entire team. Certainly, since the cyclist was on the road, the cyclist is to blame, not the driver who illegally passed and was possibly speeding (to pass faster). Makes you wonder why an editor would print such a dumb letter. Maybe it's a variation on the "pick on the little guy" game that politicians use so well; since cyclists are a small, powerless group compared to drivers, it's easy to gain a following by demonizing the cyclists.

JP Partland"

Here is another response:

JP is right - a driver who passes cyclists unsafely is going to pass
cars unsafely too.
My only question is I'm not sure how much of a shoulder there is on
this section of 202, but again JP felt that is was narrow and curvy,
not a safe place to pull to the side or get passed.
But if there are a dozen or more cars behind, maybe it's time for the
group to stop and let them pass? IT depends on how long this section
is, what's the posted speed and what speed the bikes are keeping up.
IF the cyclists are moving near enough to the speed limit - say 20-25
in a 30 MPH zone, then they are not delaying traffic. Drivers
assuming they should be able to drive 45 in a 30 zone do not have a
right to speed.

This is what I would like to add to this issue: No child has ever been killed by cyclists riding two abreast on the road. But many children have been killed by cars. And many cyclists have been killed by cars. And no child is safe riding a bike on the road, which is the real point. And that is because of people like Betty Callahan and her husband.
In this case, the problem may have also been that the road is not designed properly to accomodate cyclists, who by the way, have a right to the road.
Although sometimes cyclists ride two abreast, it is likely that if they were riding single file on this narrow, winding road, the driver would have had to pass all the way over in the second lane anyway. So the point the driver makes only serves to reinforce her own sense of singular entitlement to the road (ban all others), and her self--righteousness even though she (or her husband) passed the cyclists too quickly and without due caution.
The issue brings up a whole other level of complexity, particularly that drivers are not instructed nor tested on how to drive around cyclists when they go for their license. This is a glaring ommission. Nor are they properly taught by either New Jersey (who has one of the worst motor vehicle administrations in the world) or New York (who at least has a traffic safety program that involves cycling), that cyclists, without a doubt, have a right to the road.
Until the state administrations make the appropriate changes to how they teach, test and inculcate their citizens, there will always be an enormous disconnect between what drivers expect, and what they encounter. And cyclists will continue to ride on roads that are unsafe.

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