Monday, October 16, 2006

Maine, State of Cyclist Intolerance

I can't believe what I read today, from Maine.

Drivers in this country are out of control, our DOT's are lacking in vision, and the leadership obviously needs to be replaced if motorists feel this way.

After a cyclist was killed (note, the cyclist was killed, not the car driver), these are some of the things that those sensible, God-fearing, quaint and quiet people of Maine wrote.

"Get them off the road," wrote one reader.

"Little did I know all the cyclists I see have no vehicle and are apparently jobless & homeless thus not contributing to state or local taxes," wrote another.

A third complained that cyclists are to blame for disobeying traffic laws--as if motorists did not routinely do so.

And what does this driver mean?: "As a driver, I keep in check that my vehicle out weighs a human being by a couple thousand pounds. Regardless if an accident I am in is caused by me or a walker/runner/bicyclist, that person is likely to suffer more damage getting hit by my car, than my car would suffer in such an accident."

Does that mean they want the person to suffer more than their car or the other way around? Let's hope it's the latter.

Now to put this in perspective, who is to blame for these perspectives, and this fighting on the road?

Our leaders are to blame for not allocating more dollars to creating safe bike lanes on the major roads, the Departments of Transportation, state and local, for not implementing safe ways for us to travel, and the car manufacturers who continue to build faster cars that only provide safety for the people inside a vehicle--and not for the safety of people outside.

Here is the article:
http://www.mainetoday.com/iherald/061016colleen.html
Drivers versus cyclists: Just exactly whose road is it anyway?
By Colleen Stone

Monday, October 16, 2006
Following a collision between a man on a bicycle and a truck in South Portland more than a week ago that killed the cyclist, people came out of the Internet woodwork to add their two cents on the story at MaineToday.com.
Only most of the comments weren't about the specific incident itself, but the larger topic of drivers versus cyclists in general.

Emphasis on versus.

A lot of drivers had clearly had enough of dealing with cyclists on the road whom they saw as reckless. Someone posting with the handle "s" thought cyclists were putting themselves and drivers in peril by flouting the rules of the road:

"Cyclists are supposed to follow the same rules of the road are they not? Why then, do most continue thru stop signs and weave in and out and around thru traffic rather than wait like the rest of us? This does cause problems and irritation and is dangerous."

The anecdotes about poor cycling etiquette and plain old recklessness went on and on: Cyclists riding across the entire expanse of a lane, proceeding through red lights, not using turn signals and cutting across traffic. While such behavior isn't necessarily the rule among cyclists, it's common enough that many have developed a hate/hate relationship with bikes on the road.

Ben was one person calling for stricter regulation of bikes as a solution to such infractions: "You have (to) take a class and have a license to do anything on a public way. Why don't you have to have a bike license? Also who pays for the roads that the bikes ride on? Isn't that why we have to register our vehicles to pay for roads to be maintained?"

More education Ð for cyclists and drivers alike Ð about the rules of the road concerning bikes and vehicles would be helpful. But as some of you were quick to point out, making licensing a condition of operating a motor vehicle doesn't weed out all of the horrific drivers on the road.

And as Rick pointed out, a lot of cyclists do pay for road maintenance, through vehicle fees and other taxes:

"Little did I know all the cyclists I see have no vehicle and are apparently jobless & homeless thus not contributing to state or local taxes."

Another visitor questioned why anyone would ride a bike in the dark anyway, saying cyclists difficult enough for drivers to spot during the day. To that, Jesse had this to say:

"Perhaps the cyclist had a job, but no car. That's what someone would be doing on the road at 6:00 in the morning. If you have trouble seeing cyclists in broad daylight, maybe YOU should be riding (or walking)."

Some drivers seem to forget that for some cyclists, bikes aren't just a means of getting in some exercise or recreation; they're also a mode of transportation. For some people, their only mode of transportation. Of course, that doesn't mean that cyclists shouldn't take all possible precautions to make sure they're visible to drivers. Some weren't so sure even taking those precautions would be enough to satisfy what they see as inconsiderate drivers.

To mock some drivers' apparent lack of consideration for bikers, one poster slipped into character and launched into a tirade against those pesky bikers:

"While I'm putting down the phone and finishing my donut, this bicyclist comes out of nowhere!! If I had waited just a couple of more seconds to turn off the "Men in Black 2" video, he would have run right into me, probably scratching my new paint job."

Of course, the satire was lost on some and a few indignant comments followed. So maybe there's hope yet.

LW pointed out that no matter who's at fault in an accident involving a car and a bike, drivers have one big advantage over cyclists: a steel cage.

"As a driver, I keep in check that my vehicle out weighs a human being by a couple thousand pounds. Regardless if an accident I am in is caused by me or a walker/runner/bicyclist, that person is likely to suffer more damage getting hit by my car, than my car would suffer in such an accident."

All the more reason for drivers and cyclists to exercise caution and courtesy.

Another user, Reason, wondered why people were discussing bikes and cars competing for road real estate at all. As in: Why are bikes on the road, anyway?

"Get them off the roads Ð the bikes, that is. Stand-alone paths that commuters and families can use safely. I'd love to see bike paths crisscross the city and extend beyond to neighboring towns Ð Freeport, Brunswick."

In an ideal world, a bike would never touch a road. But as we all know, the world is far from ideal. And when that's the case, such clashes as the ones we see between drivers and cyclists occur.

CU, remarking on the South Portland accident, urged people to stop blaming and start working toward solutions:

"I hope we can find a way to work together, without blame, to make sure no other drivers or emergency personnel have to see that ever again."

On that, I think everyone can agree.


KEEP UP with Colleen Stone's latest thoughts and musings on Maine and post
your comments in her regularly updated blog:
http://travel.mainetoday.com/fromaway/blog

Reader comments

Biker 69 of Portland, ME
Oct 16, 2006 1:22 PM
I spend a lot of time riding the roads in Southern Maine. I have found that many drivers are oblivious to a cyclist's presence on the road and really do not have a clue as to the courtesy they should extend to a cyclist if they do happen to notice them, unless of course the driver rides a bike him/her self. And it is true that many cyclists bend the rules of the road when operating in traffic. I would agree with the idea that more training and instruction is needed in driver's ed courses in an effort to try and reduce accidents, and biker's need this type of training also. But it really comes down to courtesy on both sides of the issue. Bikers: follow the rules. Be noticed when riding but avoid taunting drivers with your presence. And don't forget that bicycles are to be equiped with lights (not reflectors) when operating after sun down. Drivers: give bikers some room to work and don't forget that the biker that you just passed is still moving with you when you make your right hand turn!
Erik West of Bath, ME
Oct 16, 2006 12:21 PM
I've taught bike safety education to youth and adults in Maine for seven years. I've taken adults out in traffic to learn how to ride safely and legaly. I also put about 20,000 miles a year on my car traveling the state, so I think I can see the driver and the cyclist point of view.

That said, I need to comment on one of her conclusions. She states that "In an ideal world, a bike would never touch a road." I think in an ideal world, bikes and cars would coexist. They would share the road. Car drivers would also be cyclists and would expect bikes. Cyclists would expect to follow the automobile laws and realize the inherent disadvantage to being on a bicycle in terms of being seen. And both groups realize the inherent advantage of being a cyclists and being in better physical shape as a result.

For years, bicycle educators like myself have tried to find a way to reach the cyclist that we see riding against traffic, in the dark, without lights, without a helmet, etc. But this demographic is very hard to reach as an educator. And they may well have been taught as a child, as I was, to ride their bike on the wrong side of the street.

However, if the American culture accepts bicycles as road users, like the law does, this behavior is less likely to happen. Today, when a person turns 16 and gets a licence to drive, many expect them to never ride a bike again. This is such a shortsighted assumption.

FInally, We dont need to create an ideal world for it to happen. We need only to look at european contries where cars and bikes coexist everyday. How do they do it? It is part of their culture.

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