September 25, 2009

Apply civility and good road planning to stem the road rage against cyclists

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If we are going to share the road, push the green commute and all, some motorists seriously are going to have to reconsider their attitude toward cyclists. That’s what Bill Schneider concludes in New West, and as a longtime cyclist, I have to agree. He points out that the majority of drivers are courteous and get the “share the road” idea, but that a small but dangerous minority seem to viciously hate cyclists and go out of their way to show the hate by throwing bottles, veering close to cyclists at high speeds, yelling obscenities. You get the idea. Worse, speaking from personal experience, you never know when the haters are going to emerge from behind the wheel.

Those who share this point of view, or even sympathize with it, will be pointing out here that cyclists do stupid things.  Not all of them stop at all the stop signs, for example. Sometimes they inconvenience motorists by riding side-by-side in a lane. Highly annoying. Okay. But as Schneider points out, not all drivers obey 100 percent of the road rules. Think about it.  Have you ever seen a driver talking on a cell phone? Rolling through a stop sign? Running a red light? Should we throw missiles at the driver, swerve dangerously close or “tap”  him with our fenders just to each him a lesson? Would that fix things? We call that road rage. It’s against the law.

You can tell Schneider and I are on the same page. Read his column. It’s a good one.

The conflicts between cyclists and drivers are legendary, but perhaps a little road engineering would help. In Vancouver, B.C., recently, cyclists recently took a confrontational attitude in a ride by members of a controversial bike advocacy group called Critical Mass, active in many cities. But as Douglas Todd points out in the Vancouver Sun, most cyclists don’t want to shut down all car traffic. Like Schneider and me, he drives a car, and has friends who do.

“Serious cyclists want to follow the rules, wear helmets, obey stop signs and be respectful of cars, buses, pedestrians and everyone else. But young and old cyclists need more than a piecemeal infrastructure to truly do so, so that they’re not constantly forced to risk their lives by being suddenly funneled into chaotic traffic situations.

In addition to lessons in civility, as Schneider is dishing, it also means spending money on bike and pedestrian routes, Todd writes. He’d like to see the city add substantially to the network of bike routes it already has, like some European cities have.

“Metro Vancouverites like to think of themselves as ‘green.’ But if we as a society are to create quieter, cleaner cities that are less dependent on imported energy, we need to be a little more courageous, and willing to learn from much more bike-friendly cities beyond North America. In other words, we need to put our money and willingness to evolve where our ecological mouth is.

— Rita Hibbard

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