Driving From the Bike Seat
A bicyclist gains perspective pushing gas pedals.
I am a cyclist. I am also a bicyclist. I have not owned a car since 1999 and have used a bicycle as my primary means of transportation since then. More recently I have developed a taste for getting up at the crack of dawn to don an outfit made of lycra and ride as fast as I can. Point being that I spend a lot of time on a bike, and given that I live in the city I spend a lot of time in traffic as well. Over the years I grew to loathe automobiles and and the people who operate them.
To express my distaste for cars and drivers I often employed techniques such as yelling, obscene gestures, and sometimes even spitting. For some reason, sending messages this way never seemed to convey the notion to that they might be endangering my life and perhaps they should be more mindful of bicyclists. Go figure, a person not responding to negative feedback and personal attack.
Thus, after years of shaking my fist of rage and screaming my indignation, I decided to treat drivers the way that I wanted them to treat me: like human beings. I dropped the “get out of my way” attitude and started thinking of cars not as four-wheeled murder machines but as modes of transportation driven by people who wanted the same thing I did: to get wherever we were going without incident.
I engaged drivers and bicyclists both in discussions on traffic safety and laws attempting to apply some reason to the conversation, but usually finding myself biased towards bicyclists and kvetching about how ignorant drivers were. It was easy to view things exclusively from my own perspective. After all, I follow traffic laws and use common sense on my bike, so any encounter I have with a driver must be their fault. Right? For the sake of pseudo-science, I decided to give driving a whirl to prove that cars and bikes can indeed share the road if drivers would just quit being jerks and pay attention.
My very trusting roommate was kind enough to loan me her car for a week while she was out of town. I drove to work, to the grocery, to (shameless plug) volunteer at Bike Easy, run errands, etc. – following all of the routes that I usually take on my bike. For five days, I never exceeded the speed limit, I always used my turn signal, I always came to complete stops at stop signs and I never became aggressive. I didn’t even fiddle with the radio (it was on). Guess how many times I had to lock up the brakes because of a bicyclist. Go ahead, guess.
Much to my chagrin, the correct answer is twice. And in neither case was the bicyclist doing anything particularly reckless like going the wrong way down a one-way street, weaving through traffic, or blowing through stop signs. In both cases, I just didn’t see them right away. Me, the vocal bike advocate. Me, the ever vigilant driver. How is it possible that I almost hit a bicyclist with a car?
Well, sometimes it’s hard to see bicyclists from a moving car even when you are consciously trying to. I felt disconnected from the outside world. There are blind corners everywhere and stop signs are sometimes hidden by overgrown foliage, illegally parked cars or they are just plain missing. And then there is the torrential rain that is so common to this part of the world, stretches of road without streetlights, and infrastructure that was designed for mules and carriages. I am not making excuses for all drivers (especially you guys, Texty McGee and Drunkerton Schwasteyface), but driving can be tricky even when you do everything right.
At the end of the day, there are going to be cars and bikes on the road together. I gained perspective in the driver’s seat. As long as bicyclists are going to demand that drivers respect their right to the road, then bicyclists need to respect their right to be there too. Chances are, they don’t want to hurt you.