Monday, September 17, 2007

Sharing the road

All car drivers should have to bike commute to their office, school, or grocery store at least once each year. Trust me on this one: I am a much better driver now because I cycle. When you're in a car, you don't realize how dangerous your mode of transportation can be. Try sharing the road from the security of a small carbon frame, open-air, you-powered vehicle, and all the bad habits we develop as lifelong drivers become abundantly clear: the California stop, the cell phone while speeding, the fiddling-with-the-radio while turning, the blind turn with only a glance at oncoming traffic...Don't get me started about the speeding semi trucks, the cars full of teenagers who think it's hilarious to see how close they can get to your elbow, or the idiots trying to discipline their dogs/kids/friends while passing you.

I know there are plenty of bad cyclists out there -- really, really bad cyclists who make your commute and mine hell. I'm all in favor of bike licensing; I think fixies don't belong on roads; and I would like to see us all pass a basic cycling skills test before we get to take our bikes off designated multimodal paths. But to me the difference will always come down to this: if I'm a bad cyclist, I might die. If I'm a bad driver, someone else might die. If I'm a good cyclist who meets a bad driver, it doesn't matter how many laws I obey, because I'm going to be the one who pays the price.

Lately, I've noticed an uptick in crazy drivers all over the Northwest: I nearly lost the back half of my car in Seattle when I stopped for a red light that the guy behind me assumed I'd run. I've been halfway through a crosswalk when someone decides they don't need to slow down for me. I had a sedan miss me by about four feet today as I cycled home because he didn't yield to the right of way. It was easier to run the stop sign than to see if anyone might be entering the intersection.

I know we're all busy, stressed out, and sick of the region's growing traffic, but what happened to being kind to each other? Or to recognizing that slowing for a yellow light -- or stopping for a freaking red one -- is not going to take hours off our day? If you're in that much of a hurry...maybe you should try leaving earlier?

What really bothers me is that you aren't going to get a lot of jail time if you kill a cyclist down here, even if you're speeding, running a light, or performing other acts of negligence which distract you enough to run down a human being. Last month, a guy road raged on two cyclists because he didn't like sharing the road: he intentionally hit one, sped off, struck the other, and then tried to flee. One cyclist went to the hospital; the perp is free on reduced bail.

I know we aren't always easy to see, and I know sometimes the laws for cyclists and drivers get confusing...but please, try it from our perspective once. Think of it as drivers ed redux. I guarantee you'll be a kinder, gentler, safer driver afterwards. I know I am.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I tend to share very similar thoughts about taxi cabs and pedestrians in NY -- It can get downright hazardous!

Still waiting for bar results, so my sign-off must be:
Wishing for luck in NY