Cyclists: Striking fear in the hearts of drivers everywhere

I was thinking about going out for a bicycle ride this morning when I saw this article by Seth Norman on the opinion page in the Seattle Times: Cyclists strike fear in a driver’s heart.

Peace man

As one who rides a bicycle to my workplace every day, and who rides longer distances for recreation frequently, the title grabbed my attention. It is heartening to read that Mr. Norman is fearful of the violence and damage that can be caused by an automobile and is cognizant of the inherent dangers of driving. I agree that riding a bicycle in traffic on our shared public roads can be potentially hazardous.

He writes:  “Fear: Yours really should run rampant, I think, but here I refer to the trepidation of drivers steering massive machines that — mishandled in one moment — will leave you crippled, maimed or dead.”

I don’t feel fearful most of the time while riding my bicycle but I do appreciate when people who are driving cars are empathetic to others they encounter.

And “…you are so fragile, a slow antelope pacing an elephant herd.” This is an inapt analogy: in the wild, antelopes can easily outrun a herd of elephants. But with cars and bicycles it is the opposite. Common sense, as well as countless traffic research studies, show that slower mandated speeds for auto traffic is far safer for all users of the road. Lower speed equals less death, and fewer injuries when there are crashes. But this isn’t the reality on our streets.

He says, “You trust that I’m not oblivious, distracted, half-tanked or a full-blown sociopath eager for sport. Your faith bewilders me, frankly. While I don’t challenge your legal or moral rights to ride, sometimes I wonder about your sanity.”  I find it disturbing that Mr. Norman assumes that drivers behave so poorly, choose such risky behavior, and are so misanthropic that running people down with a car is considered “sport”, and then finds that people who ride bicycles are the ones who are insane.

What I find insane, is that in the US, there are over 30,000 people killed yearly in car crashes, and that auto drivers frequently are not held responsible when those crashes involve  pedestrians and people riding bicycles. In a list of causes of death worldwide compiled by the World Health Organization, death by automobile is in the top ten, just behind diabetes. 

I think that we should all be held accountable for following traffic laws. And while I feel that the laws of the road should be modified to better accommodate more than just automobiles, I still feel you need to be safe no matter how you use the road.

Mr. Norman cites the frustration of sharing the road with others and describes how he breaks the law in order to be a considerate and safe driver. He asks for forgiveness for, “grinding my molars when a pair of cyclists pedal side-by-side on this stretch or a club outing spreads out four deep.”

Many of us purposely move into the middle of lane because it not only doesn’t feel safe, it isn’t safe. There is nothing worse than having a car try to slip by you in a space that really is too narrow to squeeze through. If that cyclist were a car, or an immoveable obstacle like post, most would not risk it. If there are more than two riders abreast, these riders are not following the rules of the road and he should alert the proper authorities. See your local Driver’s Manual for details.

He also hates it when a cyclist darts out of  a bicycle lane. This is a new complaint by motorists. Typically it is that cyclists routinely blow through stop signs. I am more upset when someone driving a car runs a red light scattering startled pedestrians in their wake, but to each his own.

I hope that Mr. Norman will continue to channel his rage-now-turned-to-fear, and push for safer streets for all of us – people walking, people riding bicycles, and people driving – so that he can enjoy his choice of transportation without grinding his teeth, and without fear. That’s all any of us can hope for.