Responding to Slate's 'Why You Hate Cyclists': Drivers Not Irrational, Simply Don't Expect Bicyclists

It's not because all because drivers are 'irrational.'

What would be "irrational", and by "irrational", I mean 'devoid of sound judgment', would be if drivers did look at these stats of bicycle accidents, deaths day-after-day, and then still continue to drive recklessly.

But fact is, most drivers probably don't see those stats, let alone seek out and mine and monitor the latest bicycle incidents.  In all likelihood, drivers don't care what bicyclists do, just as long as they're out of the way.

The problem is not that too many drivers are 'irrational' or whatever label bicyclists want to plaster upon them, it is simply this:  most drivers, least here in LA simply do not expect bicyclists to be on the streets.  This means that drivers usually do not 'anticipate' bicyclists. 

There's a reason LA is branded as having a 'car culture';  most people expect cars to take them any and everywhere with efficiency.  For example, my folks expect their Honda CRV to take them from the abode in the San Fernando Valley to my mom's job in South LA everyday, back and forth.  My godsis, a new hardcore bicyclist takes her Prius from her house in Highland Park in LA to her job down here in Long Beach.  Even if they don't really like cars, they depend on it as a basic necessity as they travel far from home to job.  The car gets each of them where they need to be, but each of them are more sympathetic to bicyclists.

But not everyone bikes, or knows me or any bicyclist period, and won't approach bicyclists with the same bit of caution and/or sympathy.

Implicit in the expectation of efficient travel is an expectation amongst many that automobiles are the only vehicles with the right of way on the streets, leaving little room for any other modes of transportation.  The resulting tensions between bicyclists and drivers are problems of environmental design and culture, not one of bad decision-making either by bicyclists and/or drivers

Speaking from my lens as a former driver-only still surrounded by tons of people who drive everywhere, most drivers view bicyclists on the street (as opposed to the sidewalks) as nothing more than anomalies.  We are nothing more than "obstacles" for which fast-moving drivers feel the need to speed around.  A lot of the time drivers tell me they aren't sure what to do when a bicyclist is on the street sharing with them.

Drivers do not expect, do not anticipate, and so are not 'prepared' to 'deal' with bicyclists, especially on streets with no large and/or clear street markings.  Now from my own experience as a bicyclist, a lot of drivers will switch to another lane, speed up, and immediately switch back, or speed by me, barely skinning me.  Sometimes, they will add a honk or a yell.  Many times I've been tempted to carry heavy objects in my bag to launch back at many a reckless driver.

Much as I'm tempted to counter a driver's 'emotional' overreaction with my own 'emotional' overreaction, it's a tension continually fueled by roads designed to facilitate automobile traffic only.  It's a tension that will continue to manifest if there aren't changes to the designs of roads.  It's a tension that will continue unless there are large, clear reminders in the form of signage and street markings to drivers that they expect...bicyclists.

When I think of drivers expecting bicyclists to be on the road as a potential big difference-maker, I think to events where streets are closed off to an automobile traffic.  I think of street fairs, Marathons, and triathlons.  People, drivers, bicyclist, expect the streets to close and respect them, allowing for pedestrian and/or bicycle traffic to actually populate what is usually the domain of cars.  Unless really old and/or de-ranged, drivers don't "irrationally" barge through cones or "Road Closed" signs.  Now, that would be irrational.

I think most drivers don't get mad when they know what to expect on the roads;  people can work their way with or around whatever is expected.  That's what I've learned from observing how drivers avoid those street fairs, Marathons, and Triathlons.  I think if you were to do a survey it's largely the unexpected occurrences, against which people don't know how to react, that pisses people off. 

When they know to expect something, it seems like people don't get as entitled, therefore not as mad or as hateful. 

Drivers need to be made to expect bicyclists to be on the road. 

That can be done in a number of ways.  In the short-term it seems it'll be through big group rides, and more people being on the streets.  Maybe we need to create more reasons for people to be on the streets, more ciclavias, runs, street fairs, etc.  Long-term, it needs to be through big signs and street markings, though arguably guerrilla versions of those infrastructural changes can be created.


Narinda said...

Here in the Bay Area, I've noticed a lot of streets with cyclists symbols painted on the asphalt, with "Share The Road" signs. That's something that's starting to pop up around LA, too, which I appreciate. The green paint that brightly stripes Spring Street is also a prominent reminder to share the road.

Really though, driver education ought to seriously emphasize anticipating cyclists so that drivers will be mindful (and kind!) whether or not there's signage.

Brian J. Delas Armas said...

Damn, I was looking for your blog for the longest time. Thank you for finally posting.

I agree that driver's ed needs to emphasize bicycle rrrights, but unless the driver will be driving in a context with lots of bicyclists, I don't think they'll know, care, or remember this. Maybe the drivers ed manuals from here on out need to be emphasized in big bold letters that BICYCLISTS ARE ENTITLED TO SHARE THE ROAD.

But even then with drivers ed, we reach only a fraction of drivers, I think driving here in America, if there are no signs and/or no big bicycling communities and cultures in a certain context, these signs and markings are necessary to remind people that they are not by any means the only vehicles entitled to the road.

Excuse me now as I hop into a "Transitional Zone" har har