They’re aggressive, sometimes dangerously so, and destroy our air quality, communities, and planet.
They’re in the way, run stop signs, and ride without regard for others on the road.
Regardless of which trench (or, god forbid, in the inhospitable in-between of No Man’s Land) you find yourself, you’re likely tired, frustrated, angry, and just looking to get home alive.
In the lengthy and unnecessary war between car drivers and bike commuters, no real progress has been made. It’s time to draw down forces and start working together towards a more prosperous future for everyone.
I often hear gripes from the bike community, admittedly at times my own, that car drivers are inconsiderate and dangerous. I have indeed been harassed on bike boulevards (streets supposedly dedicated to people on bikes), drivers laying on the horn and riding behind me for block after block, perhaps not realizing that their momentary expression of annoyance has permanently damaged my hearing. Or those, too many to count, on their cell phones, putting all road users at risk.
Or the driver who followed me for an entire mile, pulled up alongside riding slowly with his window rolled down, yelling expletives, taunting me, and threatening my life for no reason at all. Some of these interactions have made me deathly afraid, and these sorts of actions are completely inexcusable, but I’ve had just as many drivers stop to let me cross a busy street, smile and wave, pull over to apologize for almost hitting me (she was so sweet), or do nothing at all except drive the speed limit and pass me when it is safe.
I love to ride my bike. It is safer than most believe, it costs the city less in upkeep costs (so more of our taxes can go to schools, paving roads, etc.), I actually meet and interact with neighbors and strangers along my ride, plus I save lot of money every year. Not to mention I save myself years, and everyone else money, in healthcare costs by staying active. I’m no better than anyone else, nor am I worse. I’m just a person who happens to love riding my bike. I’m glad I can choose to do so, and hope more of my community members will choose to ride along, too.
Yes, cars break down roads faster than bikes and they pollute our air and water with some pretty nasty carcinogens, not to mention the detriment to the cohesiveness of communities that lie along busy roads and highways (they’re linked to increased crime, too). But in many communities, we’ve left people with almost no option but to get around by car. In fact I was a car driver until the last few years, my Ex-Husband, a dear friend and wonderful person, drives a car to get to his job where no public transit or bike lanes go, and my parents, also lovely and caring, drive, too.
Does that fact that they drive a car in a culture where most activities for the past 50 years centered around cheap oil make them bad people? Why wouldn’t one try to have understanding for people forced to pay extra thousands of dollars a year to sit in polluted air?
Bike commuting is incredibly enjoyable, and it is a failing of our government to not provide safe routes that are available to everyone in all of our communities, but since the 1950’s our government has invested in unsustainable expanses of highway and suburban development while dismantling and defunding public transit, all of which normalizes and encourages driving for trips that the automobile is not best suited.
Driving as primary transit has come about through a combination of cultural norms, government inaction, short-sighted planning, and lack of understanding of personal responsibility/impact, and that’s my point: If you live in East Portland, of course you drive your car. You likely can’t even walk your child to school, since your neighborhood probably doesn’t even have sidewalks.
And waiting behind a cyclist when you commute to work downtown, after driving that expanse because there is no other feasible option… I can understand your frustration. Violence and aggression are never justified, but frustration? Who wouldn’t feel it. In fact our roads aren’t streets anymore; their design feeds into the perceived but inappropriate unwelcomeness of people on bicycles.
And yes, some cyclists blatantly run stop signs, which is not OK (I generally end up with a rolling stop, and I think most car drivers, if honest, do, too.), but just as many and more, myself included, follow posted traffic signs. And all of us, regardless of mode, make mistakes.
Streets used to be designed for horses. Then some were designed for bikes. Then public transit. Then cars. In the last iteration, room for all other modes was wiped clean, in fact sidewalks were reduced in size to make way for parking, making it less hospitable to exercise your innate proclivities to WALK. A driver’s natural tendency to see the bike as unwelcome and out of place? It’s rooted in our poorly planned and usually myopic street design.
A SYSTEM FOR EVERYONE: PROVIDING MORE OPTIONS
People on bikes are obnoxious vagrants who don’t pay their fair share. People in cars are dangerous jerks who ruin everything wonderful about our communities.
The truth is that at these extremes, we lose sight of each other. Our anger and fear and frustration have prevented us from seeing another human being, now merely a projection of past grievances and caricature rooted in daily emotional fluctuations. Take away the car, take away the bike, and you have two members of the shared community just trying to get home alive and unmaimed.
I believe that we all want the same thing: a transportation system that is speedy and efficient, doesn’t cost too much to maintain, and gives us the opportunity to enjoy our commutes and communities. Realistically, our current system is unaffordable, and it will take people thinking beyond the car for the majority of trips, especially inner city travel, to create transportation budgets that are financially sustainable (and happen to promote public health, the local economy, and environmental protection).
But for right now, let’s rise above the few things that separate us and see our commonality. Put aside your frustrations and anger and be kind to each other out there. Drivers: try taking one or two trips a week by foot or by bike (like to the store or taking your kids to school) and be patient with pedalers and pedestrians. Cyclists: ride respectfully and respond with kindness, not anger.
I’m ready for an era of peace and prosperity, and I think Oregon is, too.