Both Sides of the Windshield

About a month ago, I wrote a little something called “An Open Letter to the Passenger in the Green SUV Who Screamed as He Went By Yesterday.” Basically, it was my reaction to some guy who — as a prank — screamed at me from his car as he went by. This post clicked with a lot of riders, and it still gets comments from time to time, most of them from people sharing similar experiences, as well as outrage that someone would do something so dangerous.

Yesterday, though, I got a different kind of comment on that post:

I live in Colorado and every weekend (when the weather is nice) there are cyclists EVERYWHERE!!!! The area I live in has only two-lane roads and NONE of the cyclists are going anywhere near the speed limit much less the speed of traffic. They do not follow the traffic laws, they do not ride near the side of the road, and they do not even move over to the side of the road when there is a line of cars behind them. However, they do weave in and out of cars waiting at stop signals, they do impede the flow of traffic, they do cause drivers to tale unnecessary and sometimes dangerous ‘evasive action’ just to get past them, in short they’re RUDE… I don’t condone any violence or retaliatory action… but please, please FIND A F$%*@ING trail or a bike path and get the hell out of my way.   — Becky, August 25, 9:53 AM

My initial reaction was to completely tear Becky apart, line by line. It would be easy; Becky leaves herself wide open. I mean, calling cyclists “RUDE” right before you say “FIND A F$%*@ING trail or a bike path and get the hell out of my way” is one of the most beautiful examples of irony I have ever seen.

OK, I guess I still intend to bust Becky’s chops a little. But that’s not all I’m going to do. I’m also going to acknowledge that she has some valid points, and try to see both sides of the story. I’m going to do my best to look through both sides of the windshield.

What Becky (and Other People in Cars) Needs to Understand About Cyclists
Becky might not be such a strong candidate for anger management counseling if she considered the following:

  • You’ll see things differently if you try riding a bike. Most cyclists have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in drivers’ heads, because most cyclists are drivers sometimes. The reverse isn’t true, however. Becky, your perspective might change a little bit if you got out of your car and onto a bike. You might notice different things about the road. You might perceive speed differently. You might even find that cars break laws and endanger cyclists as often as (or maybe more often than) cyclists break laws and endanger cars.
  • Some people act stupidly, whether in a car or on a bike. The people who do stupid things on bikes — and yes, Becky, I know they’re out there, because I’ve seen them too — also do stupid things when they’re in cars. Or when they’re at work. Or whatever. Some people are just stupid. Don’t go applying the specific to the general, OK, Becky? Saying no cyclist obeys traffic laws because some idiot nearly got himself killed by shooting out in front of you is like me saying all SUVs are populated by teenage homicidal idiots because one tried to startle me into the guardrail. Or like me saying all pickups are populated by homicidal cowboys because a few have tried to swipe me with their side mirrors. Or like me saying that all cars are populated by homicidal drunk idiots because a couple have thrown beer bottles in front of my bike as they go by.
  • Sometimes we have a good reason for being out in the road instead of hugging the side. It’s possible — make that probable — there’s glass or scattered nails on the edge of the road. You can’t see all the crud from your car, but it’s there.
  • Cyclists have a right to be on the road. We have a legal right to be there, and moreover, it’s the right place for us to be from a common sense point of view. If a road cyclist gets on a bike path, he’s a danger to pedestrians and cyclists on cruiser bikes — we’re just going too fast for foot and slow bike traffic. Try to stop thinking of cyclists as being on “your” road. We’re all paying taxes.
  • We are afraid you aren’t looking for us, and that you’ll kill us. My friend dug has been hit twice by people in cars who weren’t looking. I’ve known two cyclists who have been killed by people in cars who weren’t looking. So, some cyclists have adopted the tactic of riding right in the middle of the road, where you can’t miss them. You may be inconvenienced, but you won’t sideswipe and kill someone. Isn’t that nice?
  • We’re not causing you to take “unnecessary and sometimes dangerous evasive action.” If it’s unnecessary, it’s optional. You’re doing it because you want to. Guess what: your unnecessary evasive action you’re blaming on the cyclist is really just you being a poor driver. Sorry about that.

What Cyclists Need to Understand about Becky (and Other People in Cars)
I believe every cyclist already knows the following, so this is mostly just a reminder. And I should be clear: I don’t think the below list is true of every driver. In fact, it’s not true of most drivers. But you’ve got to assume it’s true of every driver anyway, because you never know which car is being driven by Becky.

  • People in cars remember every stupid thing they have ever seen a cyclist do, then assume every cyclist does that all the time. Becky here has clearly seen some cyclists do some stupid, illegal things, and now — right or wrong — she’s got it in her head that all cyclists do illegal things all the time. So, those of you doing stupid, illegal things: cut it out. You’re building up road rage in people like Becky, and they aren’t really careful about who they vent their anger at. And I’ll take it one step further: those of us who have friends who take stupid, illegal risks while riding need to tell them to cut it out; they’re souring the automotive world on bikes (That’s big talk for me; I have a couple riding friends who I’d need to lecture; so far I never have).
  • People in cars are bugged when cyclists ride right on the line of the shoulder. And rightly so. I see this all the time when I’m driving — cyclists have a nice wide shoulder, but they ride right on the line. If you can get over, do.
  • People in cars think you’re much wider than you actually are. They think they can’t pass you, even if they can. Signal them forward to let them know they have room.
  • People in cars expect you to adhere to laws much more closely than they do themselves. Cars roll stop signs all the time, but they resent bikes doing it. And they hate seeing bikes worm their way through traffic — it reminds them that they’re just sitting there, and that the $45 they just spent on gasoline is just floating up into the atmosphere, not actually moving them anywhere.
  • People in cars look where they’re used to looking for things they’re used to looking at. Cyclists aren’t where they expect, aren’t what they expect, and aren’t going at a rate they expect. If you haven’t made eye contact, assume you have not been seen. Seriously.
  • People in cars aren’t enjoying the ride like you are. They’re in a hurry. They resent being delayed even for a few seconds. If you can get out of the way and let them pass, do.
  • People in cars convert their worry about being in an accident into anger. Lots of people in cars have had near misses with cyclists. That scares them — most of them don’t want to kill us, after all — and then that fright turns into anger.

OK, I see my attempt to be even-handed about Becky’s post wound up a little bit lopsided. Maybe I should have just said, “Hey, we’ve all got to do our best to get along. You chill out, and I’ll do my best to be safe and legal.”

Maybe you’d like to try your hand at replying to Becky yourself.

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