Drivers are People Too

I'd like to discuss one of cycling's most stressful aspects and pose a solution that I began practicing since I moved back to Portland.  The issue is the tension between people on bikes and people in cars.  I feel this relationship is tense at best and often hostile.  It even exists on the Internet where on message boards and blogs people are accused of running stop signs and slanderous posts by 'anonymous' serve as virtual drive-by profanities.  Mistakes are made on both sides, as we all know but often seem to forget.  Just the other day I accidentally ran a red light on my bike because I was paying so much attention to the right turning bus next to me.  I felt like an idiot as I soared through the intersection while Sam yelled what on earth I was doing.  I've also nearly been run off the road numerous times.
One of the issues in Bike-Car 'diplomacy' is communication. (and I'll just tackle the cyclists perspective here) Not only is there a physical barrier, but also a perceived social one.  Friends have alerted me to many interesting proposals about how Cyclists might let auto users know how they feel without the traditional middle finger or 'U-Lock through the rear windshield Method'.
Here are a few to check out:
Peter Miller's Yellow Card
Dear Driver Letter
Although much more respectful, I don't think these methods would change an auto drivers driving habits and may actually strengthen the perceived social boundaries between cyclists and drivers.  What do you think?

I recently spent 4 months in Japan commuting and exploring Tokyo by bike, and I came back more assertive in my riding style and also with a very interesting perspective on traffic laws.  In Japan I saw almost no bike lanes and had to learn to navigate bike laws that were both different from America's and vague.  Everyone cycles in Japan and it appears lawless.  Bikes and pedestrians and cars all mashed together, yet everyone seems to get where they're going and I witnessed no accidents while there.  Byron from Tokyo By Bike Blog seems to have the best information on Japanese bike laws, which mostly amount to: "Exercise some common sense, and ride safely."  Someone once explained that the difference between Japanese law and American law is that American laws are for defending the individual while Japanese laws are designed to 'keep the peace'.  I interpret that to mean something like "don't cause trouble and you'll be alright', and I found this to be mostly true.
What this all boils down to is while in japan I began to focus less on who was at fault and more on keeping calm and trying to cooperate with fellow road users.  Tokyo is so crowded that you are constantly in someones way or pushing through crowds.  It would be exhausting and totally dysfunctional to become upset every time you were inconvenienced or slowed up by another traveller, so people get over it and just work their way around as best they can, which actually turns out to be very efficient.  The few times I was honked at by cars in Japan was because they weren't sure I knew they were behind me and didn't want to surprise me as they passed.
Over the past two weeks I've found myself responding to motorists and pedestrians the same way I did in Japan, by apologizing often (sometimes bowing my head absentmindedly) and really trying to not only share the road, but empathize.  I drive a car on occasion.  I make mistakes all the time.  Let's just recognize that and get over it.
I realize that dangerous driving and cycling is a serious matter, but I believe harsh words or even respectful magnets thrown at cars will do little to change peoples' habits.  I have had a dozen positive interactions this week with people because I've been willing to admit I was at fault, or better yet, not harass someone when they were at fault.  Excepting extreme cases of violence or recklessness, why not create positive interaction instead of negative ones?
Isn't that one of the great gifts of the bicycle anyway?

Ride safe and remember, drivers (and cyclists) are people too.


1 comment:

  1. this quote applies to so MUCH in life
    "It would be exhausting and totally dysfunctional to become upset every time you were inconvenienced or slowed up by another traveller, so people get over it...