Sunday, August 03, 2014

Some Thoughts on Bikes vs. Cars

Being all about bikes lately, I came across this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on the National Bike Challenge site today ...

[C]yclists descended on Sunset Hills in response to an incident Tuesday in which the city’s mayor, Mark Furrer, is accused of swerving his Mercedes convertible into a $12,000 bicycle on Old Gravois Road.

No, I don't know exactly what happened. It's "under investigation." It wasn't the story I found interesting so much as the (at last count) nearly 200 comments on the story. Some from motorists complaining about cyclists. Some from cyclists complaining about motorists. Some from people trying to be reasonable. My own thoughts:

  • In a perfect world, motorists would be fully aware of everything around them, including people on bicycles, and vice versa. But the plain fact of the matter is that if a bike tangles with the car, the car will win. So cyclists have more of an incentive to go out of their way to be more aware.
  • Motorists who complain that they pay the gas taxes for the roads so cyclists should just bugger off don't know what they're talking about. First of all, most cyclists also have cars and pay gas taxes. Secondly, roads are also financed through sales and property taxes which cyclists pay whether they own cars or not. Of course I personally favor non-government roadways, but as things are the cyclist pays at least his pro rata share of road maintenance costs.
I have no sympathy for anyone who claims that cyclists are never the bad guys in road encounters. Two things immediately came to mind when I saw this story:

When I was young (based on my memory of the car I was driving and where I was driving it, probably around 20), I had my first and so far only negative encounter with a cyclist. But it did stick with me.

I was driving on a downtown street in Springfield, Missouri. I was approaching an intersection/light and I was slowing down even from the low (20 mph) speed limit because I intended to make a right turn onto the one-way street I was approaching.

It was fortunate for the cyclist that I was slowing down to make that turn. As I approached the light, he popped out from behind the building on the corner, going fast, riding on the sidewalk, on the left side of the road from his perspective (the wrong side for a vehicle), going the wrong way vis a vis the one-way street, ran the light (red/no crossing for him, green for me) ... and scowled, slapped my hood and gave me the finger as he passed in front of my car. I semi-seriously considered circling the block, finding him and running his ass right over.

Just yesterday, I was riding with Tamara to the store. We pulled up at the stop sign at the main road near our house and saw that traffic was stacking up a little. The reason: Three cyclists, in matching uniforms, riding in "pace line" down the right shoulder of the road ... even though there was a perfectly good, well-paved, probably fairly expensive BICYCLE TRAIL a few feet to their right, running most of the 10 miles from Archer to Gainesville (after which said trail segued onto a marked bike lane). I ride that trail every day. It was under construction when we moved here and is still nearly new. It's at least as good as the damn road, and it's entirely for the use of cyclists and pedestrians. The motorists were 100% courteous. No honking or complaining, and they were slowing down a bit as they passed these cyclists out of reasonable safety considerations. But they shouldn't have had to.

Now, I am by no means an expert cyclist. Yes, I've been riding for 40 years, but only the last few weeks with anything like a serious daily commitment (21.1 miles so far today, and I may go out for another 10 tonight -- thanks for asking). But I'm already tired of the very few assholes I've noticed on two wheels.

Very few. Almost every cyclist I run into on the road or trail has a smile and a "hello" for people they pass. If they're coming up on someone from behind, almost all of them give a polite "coming up on your left" or whatever for safety's sake. And I suspect all of them keep very much in mind the most important thing:

It's your ass on the line every minute you're out there. Even if it's "the other guy's fault," dead is dead ... and dead is what you're very likely to be if your bike intersects with an automobile. So pay attention, whether the other guys do or not.

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