Posts about Road Rage
I was recently bicycling down a DC street, and a driver honked at me. I was breaking no law and doing what bike safety advocates, such as those who teach the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's Confident City Cycling classes, say is safest, but this driver apparently had some misconceptions about how people on bikes ought to ride.
Later, I was driving, and encountered a few people biking in ways that made me want to honk at them (though I did not). We're all told to "share the road," but we could all share better if we understand what is legal, and safe, to do.
I collaborated with Bob "Dr. Gridlock" Thomson for this past weekend's commuter page in the Washington Post. I suggested 5 things for drivers to keep in mind as they interact with cyclists on the road:
- Cyclists might be on the left side of the road (such as when turning left).
- Riding outside a bike lane is often okay (and, in DC in VA, always legal).
- If turning right across a bike lane, move into the bike lane first. More on this.
- Bicycles are faster than you might think.
- Don't honk.
- Be obvious, be predictable.
- Think like a driver.
- Wait for right-turning drivers (in other words, respect drivers doing the right thing to turn right across a bike lane as in #3 on my list).
- Obey traffic laws. (Though personally, I'd like to see us adopt the Idaho Stop.)
- Respect pedestrians.
A number of people brought this up in the Dr. Gridlock chat today. Most echoed a similar point best captured in this question and Bob's fantastic response:
Sunday's column regarding cars and bicycles sharing the street with each other did not address what I consider a major point. While I won't intentionally do something that would endanger a bicyclist, I find little reason to respect the "rights" of people who choose to ignore laws that I must obey. I live near a street with a bike lane, and regularly see riders who don't even slow down at a stop sign, and only hesitate at intersections with a red light. Why do they feel that laws they find inconvenient are no more than suggestions?Another great comment came in a little later in the chat:
I completely understand how you feel and see the same things. But I think this is a slippery slope.
Our goal in all "share the road" situations should be to survive and help other travelers survive. Along those lines: We don't have to prove our righteousness to total strangers who may be doing the wrong thing in traffic. We just have to do the right thing.
And there's too much of this dividing ourselves into categories of travelers. Like it's our category against all the other categories
— whether it's drivers, bikers, pedestrians — or Lexus drivers, pickup drivers, sedan drivers motorcyclists. What's the point?
Cyclists and walkers know how rare it is to see a motorist stop
— rather than just slow down — for a Stop sign. Why wouldn't they have a similar bad opinion of drivers?
From my office, I can see the bike lane on Q Street, NW at 16th. Routinely, and I do not exaggerate, I see cyclists riding the wrong way on Q Street. More often than not, they are on BikeShare bikes (but not always) and generally don't have helmets on. I also see cars that veer into, and sit in, the bike lane on red lights.
We're all selfish (says this driver/cyclist/pedestrian). I think everyone needs to watch out for everyone else. Being dead right on your bike is still being dead. And I would think that being the cause of the death or maiming of another human whether on the right side of the law or not would be a horrible thing to carry through life.
Yep. I think you've gotten to the bottom line.
Travelers sometimes write in and say, "Dear Dr. Gridlock: Who's right in the following situation ... "
I love to discuss such issues, because it can raise our consciousness about traffic situations, but I worry about creating the appearance that under some circumstances, it's okay to hit somebody.
Travelers are never in season. As our commenter pointed out, the fact that you didn't get a ticket won't be much consolation if you wind up injuring another person.
A Loudoun man created a small pedal-powered car with battery backup, according to an article in the Washington Post. Is this "car" a way to adapt bicycling for the masses in a low-density suburban area, or will it run into the same road rage attitudes cyclists have encountered?
The two-seat car, by Leesburg resident and mechanical engineering student Nick Turner, has pedals at both seats to drive the car under most circumstances, while batteries provide some electric assistance going up hills. Its top speed is 23 mph.
Other residents who encounter it seem enamored: they smile, honk (apparently in a positive way), and even line up to get rides.
Reporter Susan Svrluga says Turner "loves cars" but started to feel guilty about his carbon footprint from driving so much. Some people respond to this impulse by starting to bicycle. That's not far from what Turner did: ultimately, his car really is primarily a 2-seat car-shaped bicycle. With battery assistance.
Does being car-shaped and having batteries make it more appealing than a bicycle? In downtown DC, being car-shaped would just make this bicycle hard to park, but in a place like Loudoun, it could bridge the gap between cyclists and drivers. It's great that a number of people in Loudoun and other very spread-out suburbs bicycle everywhere. But it's not easy for the average person there to start riding regularly.
For urban dwellers in dense communities, driving already has substantial hassles, especially parking, and there's a lot to reach from just a short bike ride. As I noted in my Washington Post op-ed, Capital Bikeshare got me biking a lot more. That was easy because I can reach a great many destinations with a one-mile bike ride.
If I lived in Olney or Chantilly, there'd be some, but far fewer. Running everyday errands requires traversing longer distances. Roads are engineered to be even less friendly to biking, and almost every store requires navigating a parking lot where people aren't expecting a cyclist.
Maybe a vehicle that's in between the car and the bike would give someone who drives everywhere an alternative that's not as intimidating. Hills aren't quite so difficult, but the driver gets used to pedaling and improves physical fitness. It's larger and therefore more visible to other drivers.
Being larger, though, it's also harder to pass. If these vehicles became more than the very occasional curiosity, will they change drivers' view of the roadway, or will they just become yet another source of angry conflict?
Newspapers are already replete with angry letters to the editor about cyclists riding on roads like Macarthur Boulevard that force drivers to wait instead of achieving any desired speed. Then there's the occasional column by someone who admits to wanting to actually assault cyclists because they get in the way.
It's easy to imagine the same conflict between drivers of motor vehicles and users of these pedal-powered cars. Drivers get irate if 2 cyclists are riding abreast; this car is always at least as wide as 2 cyclists. It can go faster than a bike, but still far slower than a motor vehicle.
If enough people drive both an SUV and a bike-car, maybe everyone on the road will just develop an appreciation for each other's point of view. First, though, bike-cars would have to go through a period of being a niche product for early adopters. Then we'll see if Loudoun residents continue to find them entertaining and fascinating, or if they turn into a nuisance, a point of conflict, and a punching bag for politicians who can't envision any kind of freedom other than driving a really large, high-horsepower car.
Bicycle advocates were surprised and disappointed that Virginia legislators, particularly Republicans, defeated a seemingly innocuous measure to change Virginia's standard for drivers passing cyclists from 2 to 3 feet, to match the practice in most states.
Based on their summary, the bill mainly didn't go down to defeat because legislators thought 2 feet was better. Rather, they perceived cyclists as a group not deserving of any added protections from the law.
Here are some arguments the Virginia Bicycling Federation reported hearing from legislators at the hearing:
- "Bicyclists are often law breakers, unworthy of any added protection under the law."
- "Bicyclists are inconsiderate when they delay drivers from getting to their destinations, especially in narrow lanes or roads."
- "Bicyclists should police themselves before coming in asking for added legal protections."
- "A 3 ft. passing rule would inconvenience and hazard motorists by requiring them to move into the adjacent or oncoming travel lanes."
Only the last item is actually about the passing distance itself. But even with a 2-foot rule, drivers still have to either get into the adjacent lane, or at least move substantially enough into that lane that they might as well move in entirely.
Many drivers think they can or should pass cyclists by squeezing through in the same lane. That's dangerous and illegal in most places. To pass safely, a driver needs enough room to move over to the adjacent lane, at least temporarily.
More worrisome is the attitude which we hear all the time from letter writers to local newspapers, talking heads, blog commenters, and even legislators, that bicyclists are lawless hoodlums not deserving of any protection from the law.
Yes, some cyclists break laws, and some cyclists ride very recklessly. Of course, many motorists break laws too, like speeding, not stopping at stop signs, not yielding to pedestrians, driving in bike lanes, assaulting each other, pedestrians, and cyclists, yelling at police officers, and more.
That doesn't excuse cyclist misbehavior, but it's also totally unfair to blame all cyclists for the dangerous actions of a few or the mildly illegal actions of many when drivers do the same thing. Most drivers generally act respectfully but do break laws in small ways like speeding, and a few drivers are really bad. Same for cyclists.
When a majority builds up and expresses incorrect and biased attitudes about a minority group, we call that out. If white people say that black people don't deserve the same rights or respect, we call that racism. If men say that women don't deserve the same rights or respect, we call that sexism. If straight people say that gay people don't deserve the same rights or respect, we call that homophobia.
This anti-cyclist attitude needs a name, too. These Virginia legislators aren't just misinformed and pigheaded, they're also cyclist-ist. Or something. I haven't seen a good name for this prejudice. Have you? Any ideas?
Update: Racism, sexism, etc. are of course far worse than cyclist hatred, and I don't mean to mean that oppressed cyclists are being mistreated as badly as ethnic groups once were and often still are. However, that doesn't make this attitude not a form of prejudice, and one worthy of being named and criticized, even if it's lower on the scale of prejudices than some.
An SUV driver intentionally drove over a cyclist because the driver wanted to turn right and the cyclist was in the way.
She continued to use the horn, then looked at me as she pulled forward into me, catching my rear wheel beneath her front left fender. This forced me and the bike down onto the pavement.MPD originally classified this as a hit-and-run, but the cyclist insisted on treating it an assault, since there appeared to be intent. Fortunately, after some review, MPD agreed and is now treating this as a felony assault.
I rolled away as she continued to drive across my bike, narrowly missing my lower legs, and totally ruining my bicycle. She immediately sped away south on 4th [Street].
Cyclists haven't had as much luck with Montgomery County police lately, which seem to be threatening cyclists for "being annoying":
One rider reports that he and some others were biking out MacArthur Boulevard towards Great Falls when they were pulled over by Montgomery County Police. They weren't ticketed, but their names were recorded and they were let off with a warning. One problem is that it doesn't appear that the cyclists were told which law they had violated, only that cyclists in the areas were "getting annoying."On a happier note, yesterday I was downtown around 18th and 19th Streets just before 9 am, and saw a remarkable number of cyclists traveling along the route. I didn't get an exact count, but they seemed to be about 25% of the traffic.
It's impressive that so many cyclists are willing to ride on 19th Street, which seems harrowing; trucks are constantly pulling over to both sides, blocking a lane for deliveries, while cars go into the many parking garages with curb cuts right on the street. When traffic was stopped at a light, the cyclists had to squeeze through very narrow spaces to move up.
Is this one of those situations which is actually safer than it looks because there are so many cars, trucks, bicycles, and pedestrians going every which way that everyone knows to look out and be careful? Or can we accommodate all these southbound cyclists with some kind of dedicated facility, either on 19th or on a nearby parallel street?
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners