The Science of Cyclist Hate

The Science of Cyclist Hate

Jim Saksa writes on Slate about why American drivers seem to have so much hatred for American bicyclists. He gets a little bit right, but I think he gets a lot wrong. First, the right: he discusses an interesting new study that shows that the number of cyclists in the US tripled between 1977 and 2009, yet the number of fatalities per 10 million bike trips fell by an incredible 63%. The problem is that he uses this study as a data point to support his hypothesis that cyclists have gotten less aggressive, which then he thinks supports his hypothesis that drivers are wrong when they think that all cyclists are law-breakers. That’s a whole lotta hypothesizin’ without a whole lotta science. (And speaking of a whole lotta: apparently I have a whole lotta stuff to say about this. Prepare yourself.)

Saksa goes on to explain yet another hypothesis – this time, for why drivers do end up hating cyclists. He settles on the affect heuristic – basically, the idea that when you have a strong emotional response to something, that tends to inform your future decision-making in related scenarios. Due in part to the affect heuristic, humans have a habit of miscalculating risks. Saksa suggests that a driver will remember a single cyclist breaking a law in a way that causes him to nearly run over her, and forget about all the safe cyclists he passes that are following the law.

So, this is a whole lot of conjecture to unpack: drivers hate cyclists because some cyclists run themselves into drivers, and now fewer cyclists are dying which means that cyclists are less aggressive, but drivers still hate them anyway. Here’s what would have to be true for those hypotheses to work out:

  • Most, if not all, drivers who hate cyclists would have to have hit or nearly hit a cyclist at some point.
  • Most, if not all, fatal accidents involving cyclists would have to be the fault of the cyclists breaking the law.
  • Increasing numbers of cyclists would automatically lead to fewer cyclists breaking the law.

Seeing as Saksa doesn’t provide any evidence to back up any one of those points, I’d suggest this as a more likely explanation for what’s going on:

  • The affect heuristic is one small part of a much larger and more complex problem of why drivers hate cyclists.
  • Most fatal accidents involving cyclists are the fault of the driver.
  • Increasing numbers of cyclists lead to improved safety by an accompanying increase in bike lanes, visibility, and knowledge of bike law.

I’ll admit that, like Saksa, I’m a long-time frequent cyclist, and so, like Saksa, I’ve built up my own hypotheses based upon my experience cycling in wildly different cultures, from Boston to London to Copenhagen. Unlike Saksa, though, I have at least a bit of science to back up what I’m saying.

First of all, let’s deal with “fault.” This is a tough thing to quantify, especially in countries where cyclists generally aren’t well-respected and aren’t protected by the law. However, there have been studies done: the Transport Research Laboratory in the UK found in 2009 that for cyclists over the age of 25 who sustained serious injuries in an accident, the driver was entirely at fault 64-70% of the time and the cyclist at fault 23-27%. For cyclists over the age of 25 who died in a crash, the driver was entirely at fault 48-66% of the time and the cyclist at fault 33-43%. The TRL also found that when cyclists were seriously injured, only 2% of the accidents were due to the rider disobeying a stop sign or traffic light.

So why do drivers hate cyclists? I agree that a part of it is an overestimation of the danger cyclists pose, which can sometimes be based on the driver actually witnessing a cyclist breaking the law. As Saksa hints at in his article, it can also be exacerbated by the fact that most US drivers are not cyclists. Saksa doesn’t really go into this in depth, but I agree with him that it allows drivers to “other” cyclists, seeing them as people with very different values and motivations despite the fact that most adult cyclists are also drivers and despite the fact that drivers and cyclists tend to want the same things out of their road design. It also adds to an ignorance of bike law. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of drivers who have screamed at me, “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!” Because of the nature of these interactions, I’m never able to patiently explain the laws of the road to the person driving the 2-ton death machine, so instead I just decide to confuse them by shouting back, “NO, YOU GET ON THE SIDEWALK!”

But when so many of our drivers don’t even know what the law is, we can’t really say that they’re basing their opinion of all cyclists on witnessing a few cyclists “breaking the law.” They may very well have witnessed a cyclist following the law, but they don’t know it because as non-cycling drivers, they feel entitled to the road. Consider that you (or at least I) don’t hear drivers complain about pedestrians breaking the law nearly as often, despite the fact that pedestrians jaywalk all the damned time. Nearly all drivers are also pedestrians, so they are more likely to relate to them and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Drivers who aren’t cyclists also have a limited view of how often drivers break the law: rolling through stop signs, turning illegally at red lights, speeding, passing too closely, turning without signaling, pulling in and out of driveways without looking – as a cyclist, I see all that many times a day and I learn to take evasive action in order to not be killed. Yet every discussion of bikes online invariably degrades to drivers crying about cyclists on their 25lb bikes breaking the law, with nary a word about drivers in their 6,000lb SUVs.

There’s also the problem of impatience. I’ve had many close calls from cars, trucks, and vans gunning it to pass me (usually just to get to that red light a little faster) with less than twelve inches of clearance. Go ahead and hold up a ruler, and tell me if you’d feel safe with a car passing you that closely – especially when you’re on a bike that could at any second blow a tire and send you under the wheels of a passing car. Judging from what I’ve had drivers tell me (or, shout at me), many drivers hate cyclists simply because they feel entitled to get to Target within 10 minutes. Going 20-30 miles per hour for a few minutes is simply torture for them.

We can see how well my anecdotes stack up to actual research done on drivers and cyclists. An impressively comprehensive study of cyclist and driver attitudes and behaviors was undertaken by the Department of Transport in Victoria, Australia, in 2010. You can read the whole thing here. In it, they identified several key points of tension between drivers and cyclists which led to accidents and unsafe behavior: impatience (both drivers experiencing road rage and cyclists weaving in and out of cars), fear (of hitting something/being hit), expectation (mostly cyclists, expecting to experience fear on the road), and lack of awareness on the part of drivers (who were both unaware of cyclists/their environment and unaware of how aware cyclists are).

This kind of research gives us a huge benefit – it allows us to focus on solving the problems that lead to accidents. Unlike the overly simplistic affect heuristic hypothesis, these factors are relatively easily identifiable and solvable. More bike lanes that completely separate bikes and cars will significantly lessen the amount of fear on both sides and remove cyclists from the congestion that leads to angry, overly aggressive drivers. Educational efforts can inform drivers and help them be more aware of cyclists.

Those solutions also explain why an increase in cyclists on the road may be accompanied by a decrease in fatalities. Cities and towns will install more bike lanes if more people are demanding them and using them, and on the flip side, more bike lanes encourages more people to get on their bikes. People bike more when biking is safer. An increase in the number of cyclists on the road will also increase visibility and total awareness of cyclists. Plus, that increase means that more drivers are now cycling, which means there are more drivers who likely understand the law and how to safely share the road with cyclists.

Doesn’t that make more sense than Saksa’s hypothesis of “more cyclists on the road means fewer aggressive cyclists?”

To add another anecdote to the mix, when I biked in Copenhagen I noticed that very few cyclists ran red lights or broke the law in other ways. I suspect this is because they have their own lanes, their own stoplights, and laws that make it clear that they belong on the road just as much as cars. When you’re no longer surrounded by people in cars breaking the law and putting your life in danger, you have no need to bike aggressively to protect yourself and you no longer feel like you’re outside the system. So, you follow the law. With that in mind, I do think there is some truth to the idea that having more cyclists on the road can eventually lead to fewer cyclists breaking the law.

Obviously, I could continue to go on about this topic but I really prefer to not write more than the article I’m responding to. Plus, it’s a beautiful day out and I’d like to go for a ride.

Featured image is me on a bike, taken by Tim Buchanan for the Skepticon IV calendar. Relevant! Hey, I may not be big on calendars but I like good photography and great causes!

Thanks to Amanda Marcotte for tweeting the Slate article yesterday and Madfishmonger for sending it in today.

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

92 Comments

  1. Avatar of bug_girl

    Yes to all of this. As a survivor of a nearly-fatal bike accident (which was NOT my fault–hit by a drunk driver), I get so mad I shake when I hear people talk about cyclists like they are bugs on the windshield.

    I loved cycling more than anything, but I don’t ride at all today because of fear.

  2. Avatar of Nicole Introvert

    I’m not a cyclist but a runner, and we face some of the same things (though, from the opposite side of the road.) I think that since I started running, I have become a better driver. I’ve always made it a point to watch for cyclists as well.

    I don’t cycle outside because I am scared out of my mind how cyclists are treated. There is even a bike lane on a road I regularly run, and to watch how many drivers drift into it and use it as part of their lane freaks me out.

  3. Avatar of TheNerd

    I love bike lanes because I don’t enjoy running over people, and traffic flows better. You’d think there’d be universal support of such things.

  4. Avatar of noisician

    Where was it established that drivers generally hate bicyclers?

  5. Avatar of CaramelKing

    My state has laws on the books that state that cyclists are to be treated as vehicle drivers, meaning they have the right to be on the streets. Unfortunately, how this gets interpreted is the problem. We had one sheriff’s deputy a while back who was citing cyclists for biking on one particular street because of another law regarding nuisance drivers (intended for cars that are driving well under the speed limit).

    Around here, I have noticed two types of cyclists: those who know the law and follow it, and those who want it both ways (they want to be treated as road-equals when it suits their purposes but want to also be considered pedestrians when it suits their purposes). Although the latter is in the minority, when it happens it’s memorable. I saw a rider last week almost get hit by a car that was trying to follow the rules of a four-way stop when the cyclist just zipped through the intersection. But I’ve more often seen car drivers who fail to yield right-of-way, honk (or curse or otherwise show displeasure about the slow speed), or fail to pass with five feet of clearance (which is just stupid; drivers wouldn’t think of passing another car with on-coming traffic, but they’re willing to do this with bicycles).

  6. Avatar of blaisepascal

    I will admit to a certain amount of “cyclist hate”, but from a different direction: as a pedestrian, I am more aware of the cyclists on the sidewalks than on the road.

    When driving, I am respectful of cyclists on the road, the vast majority of whom I see do nothing wrong (except occasionally ignore a sign or signal). I try to give them plenty of space, especially when passing. I know the rules of the road say that they not only have a right to ride on the streets, they are supposed to. The ones on the streets are doing the right thing, and I respect them for that.

    But it’s the cyclists on sidewalks that really annoy me. More than once I have been hit by cyclists, and the times I’ve been nearly hit are even more numerous.

    What’s a good way, in the short interaction time I have with a cyclist on a sidewalk, to inform them of the laws (I have checked, it is illegal here), and to get them on the streets?

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      What’s a good way, in the short interaction time I have with a cyclist on a sidewalk, to inform them of the laws (I have checked, it is illegal here), and to get them on the streets?

      Are there bike lanes on the streets? There’s a very good chance that some of them are unaware of the laws and some of them feel unsafe on the road. There are some roads where I take the sidewalk, because I’ve been driven into ditches and honked at so much that I no longer want to risk my life.

      If there are no bike lanes, the correct response is to get angry at your politicians, not the cyclists.

      • Avatar of freemage

        Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. An example:

        In downtown Chicago, there’s a number of bridges across the Chicago River. Expanding these bridges to include bike lanes would be prohibitively expensive. And, like blaisepascal, I’ve been hit by bicyclists while using the sidewalk on those same bridges. I’ve never once been hit by a car–even though I’ll cop to being a frequent jaywalker. I get that there are parts of downtown that aren’t safe for biking at this point. I’m willing to support bike lanes to change that. But I also expect bikers to not believe that the sunshine coming out of their posteriors allows them to take risks with MY safety in the name of theirs.

        I’d actually be interested in seeing a study of lawbreaking by all users of the road. What I’m picturing is the random selection of twenty or so intersections in a large urban environment. Cameras would be placed at the intersections, AND along the adjacent blocks of all streets feeding into the intersection, up to the half-way point. That way, any jaywalkers who opted to cut across the road rather than walk down to the closest signal would be included in the count.

        The tally would divide bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers, with a further analysis to break down drivers a bit–I’m thinking taxis, buses, trucks, motorcycles and “other cars”. Get an actual percentage of each that break the traffic laws within that zone.

        I can’t deny the possibility of affect bias and other mental shortcuts introducing a bias, but I’m willing to bet that, if performed in Chicago, this experiment would put bicyclists WAY over the other two classes in terms of percentages of violators.

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor

          I actually live in Chicago and the bridges are pretty scary because there’s generally steel mesh which reduces the stability of your bike. Also underpasses can be scary because they’re dark and full of debris.

          However the bridges usually just as wide as the roads, so I don’t think it’s cost prohibitive for them to just run some yellow fucking paint across the bridges.

          Other than that though I’m an avid cyclist and it pisses me off too when cyclists ride on the sidewalk when the roads are wide enough.

      • Avatar of blaisepascal

        There are some bike-lanes on the streets, and the city has been experimenting with “sharrows” on some roads. I’m in Ithaca, NY, so it’s a small city with a very eclectic mix of people. For the most part, I think the group of dedicated cyclists who are pushing for bike-lanes, sharrows, and other efforts to making the city safer and more friendly for cyclists are not the folks who ride on the sidewalks (or other, more dangerous activities).

  7. Avatar of lisavilisa

    My husband almost got side swiped by a piece of lumbar that was sticking out of someone’s truck as they passed him. We didn’t bike on roads for months after that. We eventually got over it, got some mirrors, helmets and that yellow vest thingy. It still scares me how close he came to getting his head lopped.

  8. Avatar of Eskeptrical Engineer

    I learned to drive in a bicycle-heavy area where everyone, both drivers and cyclists, knew all the appropriate laws. I have no problems with sharing the road with cyclists, and I don’t mind having to drive behind one for a little while until there’s room to pass.

    My current area has fewer cyclists, and I suspect many of them don’t actually know the laws. I see cyclists whizz through stop signs far more often than I see them stop, even at blind corners. That kind of thing can cause a serious accident.

  9. Avatar of Tobasco da Gama

    My go-to “bike rage” anecdote:

    One time, I was biking in Watertown (needed to go to the RMV), and pulled up at a stop light. An SUV full of people pulled up next to me. They start shouting, “Hey! Hey!” I look over. “Get out of the road! You need to be on the sidewalk!”

    I look down. I’m in a bike lane.

    I look to my right. There’s a sign with a picture of a road with both a car and a bicycle that says, “Share the Road!”

    Can’t fucking make this shit up.

  10. Avatar of Tobasco da Gama

    Oh, and to blaisepascal, I completely agree that cyclists on sidewalks are a menace. It really shouldn’t ever happen, barring a few situations where pedestrian traffic is sparse and road conditions are bad for cycling. (High speed limit, narrow lanes.)

    I suspect anyone who believes that cyclists should get on the sidewalk not only doesn’t ride a bike, they don’t walk anywhere either.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      See, I don’t think those situations are few, at all. Especially in the US. There are far too many dangerous roads with no bike lane or shoulder, tons of potholes, and filled with angry drivers who don’t give a shit about bikes.

      • Avatar of violets

        As someone who dislikes driving AND cycling and prefers to walk when possible, I would just ask that if you cycle in a place where it’s too dangerous to use the road that you invest in a bell.

        There’s one cyclist in my neighborhood that I actually have kind feelings for because he uses the sidewalk, but he has a bell that he rings whenever he’s approaching a pedestrian from behind. It makes such a difference – I think a lot of bikers don’t realize how unexpectedly they can come up on someone who is walking due to how relatively fast they are moving.

        • Avatar of Dovanna

          Bells are the best, but it’s also good bike etiquette to say “on your left” or walk the bike when a cyclists has to use the sidewalk.

      • Avatar of Elliot Sharron

        Take the lane. If the shoulder is sketchy, you should take as much of the lane as necessary to feel safe. The only sidewalks you should ever ride on are the ones directly in front of your house or apartment building.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicular_cycling#Lane_control

      • Avatar of Tobasco da Gama

        It depends on the area, I guess. Around here, the really dangerous roads for cycling… usually don’t have sidewalks, either. There are a few other dodgy roads that DO have sidewalks, but said sidewalks tend to be so cluttered with stuff and/or people that actually riding on them is all but impossible.

        So riding on the sidewalk is hardly ever a practical solution for me here. I usually end up needing to modify my route or just take the risk instead.

  11. Avatar of teragram42

    I live in a great city for cycling, and ride to work 8 months a year. Most of my ride is on separate bike paths, and it’s fabulous. Best. Commute. Ever. Yet the comments on any article related to improving cycling infrastructure brings out people who seem to think that any adult choosing this mode of transit is a blight on the system who fails to pay taxes and deliberately runs over kittens.

    What have I learned? People hate reality, and you should never keep kittens in bike lanes.

  12. Avatar of absinthia

    My personal pet peeve (as a driver) is when I wait to pass them safely, they then proceed to pull up past all the cars who passed them so they can be first at the red light….and obligating us all to pass them AGAIN…. grrrr. If I pass a cyclist and have to stop for a red light, I try to hug the curb so tight they can’t get by. They want to be a vehicle, they gotta act like a vehicle and wait their turn at the light just like everyone else.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      In many cities, there’s a special space at the front of red light queues for cyclists. I believe it’s an issue of safety and visibility. I’d much rather be at the front than lost in the middle where no one can see me.

      • Avatar of absinthia

        I see your point, since so few people actually give a cyclist a full car length of space.

    • Avatar of teragram42

      Does this slow you down? Seems to me you’d get to the next red light at the same time…as you’re in a line of cars!

      It’s really impractical and unsafe to try to mimic the start-stop of backed up traffic on a bike.

      I wish cycling was an easier option for more people. It is the best part of my day.

    • Avatar of Antares42

      They want to be a vehicle, they gotta act like a vehicle and wait their turn at the light just like everyone else.

      When lanes are narrow, I wait. I don’t squeeze through. But when there’s enough space, I skip the queue right up to the traffic light or stop sign. That’s legal, and in fact encouraged in my country.

    • Avatar of spurll

      It seems to me that if drivers are passing me in my own lane when I’m on a bicycle (which is the norm), then I am also entitled to pass them in their lane when they are stopped at a stoplight. If the lanes are sufficiently wide (which, in my city, they often are) this certainly seems reasonable to me; I could be wrong, of course. Regardless, I definitely agree that cycling lanes are the best solution; a solution that my city has begun to implement, in some areas.

    • Avatar of Matt Picio

      In some localities, that’s legal behavior for cyclists. In Oregon, it’s legal to pass on the right unless unsafe to do so. “Unsafe” isn’t defined, so that’s really up to the individual rider. In my own case, I’ll generally pass lined-up cars on the right if they are going straight, and hold back when they are turning right (which to me is obviously unsafe).

      I’m disturbed by your comment about hugging the right curb, however. When a cyclist passes you on the right, they may or may not be breaking the law (I don’t know what the law is where you live, unless you live in Oregon) – but when you hug the right curb, you’re intentionally creating a hazardous situation – someone could be in your blind spot, you might misjudge clearance to a parked car, a tree, or other objects/people you might not see. (and if you’re paying attention to the cyclist while doing this, then you’re not paying attention to something else)

      Some other people are going to break the law, or ride/drive/walk dangerously. You can’t control it, you can’t prevent it – but you can choose yourself not to do the same, or not to do things which turn a situation dangerous. Using a 1-3 ton metal object to physically prevent someone from squeezing past you is intimidation – you are safely protected in, effectively, armor, and they are for all practical purposes naked. A slight contact can put them in a hospital or the morgue.

  13. Avatar of violets

    I don’t hate cyclists, I would say more that they make me very nervous whenever they are around, which is pretty often these days. I DO hate the fact that they have to sort of squeeze in wherever, meaning oftentimes I find myself in a nervous situation either as a pedestrian or driver because there are just too many vehicles trying to navigate one space.

    That said, I often witness bicyclists breaking traffic laws in my area and that definitely increases my nervousness. I am fairly certain that however else laws may be different for bicyclists, they are still required to stop for stop signs and traffic lights, yet many in my area seem to think those things don’t apply to them, particularly stop signs.

    I don’t believe that bicyclists break traffic laws more than other drivers do, though. It’s just that when you have to add another type of vehicle that is even harder to see on top of all the things you already have to be cautious about, it just adds to the stress.

    Like I said, I don’t blame cyclists or hate them though, I just wish that given the numbers regarding increase in cycling, cities would get more on the ball with creating accommodations for them to share space with cars and pedestrians more safely.

    • Avatar of mulveyr

      While it’s true that some cyclists will often shoot stop signs and lights, it’s also true that a cyclist tends to have vastly better awareness and visibility of motor vehicles that can endanger them in intersections.

      In cities without bike lanes, in particular, would motorists rather be behind a cyclist who needs to take the lane, but has slower stopping/starting speeds and who stops at every light? Or would the motorist be happier if the cyclist ( safely ) goes through the light and clears out the roadway all that much sooner?

  14. Avatar of timmyson

    I contemplated writing something of my own when I came across this earlier today, but then you said it perfectly. Back to work, I guess.

  15. Avatar of Pugg Fuggly

    Uh oh. I just realized I’m probably a complete asshole cyclist.

  16. Avatar of nomaduk

    I’m reading these comments and simply boggling. But, then, most of them must come from people in the US, in which people are born, live, and die in their cars.

    I live near Oxford, one of the most cycle-intensive cities in the UK, thanks to the presence of the many colleges of Oxford University. There are cycle paths aplenty, but even when there are not the rules of the road are clear, and drivers are quite good about cyclists. Cyclists actually (more often than not, at least) pay attention to the traffic laws. There are occasional accidents and fatalities, but I just don’t see the kind of blind hatred and, frankly, stupid behaviour some of the commenters above seem to be guilty of (like deliberately blocking access along the side of the road).

    Some of this may be due to the genetic propensity to queue amongst the English, but it doesn’t explain the behaviour of immigrants, unless the trait is somehow spread by a virus. It may also be due to the fact that the speed limit throughout the city is never more than 20 to 30 miles per hour, and some areas are simply closed to traffic (except for buses and taxis).

    It may also have to do with the fact that a lot of people in the UK cycle or walk on a regular basis, and petrol runs the equivalent of $8 to $9 per gallon (which still doesn’t seem to keep cars off the street, but I’d hate to think what things would be like if it were as inexpensive as in the States).

  17. Avatar of felixgutt

    I see lots of cyclists riding around the finger lakes in upstate New York. Fortunately most of the roads around the lakes have very wide shoulders so the car-bicycle interaction is minimal. It must be a fabulous place to ride; though, my preference for exercise is hiking. Since I listen to my skeptical and science pod casts while hiking I cannot always hear the hum of bicycle wheels approaching me from behind and it does irritate me quite a bit when they whiz past me without notice.

    It isn’t so much about being startled, though that is irritating by itself, it is more that if I am in my eighth or ninth mile I may be starting to stagger a bit at random times and I think it would hurt quite a bit to get run over by a bicycle. I really appreciate the bicyclists (about 30% I would guess) who have a bell or shout “On your left” before passing.

    I’ve thought of purchasing bells to hand out on the trails for the bicyclists who do not have them. If only I could figure out a way of giving it to them without having to chuck it at their backs as they zip away.

    I would actually guess that most of the bicyclists on city streets I come across are obeying the laws and riding responsibly; though, I do come across the occasional bike being ridden the wrong way on a narrow and busy road.

    My last close encounter with an bicyclist was last week when one tried turning left on red in front of me. He probably hadn’t seen my Miata behind the dump truck that was turning right at the light when he jumped into my lane; however, when crossing against the light, I think shouting “share the road” is a little inappropriate while I was doing my best not to run him over.

    So, +1 to bicycles having a bell and +1 to bicyclists who share the road with one ton vehicles.

    • Avatar of Antares42

      I’d like to apologize on behalf of my fellow cyclists. Personally, when approaching pedestrians and hikers I give them as much clearance as the path permits, and I usually slow down substantially. I hope you don’t judge all of us by the actions of a few entitled idiots.

      (Note to self: My bell is broken. Must replace. Actually a legal requirement here.)

  18. Avatar of ferulebezel

    The only times I drive are when the trip involves mass cargo, freeways, or heinous hills. Unfortunately, where I live the last is never more than two miles away in any direction. Nevertheless I rarely drive more that twice a week.

    From my experience, I suspect that this bike hate you experience is just generic east coast aggressiveness. The problem I have with most people in cars is that they won’t take their right of way. When I’m at a four way stop I don’t know if the driver who isn’t taking his right of way is trying to be nice or hasn’t seen me. So, drivers, if you have the right of way, take it. If I do something stupid, I’ll take my lumps.

    About the sidewalk. I’ve been doored. So, when there isn’t enough room on the street for me to stay out of door range and out of traffic, I’m on the sidewalk. When a bicyclist hits a pedestrian the injuries are rarely more than scrapes and bruises, if that. When a car hits a bicyclist, we’re talking broken bones and death.

    • Avatar of Julia Day

      “From my experience, I suspect that this bike hate you experience is just generic east coast aggressiveness”

      I’m sorry that made me laugh. It’s hardly just the east coast that gets this aggressive towards bike riders. My only transportation for five years in Memphis was a bike. Zero bike lanes. Actually had people try to make me fall on purpose and laugh about it. Had someone in an SUV rush around me to turn right directly in front of me, causing me to crash into their car. They didn’t even stop. There was no way they wouldn’t have heard that. Once, I didn’t see in time that I was about to go over a curb so I fell over it. As I was lying motionless facedown on the ground with my bike on top of me, I watched someone just put their car in reverse so they could go around me without bothering to see if I was conscious or anything. Now I never had anything thrown at me, like has happened to other cyclists I knew in Memphis. Should I count myself lucky?

      Anyway, I live in Texas now and have car. The bus system isn’t great, but better than Memphis and there are some bike lanes. Though drivers can still be aggressive towards cyclists. At least now I can choose when to ride my bike.

      But oh my god I totally agree with you about not being able to read drivers’ minds at four way stops! That was such a pet peeve of mine! Especially if they had tinted windows. Especially if the four way stop was at the bottom of the hill.

  19. Avatar of Evelyn Lamb

    “Because of the nature of these interactions, I’m never able to patiently explain the laws of the road to the person driving the 2-ton death machine…”

    Very true. I think that leads to a lot of my bad feelings regarding drivers when I’m cycling. (I am both a driver and a cyclist.)

    But a friend of mine has an awesome story about educating a jackass driver this way. He was riding home one day, and the jerk shouted “Get on the sidewalk!” My friend is a really strong cyclist, and the area had a lot of stop signs, so he was able to catch up to the driver at a stop sign. He started to explain that it’s actually the law that cyclists should be on the road and not the sidewalk, and that having cyclists on the sidewalk is really dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians. Instead of punching him or yelling at him, the no-longer-a-jerk apologized and thanked my friend for explaining it. Of course, it’s not a usual story, but it makes me happy.

  20. Avatar of chrisfixedkitty

    I’ve longed for an icon that stressed “Share the road” as going both ways. I’m in the San Francisco Bay area, where bike-car hatred can be fierce despite bike lanes on our busier streets. I’ve been on both ends of it and longed for the ability to use the empty sidewalks, but our town’s police ticket bikers for that.

    Sometimes cars just hate all bikes because they won’t make any concessions to not-cars. Sometimes it’s from too many shows of not-sharing-too from the bike end of things. I’m terrified of hitting bikers, and try to give them space. Sometimes, however, some biker-right-aggressive types create problems that really do seem for anti-car on purpose.

    Stop signs painted “Stop driving” abound in some areas, and bicyclists who bike with their tires on the white line of the bike lanes (body clearly in the traffic lanes, and wobbling between the bike lane and car lanes). Not just for a patch around a hazard, but for block after block in places where the car lanes are too narrow to pass them without great risk of hitting them. They hold up long lines of traffic and scream abuse at you when you finally have an opportunity to pass by veering slightly into the center of the road. There is an added frustration when they’re clearly out in a pack (no, not a single line that you could pass) for exercise, not trying to get somewhere and lowering the speed limit for all the other road users from 45 mph to 10-15.

    And they create hostility toward all the good bikers. And everyone gets hyper-protective of “their” space. I don’t think sharing the road is working with the current bike lanes. I think that the bike lanes need to be at least 2 feet wide in order to really facilitate road sharing without risk of falling into the gutter, with a double line to create at least a foot of nobody’s-lane between the carspace and the bikespace for passing without terror.

    • Avatar of Antares42

      I think that the bike lanes need to be at least 2 feet wide in order to really facilitate road sharing without risk of falling into the gutter, with a double line to create at least a foot of nobody’s-lane between the carspace and the bikespace

      I know this won’t ever happen, but being that a safe clearance for passing is considered 5 ft, the bike lane would have to be around 7-8 ft wide. I’d be willing to settle for 4-5, but even here in Europe the standard is around 2.5-3 ft.

      This intersection here is one of the better examples, although it moves the cyclists dangerously close to the pedestrians – who, in turn, also tend to stray onto the bike lane. No perfect solution, but much preferable to the situation in the US.

  21. Avatar of captaintripps

    My luck has held out so far. In eight years of bicycle commuting in New York City I’ve never been doored and I’ve had one driver throw a plastic bottle at me for taking the lane, and maybe a handful of annoyed honks. Some of the stories I hear are horrifying.

  22. Avatar of kieath

    I’m trying to unpack my feelings on cyclists, although I admit it’s hard. I only cycled briefly, and cyclists are generally not that common outside of the university area and downtown due to miserable Canadian winters, and that whole 3 feet of snow thing. I’m thinking that I was probably exposed to the lousiest subsection of cyclists, because in those two areas it has become a horrible free-for-all.

    Let me preface this by the fact I am absolutely terrified of hitting a cyclist. My mother hit one when I was younger, and the memory of his broken leg still haunts me to this day. In this instance it was entirely his fault (crossing a pedestrian lane on his bike, in all black), but nonetheless I have had a few anxiety attacks when dealing with extremely unpredictable cyclists.

    My own incidents with cyclists started when I first got my licence at 17 and was driving downtown. There was a bike currier to my right, and I gave little thought to him as the mass of cars pulled up to a red light. It was rush hour, and the place was packed, so I tried to pull up as close as humanly possible to the car in front of me. Apparently this was some sort of sin as the currier decided to weave through stalled traffic, and I’m still unsure what he was angry about, and if I cut off his path, or that I just didn’t give enough space at the beginning. Either way he pulled up to my passenger side and smacked my hood with his fist strong enough to leave a horrible dent, then preceded to back up, open up my passenger door, and call me a bitch, a cunt, then told me if he wasn’t already late he would have beat me. To this day I never again drove without my doors locked.

    Is this guy all cyclists? Absolutely not, and I’m sure much the same could have come from a pedestrian or another car. But coupling that up with my almost daily commute through the university area, and how I’ve just come to expect a cyclist from my right to veer across 4 lanes of traffic on any given crossing, I’ve grown tired. I don’t know if hate would exactly describe my feelings towards them, but there’s definitely a level of resentment for the level of anxiety problem cyclists give me.

    On the other hand, I’ve never had an issue with cyclists on bike/running/walking paths. 95% of the ones I encounter have bells, and are always extremely respectful. Cyclists are generally always on the road here, and as long as you’re on the seat of the bike, you’re considered a car. Again the only problem area I’ve had with sidewalks have been in the university area, which is generally the biggest source of hatred for cyclists in my area.

  23. Avatar of TychaBrahe

    If you want to place blame for cyclist-hate, blame the cyclists who don’t obey the rules of the road.

    There is nothing more terrifying, as an automobile driver, than driving somewhere at night and realizing *as s/he passes you on the right* that a bicyclist dressed in dark clothing and with no lights was riding the wrong way on your street. I am well aware of what damage I could do to a cyclist, and I would really prefer not to splatter you across the roadway, thanks. There are three memorials to fallen cyclists on my way home.

    Back in the 1960s and earlier, bicyclists were taught to ride against the flow of traffic like walkers when there is no sidewalk, but this was changed to telling them to ride with the flow of traffic. It has been over fifty years and I *still* see people riding against traffic.

    I was also taught to hug the right, and that if I wanted to turn left I was to cross the intersection with traffic, then join the traffic coming in from the right. Crossing lanes to enter the left turn lane is dangerous, yet I see cyclists doing this all the time. By law, slower traffic is suppose to stick to the right. Bikes are almost always slower traffic. In addition, *I* can’t pull into that lane without putting on a turn signal to inform the driver behind me of my intentions. When was the last time that a cyclist used a hand signal to indicate that they were turning or stopping?

    Finally, there is the running of red lights and stop signs. If you want to ride in the street with the other vehicles, you need to play by the same rule as the other vehicles.

    Keep in mind that adrenaline makes what we experience at that moment much stronger in memory. If you scare the living crap out of me, I am going to remember that, whereas I most likely forget the cyclist who peacefully shared the road with me. And once I experience that, I will have a visceral reaction to future cyclists.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      I’m leaving the comment so everyone can see and learn, but FYI, I’ve banned this user for this dumbass comment.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor

      To add to this, DURRRR CYCLISTS HAVE TO GET INTO THE LEFT LANE TO TURN LEFT!!!!

      What’s he/she advocating, cyclists turning left from the right lane?

      Also, see what he/she says at the end “I’ll have a visceral reaction to cyclists next time” meaning what, he/she will consider manslaughter?

      • Avatar of freemage

        Eh, the poster described their preferred solution. Take the case of traveling northbound and wanting to turn west:

        1: Stay in the right-hand northbound lane.
        2: Ride through the intersection, stopping at the northeast corner, in the right-hand lane heading west.
        3: When the light changes, ride west through the intersection.

        Note: I’m not saying this was a ~reasonable~ solution, merely the one that was being presented. And I admit, other than the hyperbolic use of “visceral”, I didn’t see why the post was ban-worthy. All the sentiments expressed seemed to accord with those made by some of the other posters.

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor

          Well regardless of why they were banned, I think Rebecca is right about localities making their roads more bike safe.

          The problem in the US though is that nothing like that could happen with any kind of federal, or probably even state mandate. So it all depends on the locality you live in and what they decide to do. Luckily Chicago is actually putting a ton more bike lanes to improve its standing as a top tier city, so Kudos to them.

          But if you live in a city that gives 0 fucks or has 0 dollars, you probably shouldn’t expect any bike-unfriendly situations to get better :(. Not sure about Europe, but after living in Germany for 2 years, I’ve definitely seen some pretty bike unfriendly cities there as well.

        • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

          The comment was ban worthy because he obviously didn’t bother to read the post before commenting. Simple as that.

          • Avatar of freemage

            Fair ’nuff.

  24. Avatar of MadLogician

    I neither drive nor cycle. I live in an area where the majority of cyclists I see are cycling on the pavement, and if at night have no lights (both illegal in the UK). I have been hit by a cyclist pedalling through a pedestrian underpass.

    Cyclists often don’t seem to realise that they’re required to have lights on their machines so that they can be seen by others – it doesn’t matter whetehr they can see well enough themseelves.

    • Avatar of Dovanna

      As a cyclist I’ve almost run into other bikers who have no lights.

      I heard some people say that leaving the lights off (on bike trails at least) is to prevent getting mugged. People, where I live, have been pulled off their bikes late at night by people waiting in the bushes for a lone biker to pass by.

      I understand the concern, but if I can’t see someone I will run into them.

  25. Avatar of mulveyr

    I bike a couple thousand miles a year around upstate NY, many of them with my now-11-year-old son, on bike tours.

    For the most part, drivers are pretty decent. There’s always someone who passes too closely, but the times when it’s intentional have been very few. Sometimes however, it’s amazing beyond belief how actively homicidal some car drivers are.

    Case in point: A couple of years ago I was riding with my then 8-year-old on a nice rural road. A pickup truck came up behind us and the passenger threw a full can of soda at my son. Who, at the time, was very small for his age. It was abundantly clear he was a young kid, and yet they tried to knock him off his bike while traveling at high speed. Unfortunately they sped off before I could get a plate, and I was out of cell service range at the time.

    Last year we were riding across the state on a tour and were actively stalked by someone in a car, who then did the oh-so-clever roaring past and then swerve back in and brake maneuver.

    It’s kind of sad to me that we actually had to practice having me tell him to dump the bike to the side if I saw someone engaging in road rage against us.

  26. Avatar of zylla

    That name looks familiar… hmm…

    I occasionally see bikers riding on sidewalks or riding against traffic, but by and large yes, most that I encounter know exactly what they should be doing and are doing it. I’m always more concerned about what crazy drivers are going to do…

  27. Avatar of emmastaf

    On Saskatchewan Drive in Edmonton, there is a wide, one-way street, a sidewalk, and a bicycle path. Tons of bicyclists still ride on the sidewalk, and get huffy at pedestrians for not jumping out of the way (but it’s Canada, so most do jump out of the way).
    I’ve also seen the way car drivers behave, accelerating and braking just to make a point, like the mere presence of a bicycle is a direct instigation. Bicycling looks fun, but I’d be too scared to do it on roads, as a mode of transportation, even with bike lanes.

  28. Avatar of fullyladenswallow

    As a non-cycling driver I don’t hate cyclists. I always respect their air space, allow for the fact that they have to occasionally dodge debris forcing them out of the designated bike lane on to the roadway, etc. But I do hate having to deal with roadway cycling events. I have an 80 mile commute from my home here in northern Oregon to Portland along Hwy 30, where most of its length has designated bike lanes that accommodate a yearly bike event.
    I think it’s a bit ironic that events that are supposed to foster awareness (conscientiousness-raising) on the part of the driver (“share the road”) also seem to allow for unsafe practices on the part of the cyclists who participate- riding two or more abreast, passing other riders without looking, no safety equipment etc. It can be quite unnerving trying to negotiate a 2 lane stretch where there are groups of cyclists on both sides tending to force autos towards the center for safety’s sake.

  29. Avatar of Kaloikagathoi

    Bicyclists must be purer than the driven snow, and follow all the rules designed for cars regardless of their practicality for cyclists, otherwise they are EVIL…
    Actually, they are EVIL even if they do follow all the laws, and are at fault for any injury because biking = high risk activity, because what can you expect if you presume to share the road with a Driver of a Motorized Vehicle? It’s like cyclists WANT to turn innocent drivers into murderers.
    A helmetless rider is an automatic affront to drivers because that helmetless head is like a magnet to cars (the fact that helmets don’t protect against greater than 10 mph impacts and thus rarely help in a collision with a car is UNIMPORTANT).

    The above is what I think too many drivers actually think about cyclists. It is depressing how even in this thread there are people commenting that “OK, drivers shouldn’t hate cyclists, some of my best friends are cyclists, but [insert example of how cyclists make the world a dangerous place].

  30. Avatar of Kaloikagathoi

    I don’t know why drivers resent cyclists, but I think it’s a combination of envy (if a cyclist can get through a set of traffic lights during rush hour faster than a car it’s so UNFAIR…), of not wanting to admit there are healthier and more responsible alternatives to driving (oh no, cycling is too DANGEROUS because of people like me on the road…), and of a childish instinct to bully weaker beings.

    I do not think it has anything to do with cyclist aggression. Women cyclists are far more likely to be injured or killed by drivers than male cyclists, and women cyclists tend to be much less assertive than male ones. Those women cyclists tend to be killed because they are hugging the curb, trying to make themselves inconspicuous so as not to bother the nice drivers.

    I have learned to be an assertive cyclist, keeping my presence on the road as obvious as possible, riding in as straight a line as possible, leaving as much space between me and the curb as I want drivers to leave me on the other side, signalling clearly, and taking the lane when *I* judge there to be not enough space for safe passing. I get very little grief from drivers, and have had zero accidents in the 5 years of regular commuting since I learned to use this cycling style.

    I don’t, in fact, think cyclist is a particularly dangerous activity, if you learn to do it right.

    • Avatar of reparker

      >”Those women cyclists tend to be killed because they are hugging the curb, trying to make themselves inconspicuous so as not to bother the nice drivers.”

      Phrasing it like that makes me think that I should stop doing that. It’s pretty ingrained into my personality, though, so it’s probably not gonna happen.

      • Avatar of Antares42

        Sometimes you pretty much have to. My favorite example *cough* is this road: No matter where I cycle, there is not enough space to safely overtake me. However, when I stay on the right, cars almost always try. Ridiculously dangerous. So I stay in the middle of the lane or, more often nowadays, use the sidewalk. (It’s legal here, but one has zero rights except “presence”.)

  31. Avatar of Anthropologist Underground

    Oh man, I have anecdotes too! I have a gigantic cargo bike (Xtracycle) on which I’ve schlepped one or both kids nearly two thousand miles to and from schools, grocery stores, etc. Most of those miles were in a small city with few bike lanes but tons of quiet side streets. Now my kiddos are on their own bikes and we live near Denver. We bike to and from the elementary school every day. About four kids out of 400+ students ride regularly, and two of those are mine. I think most of the problem is infrastructure.

    There is one terribly designed busy street crossing that requires: 30 feet of sidewalk riding or walking where I position myself between kids and heavy traffic while we wait for the light at the only crosswalk across the busy street and where we share very narrow sidewalk space with bus benches/riders; riding bikes across the street in the crosswalk b/c the light is so short, and we lose precious walk-signal time waiting for drivers to race the yellow and run the early red; then we land on the other side against traffic, so ride on the sidewalk for one block (unless there are pedestrians in which case we walk) until we can catch an off-street path. A crosswalk on the north side of this intersection would eliminate all of the chaos except for proximity to heavy traffic.

  32. Avatar of greenstone123

    From my own anecdotal evidence…I recently moved from a bike friendly town with bike lanes and over-sized sidewalks that accommodated walkers and non motorized vehicles and dedicated bike trails. Bike riding was pleasant. My husband and I got a pull behind carrier and would carry our daughter. We used our bikes to do all sorts or traveling around town. It was great and had a real neighborly feel.

    I never got the venom that I do while biking in my current state. I moved here a few months ago. I am not living in a friendly town, but in my short time here I have been nearly driven off the road and one person decided to pace me for a bit and I think try to scare me off the road.

    That rage that I am getting from vehicular drivers is multifacited. There are the issues that are mentioned Rebecca’s post. Also the city where I am at now is violent, so without car doors, you get to experience ‘mean’ people. I can’t imagine biking becoming popular here in the city, you have to put up with a lot. I like biking though, so I take to the roads anyway.

  33. Avatar of Kris

    Ooh, I was actually thinking about emailing that article to the SGU the whole time I was reading it. It reads like an article in Skeptic magazine.

    • Avatar of Kris

      (The bits about cognitive biases, that is, not so much the lack scientific basis for conclusions)

  34. Avatar of Søren Kongstad

    About your experiences in Copenhagen.

    There is a lot of animosity between drivers an cyclists here as well, I don’t know if it is less than other places.

    Regarding red lights – In Copenhagen there is a way to identify tourists. Look at a street crossing – the people crossing the road on a red light are tourists.

    For some reason pedestrians nearly always respect the red light – and this extends to cyclists as well.

    • Avatar of DebGod

      I’m from Philadelphia and have spent a fair amount of time in New York City and DC. I remember going to Seattle for a few days and hanging out downtown with some friends there…and I was the only one who would jaywalk or cross on red lights. I’d look back and they’d all be standing at the corner behind me, waiting for the green, even at 3am with absolutely no traffic! It blew my mind.

      When I asked after the third or fourth time, one mentioned that the cops enforce the law by ticketing frequently for jaywalking. That’s very different from my experience.

      • Avatar of freemage

        Here in Chicago there was a kerfluffle a few years back, when a few aldermen tried to push through an ordinance instructing police to begin ticketing jaywalkers in the Loop. It got pushed down when then-Mayor Daley pretty much declared jaywalking to be an enshrined right of the pedestrian.

      • Avatar of James Fox

        In downtown Seattle the police will write you a jaywalking ticket. There were a number of jaywalking fatalities some years ago and the city decided to take on the problem and now if you drive in downtown Seattle you rarely see anyone crossing unless the sign says walk.

    • Avatar of Antares42

      the people crossing the road on a red light are tourists

      Funny, in Oslo (at least off the largest roads) it’s the exact opposite. The locals will cross the road wherever and whenever, while the tourists stop. Cyclists are mostly just as bad. I blame this on Oslo having neither a bike culture nor infrastructure, and try to obey the rules best I can.

  35. Avatar of That Moz Guy

    I don’t have formal data, but one of my hobbies is counting violations. On the average day I commit about 20 moving violations in about 30km of cycling. Which is *awful*. There’s about 5 lights that I regularly jump, only two of which have bicycle forward stop boxes. There’s three or four places where a bike path or shared path ends and I ride across a footpath to get to the road, and one pedestrian crossing that I occasionally ride across. And a whole heap of not stopping behind the white line, overtaking on the left (we ride on the left here in Oz), turning right against a right turn arrow, not stopping for orange lights and so on.

    I also obey or take advantage of a whole pile of laws that allow cyclists to do things that piss motorists off, and few motorists know those laws. Where I live it’s legal for a cyclist to undertake a stopped vehicle, take a whole lane, ride two abreast (but not 3) and ride on shared paths (footpaths signed as such).

    I mentioned about 20 violations in 30km above. I’ve counted at least 1000km of motoring so far, with at least 10 different drivers. The best scores any of them get are on freeways, where they generally average 1 or 2 per kilometre (I count speeding for all or part of the kilometre as one). I’ve once been a passenger on a 100km-ish journey where the driver scored 28. I’ve also been on a 5km taxi ride where I couldn’t actually see all the violations because the driver was weaving, speeding and not indicating so much.

    I think this is another thing where it depends a lot on how exactly you ask. Like “have you been raped”, if instead you ask about, say, common things that other road users do that annoy you’ll get a different result. I suspect almost every road user will admit to being really angry at motorists most often, with pedestrians and cyclists much less hated and stuff like horse riders and toy vehicles getting rare mentions.

  36. Avatar of That Moz Guy

    Also, standard minority rules:

    - anything any cyclist does is the fault of all cyclists

    - when a cyclist is wrong, all cyclists must be punished

    - if a cycling group does something bad, all cycling groups must immediately apologise and condemn the bad group

    - if a cyclist dies it is obviously their fault, unless there are three non-cycling witnesses

    - if a cyclist disagrees with a motorist they have a grudge against all motorists

  37. Avatar of belathane

    Wow,
    I had no idea of the problems cyclist in other countries have.
    I’m from the Netherlands where bicycles are such an integral part of traffic and even culture that it’s hard to imagine places where they’re uncommon.

    The overwhelming majority of dutch children go to school on bike as soon as they are able to ride one, albeit under parental supervision at first off course.
    At school children from an early age are taught traffic rules, how to behave correctly in traffic and the importance of bicycle maintenance.
    As a result most dutch car drivers have years of experience as a cyclist so they are very aware of their situation and behaviour.

  38. Avatar of Pat Silver

    Want to really annoy car drivers? Overtake a slow car on a race bike.

    I detest the various “traffic calming” measures such as narrow points on the road, special lanes etc because they generally increase the risk to cyclists. On narrow lanes car drivers simply barge through and ignore cyclists who have right of way, whilst cycle paths are often full of drains covers, potholes and broken glass.

  39. Avatar of benjaminsa

    There is also just standard road rage that gets taken out on cyclists. I live in a Johannesburg, where a lot of ego is invested in what car you drive and I get the same sort of treatement on my bike that I get in my old slow car.

    I am not sure how much cars hate cyclists here, they are not that common, but I sure am beginning to hate cars, especially the Stupid Useless Vehicles. Of course google’s self driving cars might solve all of this, that or some descent public transport.

  40. Avatar of Ezekiel

    I get violently angry in traffic. Crazy upset. Because people are phenomenally bad drivers. Multi-tasking is not a thing that actually exists and from what I can tell, it’s hard enough to be good at just one thing at a time. If you live or work in a downtown area, spend five minutes watching the cars pass and count how many people are on their phone or in any way engaged with it. I’ll bet it’s past a third of them. I’ve gotten so frustrated and stressed by people’s I Got Mine driving attitude that I finally freaked out and just gave up. I drive one day a week and it is on Saturday to take the kids to visit the grandparents the hell outside of town. Otherwise I got everywhere either on foot, on a bike, or in special cases by the city bus. The cars here are murderous. And any cyclist out there competing with them has my sympathy.

    The cyclists know what it is like to be in danger because they spend time on the street. They know what it is like for the people that are faster and carry greater inertia to disregard them. Yet enough of them carry the same I Got Mine attitude as the cars that I have to be wary at all times of cyclists clipping me. A great deal of the paths I take are multi-use paths. And in ALL of them it is clearly stated that cyclists are to yield to pedestrians. This is not a thing that happens.

    Here in Austin we have this wonderful urban woodland called The Greenbelt. 7.25 miles one way, 8,500+ acres of woods and trails and it is wonderful but busy as hell. There are hikers, runner, cyclists, kayakers (when the rain has been good) and rock climbers. The trail has various splits where the cyclists are to go one way and the peds the other. Now if you, as a pedestrian walk on the cyclist path you are either confused or a jerk. That’s there for the cyclists to have fun without having to worry about some drunk dude and his dog (that’s a large contingent of the people in The Greenbelt) meandering into their path. But for those shared parts, again, cyclists are supposed to yield to pedestrians. This trail can be rocky, windy and wide enough for barely one person. Great parts of it are not built for people whipping by at great speed. But cyclists sure as hell do, giving you almost a full 1.87 seconds to dive into the poison ivy from their shouting of “on the left” to their barreling by. This is not an occasional thing. It is not the minority of the cyclists. It is the way things are. If you do manage to dodge the bike, the polite cyclists will thank you and shout a number at you corresponding to the number of bikes following them.

    It gets to the point that you get a little frustrated. I try and get to the great belt before the sun rises so that I can at enjoy a little time out there running as fast as I can, hopping over rocks and stumps and doing all the fun stuff you can on a trail run. But with Austin’s booming population growth the days of a private trail are gone and each and every run I take is interrupted by a shout and cyclists that may have straight removed the breaks from their bike.

  41. Avatar of James Fox

    I don’t like taking big risks with my physical safety and find it hard to understand why anyone would ride on the street without a helmet, light and noticeable clothing, or why anyone in a vehicle wouldn’t appreciate the complete disparity between the safety issues of a cyclists and your desire to get somewhere a little bit faster. The one thing that really grates me about cyclists and drivers equally is how often I see them go right through a marked crosswalk when a pedestrian is waiting to cross. We seem to have a some aggressive cyclists in my small city, but I also notice more and more folk riding happily in bike lanes with lights on commuting in the evening and early morning being given appropriate space by drivers. We’ve made a number of changes and added many more bike lanes the past few years where I live, but what I like most is that there has been a big push to build more trails through built up areas on old unused railroad lines that give walkers and cyclists the option of getting around and being able to avoid traffic to a large degree. I’d like to bike more, including to work and now that a new trail link has been completed I’d be able to make it nearly to my office and only have to ride for a few blocks on a street with a bike lane. And without a doubt if gas ever reached the price it is in the UK I’d be riding my bike to work on a regular basis.

  42. Avatar of marilove

    This is only somewhat related (okay, it’s totally off-topic) but — in California, motorcycles can lane-share, which means they can drive around cars legally.

    I hate driving in California for that reason. UGH I HATE IT. And motorcycles will just come up on you, super fast. It’s crazy. They are too big for that, imo. :/

  43. Avatar of katansi

    I’d like to know what “at fault” means in those statistics because in vehicular accidents the laws and the series of events can differ a lot. Jawalking is a good example of this. Driver’s fault automatically in almost all of the US no matter hwo that person got in the road. That’s how the court case goes, that’s how the ticket gets written, that would be how the statistic gets tallied. You can literally bolt into traffic in the middle of a road and it’s still legally counted as the driver’s fault not the ped and I’d like to know if that’s accounted for. Here there’s a huge problem with pedestrians jaywalking and I’ve only ever seen one stopped by a cop for it. Actually other than Vegas, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen a jaywalker stopped.

    The person who said up there you have to be pure as the driven snow, well, yeah you do. A failure to merge with two cars traveling at average bike speed will have two pissed off drivers and some body work. A failure to merge with a cyclist who wasn’t looking will result in a dead cyclist and manslaughter charges for the driver. That guy will end up in jail because someone else biked as if they were suicidal. Even vigilant drivers can easily miss bikers, especially ones that aren’t wearing lights at night or reflectors, etc. My dad clocks 1-200 miles a week making sure his ass is covered. My bro got hit on his bike despite that. I’ve had cyclists run lights and signs in front of me and I slam on my brakes so they don’t die. But you know what happens if they did that and my brakes just weren’t good enough or that split second movement isn’t enough to warn me? They’re die. It’s that simple. If I hit another car at speeds bikes normally go, it will result most likely in two pissed off people and some dents. If I hit a 175 lb sack of meat wrapped in spandex with a 2000 lb block of metal there’s not much left. I would be charged with manslaughter and they would be a smear on the road.

    The thing is, cyclists are about the same size and speed as deer. It is extremely hard to avoid a deer that darts out into the road in front of you and that doesn’t make you a shitty driver if you hit a deer, it makes you unlucky enough to have a dumb animal dart in front of your car. Cyclists have the mental capacity to avoid doing the same damn thing and yet a lot of them risk life and limb doing exactly that. I don’t hate cyclists but damn do I hate cyclists that take that sort of risk. I live in a really bike-friendly place but I still see the three lane cut across no-helmet guy. I still dodge them when I’m on the sidewalk. I still watch them run lights. They bike NO HANDS ON CELL PHONES HERE. People on any vehicle that do not take care with other operators’ lives should not be on the road, cyclists included in that. And on a bike or on my feet I have a lot more to lose than in a car.

    • Avatar of amm1

      [If I hit a cyclist] … I would be charged with manslaughter …

      Move to New York State. In NYS it’s de facto legal to kill someone as long as you do it by hitting them with your car.

      I routinely read of motor vehicle-vs-bicycle collisions, including fatal ones, and almost never do the police cite the motor vehicle driver for anything. The same for MV-vs-pedestrian collisions.

      Actually, I did hear of one case where a woman was charged with murder for driving over her husband. But then, she said she was going to kill him and then she got in the car, hit him, and then drove back and forth a few times to make sure of it. If she hadn’t been so obvious about it, it would have been written off as an “accident.”

  44. Avatar of Wini Fred

    I’ve always wondered why this argument is presented as “drivers VS cyclists” or any other combination. In my experience as a driver, cyclist, and pedestrian, there are enough bad drivers/cyclists/jay-walkers to make anyone nuts (or injured). As a driver I am irritated by other drivers doing dangerous things as well as crazy cyclists and jaywalkers. As a cyclist, I’ve been nearly mowed over by drivers AND yelled at by other cyclists. As a pedestrian I’ve been run off sidewalks by cyclists and nearly mowed over in pedestrian crossings by drivers. Everyone needs to be careful and obey all the traffic laws – there isn’t one group that’s to blame.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      “Saksa doesn’t really go into this in depth, but I agree with him that it allows drivers to “other” cyclists, seeing them as people with very different values and motivations despite the fact that most adult cyclists are also drivers and despite the fact that drivers and cyclists tend to want the same things out of their road design. “

      • Avatar of freemage

        I wonder if this othering process is helped along by the fact that there’s often three different ‘classes’ of bike-riders in most urban zones–commuters, who are pretty much the same in motive as most of the car traffic; messenger/delivery bikers, who share more in common with taxis and the like; and ‘leisure’ bikers, most often college students just using the bike because it’s fun.

        That latter class really has no parallel among the drivers–you have folks driving TO entertainment, but rarely FOR entertainment.

      • Avatar of Jack99

        I’ve often thought that “othering” would one day become a thing of the past if there was a good way to communicate with other road users.

        Of course simple CB radio would not work. I think it would have to be computer assisted, and sure, I can see a bazillion possible pitfalls.

        However it could help to humanise other road users and to prevent road rage. A possible avenue for research, perhaps?

  45. Avatar of amm1

    While some drivers around here seem to actively hate bicyclists, I think the bigger problem is drivers who aren’t even aware of bicyclists.

    Where I live (New York City suburbs), very few people ride bicycles for transportation, and drivers aren’t used to seeing bicycles in traffic. What through roads there are date back decades to when the population density was a lot lower, so the roads are clogged from morning rush into the evening, and there are no bicycle lanes. The roads are often 2-lane country roads converted into 3- or 4-lane roads by eliminating the shoulder.

    There is a fair amount of bicycling, but most of it is for pleasure or exercise. Bike paths generally go from nowhere to nowhere. Most people who ride do it as a pleasante weekend outing. They tie their bicycles onto their cars, drive to a bike path or popular road for bicycling, ride around for a while, and then put the bicycles back on the car and drive home.

  46. Avatar of Jack99

    @Wini Fred pretty much sums up my POV. 90% of people in each group are pretty good, but there is a small subsection of unbefuckinglievables.

    @Rebecca says “Plus, that increase means that more drivers are now cycling, which means there are more drivers who likely understand the law and how to safely share the road with cyclists”

    That makes sense to me. Maybe as part of driver training in cities one should be obliged to ride a bike into the city every day for a week at peakhour and keep a logbook?

    This could help to improve empathy and minimise “othering”.

  47. Avatar of Jack99

    Also, I don’t ride my bike to work anymore, having been nearly run over by a bus. Seriously, I do not know how I am still alive.

    Maybe I am dead, and this workplace is Hell? That would explain a few things!

    In my experience, the bus and the taxi seem to be the most dangerous predators of the cyclist. Anybody else agree?

    • Avatar of Buzz Parsec

      I once almost got run over by a cop (in uniform), in an unmarked car, probably on his way to work. He passed me and made a sharp right directly in front of me into the police station parking lot. I almost went over the handlebars trying to avoid hitting the side of his car.

      • Avatar of Jack99

        Wow. Close call! I bet he would have given you a ticket too, if you had hit him!

  48. Avatar of Albert van der Heijden

    Coming from a country where more and more separate lanes are constructed, I know the situation is complex.
    First of all, I grew up as a newspaper-boy, which gives a good training on agility on a bike, and since it is done in the early hours, one has to fear little from homocidal chaufeurs. It shapes the mind. Only far later on in my life I got my drivers-license, and although I knew how suicidal cyclists could tend to be, having this knowledge of the kamikaze that cyclists tend to undertake, I took care, knowing that a car is less fragile than a cyclist, and 10 times as heavy.
    I add to this, just as an anecdote, that when I was still of newspaper-boy age, I hit one day (the 1st of april in fact) a car on my way to school. To get hit by a member of my family who way just like me short of sleep. An experience which 2 months later caused me to wreck another bike, for I left early, still with this accident in mind and making sure I would not get hit by a car because of sleepiness, and hit a car that usually never had been on my path, but this time did – and dear O dear, I ended up at the other side in front of it. I digress.
    Getting of age, I ended up in the south of France, to come to live at a road that is very popular with cyclists that like to live the dream of the famous tour, the rn98. And as so often, there is a ‘cloud’ of cyclists that are in the way. They take up the road and make it impossible to pass, when I was on my way to buy some bread – 15 kilometers from where I lived.
    I was not surprised to learn from a newspaper that in St. Tropez a driver was apprehended who had knocked down a cyclist with a baseballclub from his carwindow, for being in the way.
    I am highly aware of the duality between being a driver and a cyclist, something I would like to scratch at the deeper understanding. As far as I am concerned, there is a religious element in it, an element that divides those from different denominations.
    I tend to think this problem will go down with the destruction of the planet, as might get clear from an ecpiriment done on zebra’s, where one researcher coloured one zebra, and saw it falling down to the claws of a tiger. Not because it was less fit, but rather because it was ‘different’.
    All in all, I try as best as I can to be polite and comprehensive in traffic, and thinking that politeness is some way of dealing with people who live in the same world, and yet different spheres of existence.

  49. Avatar of Jack Stalnaker

    I ride and drive. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than the simple human nature of wanting what you want. When I’m in a car, sure, it’s irritating to have a bike block the road. Especially when the bike is somehow taking up road space the size of a mack truck on a busy road with an alternative route that would be much easier for the bike to take than the car. You can’t help but dislike that. An entire line of traffic is being inconvenienced for one biker. On the other hand, when I’m on the bike, I hate when traffic whizzes past me, even when I know I’m causing a hold up. But I can’t help but get annoyed at the drivers. That being said, anecdotally, in all my time as a bike commuter, only one person has ever yelled at me. Also, rights and consideration of others don’t always go hand in hand. I have the right to go down the street yelling “HEE HAW HEE HAW” in my best donkey voice, but it’s not very considerate to annoy the piss out of other people.

  50. Avatar of Jessica Alleva

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article!

    I am Canadian but I have been living in the Netherlands for just about 6 years now. In the Netherlands, my bike is one of the most essential things I own. I (and just about every other Dutch person) use a bike to get everywhere. The biking system is amazing, with wide bike lanes (even on the smallest roads) and bike traffic lights. I have never felt unsafe biking here.

    Contrast that to biking in Windsor, Canada (my “home town”). We have a few bike lanes, many of them which end abruptly in the middle of a large road. All of them just wide enough for your bike wheel. Not to mention that drivers are unaccustomed to adjusting to cyclists on “their road”, so I often just miss getting hit by a car! I hardly ever feel safe biking in Windsor, so I just don’t (and go through biking withdrawals).

    I would love to see more (and better) bike lanes in Canadian cities, as well as greater respect from drivers toward cyclists.

    For now, though, I keep my biking to my life in the Netherlands.

  51. Avatar of mikeblancom

    I often read comments saying that cyclists break the law more frequently that drivers but I’m not sure that’s true if you include exceeding the speed limit as breaking the law, which it surely is. The next time you are driving rigidly obey the speed limit and observe the insane tactics that other drivers will use in their attempts to get around you. I think the time has come to require cars to be equipped with a cellular modem tied into a GPS so the owner can be sent a ticket whenever the car exceeds the speed limit. This can be an intermediate step before computer operated vehicles.

  52. Avatar of ralph

    I’m in San Francisco and just spent a year in Paris biking all over. I do long distance biking, and although I do bike in SF, I try to bike going out and coming in, rather than around town.

    San Francisco must be the — I conceded New York competes — the epicenter of bike hate, furthered by these incidents. (http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Pedestrian-struck-by-cyclist-dies-3459693.php) I do not bike here in the city much, and when I do, I am FAR more careful than pretty much any other biker on the street.

    This is a very complex social issue, however, and I can’t stop myself from responding. As with any relationship, many groups of people contribute to a general “othering”. In a way, it seems to me a lot like any civil/human right agitation: bikers have to be truly transgressive and militant to claim their share of public space and resources from a car-trained public, but doing so also increases the tendency to “other” by car drivers and pedestrians. Of course, to be militant, **often** you must pschologically “other” the oppressors first, too, to have the strength to do what is right.

    That’s a tough nut to crack. Statistics are simple: bikers break laws, but rarely hurt or kill pedestrians and can’t do that much damage to cars at all, they don’t pollute, and reduce overall traffic. Lots of wins. Car drivers, however, have been mostly trained to see CARS when driving, and as a result I think the rise in bikers has an effect much like the rise in “non-white” culture in the U.S.: there’s a backlash because they’re unused to learned how to do things differently. In addition, car drivers really cannot see bikers from their vehicles very well. If you come to an intersection with stop signs four way, AND you have six to eight bikers sailing through (this is not hypothetical in my neighborhood) from all directions, there are simply too many observation points to be safe, and try as you might, you get ANGRY because you have been placed in a position where you cannot successfully be safe.

    Let’s imagine that’s a reasonable position. BUT — who do people usually focus their anger on? The bikers, I think because ten years ago, there were only four cars there, following the rules sufficiently that everyone was “mostly” safe. NOW — these bikers sailing through are new, and so your frustration goes toward them as the “new” problem.

    I think this is akin to white male U.S. culture “discovering” that they must accommodate something “new” — rock, punk, blacks, latinos, mouthy women, take your pick. It’s “new”; and it requires extra work from when you learned how to live.

    dunno if this ramble is useful to anyone, but the subject is near and dear to my heart, as a longtime biker who has been dumped and hit and who does not own a car but who ALSO “hates” the bikers when we goes around his town. (And “hating the bikers” means, really, hating those who bike so as to further unsafe circumstances.)

    Best to all.

  53. Avatar of Amoeba

    I’ve never cycled in the US and I never intend to, but as a cyclist in the UK, I feel my experience is not too different. I drive, but only very occasionally, so I cycle pretty-well everywhere.
    In the UK drivers are increasingly hostile to cyclists. Of course some cyclists do bad things, but so do a significant proportion of drivers who either disregard, or are seriously ignorant of traffic Law. It seems some of this hostility comes about because of fairly stiff motoring-related taxes, often misrepresented in the tabloid newspapers and on TV. In fact this reasoning is explored in: ‘Driven to Kill: Vehicles as Weapons’ – by J Peter. Rothe University of Alberta associate professor of Public Health J. He has a chapter on violence against cyclists in particular,

    violence which is motivated by a motorist’s feeling of entitlement to the road and irritation that cyclists don’t pay a mythical “road tax” amongst other imagined sins and shortcomings. “A ‘might is right’ mentality erupts in some drivers,” Rothe writes, “that pushes them to discipline [cyclists], to teach them a lesson, which sometimes means steering their cars into bikes, pulling into the bikers paths, or purposely swerving into marked bike lanes.”

    However, it’s particularly ironic that motorists in Europe and in the UK in particular are not paying the significant external costs, i.e. they’re being subsidised from general taxation. In the UK it’s ~2,000 Euro per registered vehicle, per year (2008 figures), or ~20,000 Euro per registered vehicle, per decade. Which is not an insignificant amount. One huge downside of this subsidy, is that by underpricing driving, more driving is encouraged than if the full costs of driving were charged to the driver.
    http://www.greens-efa.eu/fileadmin/dam/Documents/Studies/Costs_of_cars/The_true_costs_of_cars_EN.pdf

    There are a number of other studies about the externalities of driving. GIYF.

    Another potential cause of hostility to cyclists would seem to be congestion. It’s all too common to encounter angry drivers ranting about cyclists slowing-down motorists, but this argument does not hold water. I’ve rarely encountered a driver willing to wait more than a couple of seconds to overtake. (I’m led to believe that roads in the US are rather wider than roads in the UK.)

    Personal experience shows many drivers are perfectly willing to overtake at the most dangerous places (for the cyclist), at pinch-points, or with an oncoming vehicle, when an extra second or so would make the manoeuvre much less dangerous. The reality is of course that the overwhelming majority of congestion is due to motor vehicles, and that more bicycles mean fewer drivers, clearer roads and quieter, cleaner and friendlier neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

    Drivers also tend to suggest that many journeys are utterly impossible without a car, the statistics show this to be untrue, IIRC, half the trips in the UK are under seven miles and many are under two miles. When one considers the knock-on effects of all these short journeys – land use for parking, noise pollution, water pollution (run-off), air pollution, road & pollution deaths etc., the cost is huge.

    There can be little doubt that driving is not a civilising influence.

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