Bicycle Advocacy

You’re the reason we don’t like bicycles!

“You’re the reason we don’t like bicycles!”

I looked to the left to see a Honda minivan, complete with 2 kids in car seats, traveling next to me. The driver had rolled down the passenger’s window and was screaming at me.

“What?”

“You broke the law. You didn’t stop at that stop sign and I hate you for it. Every car driver hates bicycles because you think you can break the law. Wha-whaa-wah-wha-wha-wha…”

I gave her a thumb up and nodded my head to signal “OK, I’m done with this,” and then grabbed the back break so she shot past me. She slowed to match my speed and continued to yell at me. I hit the gas and shot past her only to grab the brakes again as soon as she pulled up beside me. She got the point and drove off still yelling through the passenger’s window.

In all fairness, I did break the law. Instead of waiting a full 3 seconds at the stop sign, I only came to a quick stop and then rolled through the intersection (she was beside me; no cars were approaching from any other direction). So, she had a valid argument. But, was that enough reason for her to “hate” me and waste time telling me about it? I wonder how she would respond if I jumped in my car and followed her around the city, pointing out every one of her minor law infractions.

This little incident, just like every run in with a car driver, brought endless questions to mind. I kept coming back to one thought for the rest of the ride: Do I care if car drivers hate me? My answer was and will probably always be no. What I want is for them to not crash in to me. Otherwise, we are strangers passing on the road. I guess wanting them to not hit me infers that I expect their respect at a minimum. Continuing that line of thinking might be the reason so many drivers have problems with cyclists: they don’t see us as individuals on bikes. Instead, we are just another group of people lumped together to be hated as a whole.

That might be the real lesson for cyclists. Change won’t happen overnight or even in a summer or two. But, if we all take on the role of ambassador of goodwill, maybe over time motorists can be swayed. I know I have spoken with a few different irate drivers that, after a calm conversation, came to see things a bit differently. I also had to call the cops on a driver that became so pissed off he threatened to shoot me. But, if the cycling community rallied around obeying all laws—even full 3-second stops at stop signs—and respecting the car’s right of way, maybe, just maybe the positive approach will help drivers to respect our right to the roadway.

3 Feet Please!

It happened again this past Saturday. The Bagel Ride group just finished the mad stomp west on Pink Hill Road and most riders had peeled off for home or to ride more miles. I turned south on 7 Highway and saw Jim 200 meters up the road, and not wanting to ride in alone, I buried myself to try and catch him. Just as I came up to speed, some jackass in a white Ford F250 complete with stickers, push bars, extended mirrors, and tailpipes bigger than a culvert, buzzed past me. This wasn’t the “I see the rider but can’t move over” kind of buzz. No, this was more like a “Imma teach this damn biker dude to GET OFF MY ROAD” maneuver. As the truck whisked past, his extended mirror passed within inches of my left shoulder.

Seconds after blasting past me, he was on Jim. Same thing. Only, from my perspective, it was much scarier to watch as the truck actually eased closer and closer to Jim. His right-side mirror passed within inches of Jim’s shoulder. This guy was obviously ignorant to the dangers of swerving so closely to a bicyclist. Considering the other lane was clear of traffic, his intentions were definitely more road rage than distracted driving.

As luck would have it the truck hit the next red light. I rolled up behind him and noticed that he wasn’t alone. In the truck with him was what I assume to be his family: a woman in the passenger seat and then two little ones in the back seat. Great example, d00d! I caught Jim at the same light and commented on the driver. But, as always, what’re ya gonna do???

Today, I stumbled upon a web site that’s trying to do something about this. 3feetplease.com is a grassroots bicycle advocacy that promotes bicycle safety with a very clever jersey. The bright yellow jersey reads “3 Feet Please” across the back and has sexy black warning stripes on the sides. The website also includes a map showing the 16 states that have enacted 3-foot laws, which require motorists give bicycles at least 3 feet or risk a fine. It’s quit disappointing to see how few states are addressing bicycle safety–that’s not to say that the 3-foot laws are the only way of managing the situation; but, and this is pure speculation based on nothing more than gut feel, the 30% adoption is probably a fair indicator of states that are actively trying to provide protections to cyclists. Likewise, as is being proven in Oklahoma, the 3-foot laws don’t seem to have any impact on reducing car-bicycle accidents. But, that’s another topic altogether.

That’s what I find so clever and appealing about the jersey. A law is a law and is easily ignored or forgotten. A bright yellow jersey that’s screaming “3 FEET PLEASE” in the driver’s face is a message that’s difficult to miss. It might actually work…at least with those drivers that respect others.