Will Cyclists and Cars ever get along?

Cyclist to Drivers...When can we be friends? When will our common bonds as humans connect between a bicycle and an automobile? The two just cannot get along. I am suggesting that it is impossible for cars and bicycles to co-exist on the same roadways. After nearly 40 years of cycling, I am convinced it is more dangerous now than ever. My drive to work is a mere six minutes by car and I barely put any mileage on my late model car as I drive less than two miles to work. The month of May is bike month. Soon we will be seeing all of the Bicycle promotions to get people to commute by bike and proclamations of car free Fridays. But all of this is just banter to those of us who are afraid of the ego behind the wheel of the car. Ride my bike to work? Are you kidding? Even though I am an avid cyclist and I only live a couple miles from my office, I would never jeopardize my life by commuting by bike. I want to live.

I had an awakening when I was the PTA president of our elementary school about fifteen years ago. I was riding as a passenger in my fellow officer's car when we came across a cyclist on the side of the road. Much to my chagrin, she said "I should hit that guy and get him off the road." Seriously, this is a true story. She was just a regular mom, with an ordinary life and family. Who would ever think that such a normal person could vocalize such a horrendous set of words? I don't think she knew that I was in the bicycle apparel business and that I am an avid cyclist. This day changed my life as a road rider, it made me afraid - very afraid. That six inches on the right of the white line just isn't enough space to ride safely with a woman like that behind me. I now have an insight that I had never seen before and a clue to how normal, everyday people see cyclists - a nuisance on the road. Now that I understand, I live in fear of the automobile driver. There just isn't room for a safe co-existence on most of the roads in our country.

Those of us who ride a lot all have very close friends that have died in bicycle accidents with cars. My friend Bill, who I met as a bicycle racer in Florida came to visit me at my shop, a short while later he was snagged by an automobile who cut him off, he was killed and left behind two young daughters and a wife. My friend Rose was a long distance cyclist preparing for the Race across America, but got cut short by a car and didn't live to enter the race. My friend Judy from Virginia was riding her bike in Colorado on the side of a road when a pickup truck drove past her with the passenger hanging out of the window to slap her on the butt. When they missed they turned around and came at her, hit her and flipped her off the road into a ravine where she laid for an entire day before someone spotted her mangled bicycle. She was a lucky one in that she lived to tell the story after several months in a hospital. I could keep going on here but the grim news does not need repeating.

The only time I've been hit by a car was in a bike lane - in a city park. The driver clipped my handlebars with the back panel of his car, flipped me over and took off. I don't remember the ambulance ride or who picked up my bike. I do remember the car cutting in front of me in a sharp angle and moving my fingers so they didn't get smashed on the impact. So then, where is it safe to ride?

The transportation budgets funded by our tax dollars are geared towards fuel powered cars and trucks. There is a meager allocation for pedestrians who bike and walk. We need more than road paint - the sharrows on a regular roadway is one way to make space for cyclists without disrupting a motorist. I am not complaining about sharrows, however, they are not enough to get me out on the road to tempt fate with the irrational, the hot heads and texting drivers that appear in every other car.

There are wonderful organizations like the League of American Bicycles and PeopleforBikes who lobby our politicians in Washington DC to put in more bike lanes that are designated and separated from the car traffic on our roadways. This appears to be such a great way to go, keeping cyclists off the busy roads and freeing up our motorist to focus on their driving. So why would we not want to fund alternative transportation programs like bike/walk lanes?

Where is it safe to ride? The national Rails to Trails organization boasts the thousands of miles of re-claimed railroad lines that now serve as bike/walk trails throughout the United States. These trails are very safe, usually flat, level surfaces that are easy to ride on. The Rails-to-trails are all over the country and are an excellent and safe way to enjoy cycling. I live in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, we are surrounded by mountains, rivers, tunnels, potholes and drivers like the one I mentioned above. It is pretty complicated to drive anywhere in this city and cycling these roads means asking for trouble or near death experiences. The good news is that our new Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Pedudo understands some of these issues that motorists and cyclists face and is willing to implement changes to our city. Mr. Pedudo has aligned himself with progressive planners like BikePgh.org, a not for profit organization that sponsors bicycle related events and advocates for safer places to ride and walk. Mayor Pedudo plans to work with the transportation planners at PeopleforBikes to build a green lane through the city. A green lane is a protected bike/walk lane that moves a pedestrian through the city in a safe, separate and protected lane that is painted green with bicycles in white - clearly designating it as a non-motorize vehicle. A Green lane bike path is protected from car doors opening into their path which is unlike sharrow paint. The green lanes can help lead us to the desired state where cyclists and car drivers can finally get along. With designated green lanes, we can all be friends.

So, who is to blame for the animosity that exists between bicycles and cars? The answer is a little of both. Just this week, I rode with a pack of about 45 racer dudes. You know, the guys (and girls) who wear the spandex emblazoned with advertising logos and they all have $3,000 carbon fiber bikes. Our group overtook the entire right hand lane, blasted through all of the stop signs and red lights and then screamed at the motorist who didn't want to keep waiting through the stop sign when there was a slight gap in the group of riders. Who is being antagonistic here? There just isn't enough space between the riders and the drivers. If we all make an effort to be good stewards of the image of a cyclist, we can put forth a memorable "positive" image for our fellow cyclists. Nice gestures, like thanking them for pausing, a nod of the head to acknowledge courtesy goes a long way when a driver feels respected.

What can we do to help cyclists and drivers get along? Plenty, start with a letter to local politicians, and your congressman and ask them to support funding a small fraction of the transportation budget to be set aside for green lanes.

Here is an excellent idea from Scott Bricker, the executive director at BikePgh.org He started an advertising campaign using city billboards to humanize cyclists. Scott calls his campaign Drive with care. Someone you know rides a bike. His ads show ordinary people riding bikes, like a nurse, a priest, a child, a Steelers football player and they all are shown with their bikes. The point is to try to bring civility to cyclists and motorists. Here is an example of their ad and a link to their campaigns. We all need to step up to the plate and make an effort to co-exist on our streets.

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