With Bike to Work & School Week approaching quickly in the rear view, it seems cycling has been on a lot of people’s minds.
In the past two weeks I’ve had a number of people approach me about writing what would certainly amount to two very different stories on the subject.
On one hand, I had multiple people express frustration regarding how they perceive bikers to act inconsiderately (one person I spoke to referred to them as crazy) and in a manner dangerous to other drivers.
On the other hand, two self-described daily bikers felt it’s motorists, and not cyclists, who are guilty of the bad roadside manners and who will hog the road, park in bike lanes or turn without checking their mirrors.
What a false dichotomy.
One thing I noticed when I got my licence and started driving is that, paradoxically, I became a much better biker.
Prior to having a car, I would always do rolling stops at stop signs (if I was even biking on the road). I would turn without signalling. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there were also some times I ran yellow lights that I definitely could have stopped safely at.
Why am I telling you all this? To illustrate a point.
I knew that these things were bad in my head as I did them, however I didn’t really understand the impact of how they affect drivers (and who hasn’t had that experience of getting ready to take a turn you have the right-of-way on, only to notice some biker ripping down the lane in your rear-view with no sign at all of slowing down) until I was one myself.
I could sit here and say I’ve never disobeyed the rules of the road as a cyclist — that would be a lie.
I’m not going to try to paint myself as some sort of perfect biker. I’m sure they exist (and are probably judging me, rightly so, for the above infractions) but I think if people are honest with themselves most of us can admit to doing the odd rolling stop — especially at 12:45 a.m. on a Friday night as we’re frantically trying to get to the 7-Eleven before they sell out of that sweet, sweet fried chicken.
Likewise, as I began to drive a car I realized just how little space cyclists really have on the road and started to look at transportation from a different perspective — I’ve seen those drivers on the roads that cyclist complain about.
I’ve seen them giving way too little space to someone biking on the curb in windy, wet weather as they cruise along in the heated seats of their luxury sedan.
I’ve seen (read: experienced) the unnerving sensation of turbulance drawing you unnaturally close to a semi passing you on Hwy 16 — not fun.
I’ve even seen someone lay the horn down at Main Street and Hwy. 16 as a bike tried to turn onto the highway (with right-of-way, mind you).
In short, there are bad apples on both sides.
As for how to bridge the gap?
In two words: mutual understanding.
When I became a driver it made me a better biker. Likewise, I expect many who have driven for decades would gain a newfound appreciation for the challenges bikers face by doing the odd two-wheel commute.
When I said that there where two sides of the story I heard above, that was a lie as well.
There was a third group — and it was sizeable — of people who echoed this view I’ve put forward: that blame doesn’t rest with bikers or drivers as a whole, but rather the ones who are intentionally blind to the issues each other face.
I’m glad there are lots who can recognize this, because blanket statements of blame really do help no one and only serve to increase tension between the two camps.
If we can acknowledge that there are challenges unique to bikers and challenges unique to drivers on the road, and that it’s in both parties’ best interests to address those in a mutually-beneficial way, then perhaps we can shift the conversation into one on bridging the gap for all who use our roads, as opposed to arguing over who is at fault.
We all share the road — let’s talk about how we can make it safer for all of us.