Any bicyclist who has ever been jeered or threatened by an angry driver will probably want to read an article in the March issue of Outside magazine, “Rage Against Your Machine.”
“What is it about cyclists that can turn sane, law-abiding drivers into shrieking maniacs?” asks a subheadline on the piece by Tom Vanderbilt, who aims to “open a window into what it means to be a cyclist in a country where the bicycle struggles for the barest acceptance as a means of transportation.”
“Over the years and the miles,” Vanderbilt writes, “Simonetti has experienced just about everything a cyclist can on the roads today: honked horns, cramped bike lanes, close calls with cars, and even a few crashes — the last one landing him in the hospital. I was curious to ride with him for the sheer novelty of it, and also to get a handle on what seemed to be an increasingly prevalent culture war between cyclists and drivers, one that was claiming actual lives.”
Vanderbilt — author of a 2008 book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) — cites figures from 2009, the last year for which records are available, showing that 630 cyclists were killed by cars in the United States.
“That’s arguably a big improvement over the 1,003 cyclist fatalities that occurred in 1975, when, as Census data hint, far fewer people were commuting by bike and still fewer wore helmets,” the article says. “And yet, even if things have gotten safer, at least in terms of absolute deaths (which are easier to measure than where or how much people are actually cycling), a sense of hostility — and sometimes outright violence — seems to be on the rise.
“When accidents do happen,” Vanderbilt says, “they can generate as much vitriol as concern, as drivers circle their station wagons and trot out now familiar arguments: that the roads are meant for cars, or that cyclists don’t pay for the roads — a particularly unwarranted charge, given that local streets are paid for primarily by sales and property taxes. There’s a feeling among many drivers that cyclists, either by their ignorance of the law or by their blatant disregard for it, are asking for trouble. ‘If the door opens into a bicycle rider,’ opined Rush Limbaugh on his radio show in 2009, ‘I won’t care.'”
The many online comments on Vanderbilt’s piece reflect the tension between cyclists and drivers. But one anonymous common-sense observation pretty well sums up my view on the topic:
“At the end of the day, two things seem self-evident. Drivers need to understand and respect the vulnerability of a cyclist and cyclists need to understand and respect the primary purpose of roads. This should not be that difficult for either ‘group’ to understand.”
Take a look at Vanderbilt’s article. It’s a good read.