A More Realistic Look at Bicycle and Automobile Interactions

Background Reading

Summary

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A cyclist zooms past the “look bikes” signage at Dearborn and Madison streets in Chicago on July 25, 2013. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)

As a cyclist who commutes to work by bike, the news that protected bike lanes are being built along a stretch of Clybourn Avenue in Chicago elicits little more than a heavy-hearted sigh. It isn’t that protected bike lanes aren’t safe, nor is it the money spent on them. It’s that protected bike lanes don’t get at the root of the problem, which is ignorance. Nobody knows how to share the road, so we think a protected bit of road is the answer.

When you take a driver’s examination and the subsequent road test, there is precious little about how to deal with vulnerable road users. In the 100-page Illinois driver’s manual, how to coexist with bicycles gets one page. On Page 42 is, “on most roadways, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other roadway users.”

Yet how many drivers tell cyclists, “Get on the sidewalk”?

You can’t buy a car and drive it home without a valid driver’s license. Yet you can walk into any place that sells bikes, plunk down your credit card and pedal away. What do you know about using that vehicle on the roadway? Nothing. Might it occur to a bicyclist that the same rules apply that govern automobile use? Why would it? A bicycle is considered a toy, and people riding them aren’t thought of in the same way as other, usually motorized, vehicle users, nor do riders think of themselves that way. A person who would never run a red light while driving a car doesn’t give it a second thought on a bicycle.

A person who would never run a red light while driving a car doesn’t give it a second thought on a bicycle.

Cyclists often fall back on the “one less car” hooey, that a cyclist would be driving a car so drivers should appreciate his or her presence on the road. Bikes don’t pollute and don’t take up parking spaces, so cyclists think drivers should be happy when they see one.

Tell that to the motorist who has to brake to keep from clocking a cyclist who disobeys traffic laws. As a driver, cyclists make me angry, and I ride a bicycle everywhere possible.

Cyclists have a right to be on the road, but they have responsibility, too.

Everyone has his or her “If I were king …” moment. In mine, before getting a driver’s license, every motorist would have to ride a bicycle around town for a month. There is no better way to understand someone’s world than to pedal a mile in their shoes.

Cyclists would have to drive for a month because they need to experience the delight of a cyclist zipping in front of their car just as the light turns green.

Everybody needs to understand everybody else.

The protected bike lane doesn’t make a thinking cyclist feel any safer because eventually you exit that lane into a world of madness. Drivers aren’t trying to kill cyclists. They just don’t know how to behave in a way that makes cyclists feel safe.

Too many people are ignorant of their rights and responsibilities. Without education, protected bike lanes are pointless.

Kevin Williams is a Tribune reporter.

kmwilliams@tribpub

Twitter @tribunekevin

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune


TakeAways

A big ‘woohoo‘ to Kevin Williams. Finally an even-handed article (from my point of view as both a bicyclist and driver) that does not let anybody walk away feeling smug.