On Aug. 15, Lee Hankey wrote a letter complaining about cyclists. His observations are common among those who dislike bicycles.
He states that cyclists bother him when they ride past him on the bicycle paths without ringing a bell. He is right. Cyclists should be warning walkers. It can be very disconcerting to have someone on a bicycle to buzz by without any warning.
He also complains that he has seen cyclists ride between vehicles to the front of the line at a red light and then cut off the vehicles when the light changes. Cyclists like this are infuriating because they slow up traffic. Motorists have to be extra careful because they can’t trust the cyclist to act reasonably or predictably.
Certainly cyclists should be more courteous. As a group, they annoy a lot of people.
On the other side of the coin, pedestrians cause problems for the cyclists, but don’t see their actions as doing anything wrong. Pedestrians walk three or four abreast along the bike paths, or just stop to chat, blocking the path. They walk their dogs on long leashes and the cyclist has to wait for the dogs to be reined in before passing. At least half of the pedestrians who walk alone are plugged into their tunes and can’t hear the bell or voice anyway.
But it becomes much more serious with discourteous motorists. On the weekend, as I was crossing the intersection on my bicycle, a guy in a pickup wanting to make a turn changed his normal path of travel to drive right at me. He yelled that I was supposed to walk my bicycle across the intersection. “That’s what they teach kids in school,” he called condescendingly. The interaction was very frightening.
In a way, the motorist was correct. As a cyclist, you may either act as a pedestrian or motorist. If the cyclist is on the sidewalk, he is a acting as a pedestrian and the law says that he is supposed to get off the bike and walk across the crosswalk. (This law is ignored almost everywhere in North America, both by cyclists and the police, because it is obvious that cyclists are not going to get off their bicycles and walk at every intersection. That said, it is a good idea for young children.)
However, the motorist was completely wrong in my situation. I was not on the sidewalk. I was on the road and following the rules of the road the same as any motorist. I had stopped for the red light and had not proceeded until the light turned green. There was no requirement for me to get off my bike and walk.
I was left to consider the motivation of this driver. I assume that he was feeling superior to me because he was in a truck and I was on my bike. He would not have behaved in the same way if I had been driving my car or my van. The fact that I was riding my bike through the intersection rather than walking meant that I would actually be out of his way much more quickly. I can only conclude that he is part of a small group of citizens who simply detest cyclists.
Most motorists are very courteous towards cyclists. But it only takes one aggressive motorist to make cycling on the road scary. The anger and self-righteousness of these drivers is very frightening, and the tone of Lee Hankey’s letter is a good example of that attitude. He dislikes cyclists whether they’re on the road or the sidewalk, and every mistake they make drive him crazy. When you are riding your bicycle, you are desperately hoping there are no such motorists on the road. People should not be afraid to ride their bicycles down the road on their daily commute.
It is fine for pedestrians and motorists to demand more courtesy from cyclists. Cyclists should show respect for others. On the other hand, pedestrians and motorists have just as much onus to show respect for cyclists. Bicycles are here to stay.