Does anyone actually WANT to share the road?

Thanks CL ATL for the photo from Critical Mass a few months ago.

A friend of mine, Jim, posted yesterday about the endless bike versus car debates, sparked by the latest “SUV plows through group of cyclists” news story, this time in Augusta. (Okay, so actually that’s the first time I see a story just like this one, but in fairness, you do read about SUVs hitting single cyclists all the time).

The size of Atlanta’s cycling community apparently jumped 111% in 2009, and according to my personal anecdotal evidence, there are a lot more bikes out there than there ever were.  I see a lot more inexperienced riders flying down the sidewalks or not positioning themselves to be visible to traffic, but I also see a lot more visible, safe, cautious commuters and people just going places.  It’s an exciting time, I think, especially as the weather gets to be a more reasonable temperature for biking and people rediscover how frigging fun just running errands can be.

Jim’s concern (and honestly, the concern of anyone in the country who bikes with any regularity), is the disconnect between humans in automobiles and humans on bicycles. Both are viable means of transportation, but we tend to separate into groups and then villianize each other. As Jake the commenter in Jim’s blog points out, each side sees the worst and most egregious member of the other side as representative. The vegan jerks who blow through red lights and swerve around moving cars, with their Toms shoes and clouds of smug – those are the people I assume everyone’s up in arms about. Oh, them, or the roving bands of goo-eating spandex clad men with their clippy shoes and smooth legs. (To my friends who vaguely fit in one or the other of these categories… sorry, but you know it’s true).  And on the other hand, when I’m on a bike, just to be on the safe side, I assume that every SUV is driven by someone who is late, angry about it, drinking coffee, on the phone, and putting on makeup/shaving, all very small things that put my life in serious danger. What’s really fun is that since these are the representatives that leave comments on every news story, generally the flame wars are loud, angry, stupid, and long-lasting.

I think it’s pretty obvious that people need to show more respect to each other, but I don’t see an obvious solution to Atlanta’s (or the country’s) car-bike faceoff. I assumed it was a simple need for infrastructure – and I do still think dedicated bike lanes would encourage more people to bike, which would create more hybrid bike-car users who recognize both sides of the issues on the streets, but it clearly doesn’t stop there. What else can help?

9 Comments so far

  1. Kyle (unregistered) on October 12th, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    VEGAN JERKS?! Now I am gonna immolate you with a hellstorm of malicious comments fueled by my unbridled rage. But not really. Good points all around.

  2. Stephen Fleming (unregistered) on October 12th, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    I like the “cycle track” layout referenced here, using parked cars as a buffer.

    Can’t do it everywhere, but on a few major arteries, it’d be great.

  3. Danny (unregistered) on October 12th, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    Separate but equal facilities will never work. Cars will never learn how to yield to a cyclists and a cyclists will never learn how to yield to a driver. What happens when I’m cycling down Edgewood towards the Westside and the bike lanes suddenly evaporates into thin air? For me (I own a car and a bicycle), I’ve met more assholes while cycling than I’ve met more douche cyclists while driving. I do see a point in running red lights and going in between traffic. Yes, it is very dangerous and reckless to a certain extent but I see it as a form of civil disobedience. Most traffic laws were created by drivers of automobiles against all other forms of transportation. In a way, getting on a bike and running a some red lights (safely) is taking a moral stance against our car culture. Lastly, when are human beings most cautious and aware? When they are placed in a heightened state of danger and risk. You can be in a comatose while driving and its still acceptable. Try doing the same on a bike.

  4. abby on October 13th, 2010 @ 11:18 am

    @Kyle – you know I said that with love! : )

    @Stephen – Interesting approach. I foresee some serious growing pains (people learning to parallel park with bicycles instead of a curb as a guide, the inevitable complaints about losing a driving lane), but it would be wonderful to have such wide bike lanes and a buffer zone!

    @Danny – Fair points. I definitely ride through red lights when I’ve slowed or stopped enough to verify that it’s clear. I think it’s often a bit safer, as it separates me from traffic. I do believe that people who ride bikes AND drive cars (which, to be honest, is the vast majority of bicyclers in Atlanta) are more conscientious drivers. It’ll take more of these, plus time and supporters who are visible and vocal (and who don’t seem to be a part of one of those “extreme” groups, but who make biking look “normal”) to get biking included as part of our city’s culture. Problem is, I don’t know if the time element of the equation is 4 years or 30…

  5. Patrick (unregistered) on October 13th, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    I used to live in Birmingham, and the reaction to cyclists there was much different. Some drivers seemed so afraid that you’d do something unexpected that they would be extremely cautious – waiting a long time to pass and giving you far more room than necessary. Others seemed irritated to see, and would honk, pass you too closely, too quickly, etc.

    But at least on the east side of Atlanta, I’ve seen fewer of both types of drivers. I’m rarely honked or yelled at, and most drivers seem comfortable passing me. It’s really a great place to ride. So I think the more cyclists an area has, the better most drivers will behave. Eventually they’ll realize that the spend far, far more time stuck behind other cars or at traffic lights than they do behind bicycles.

    I think the reason so many cyclists get so angry on the road is because cycling combines feeling somewhat subjugated and physical activity. My overreaction to being honked at reminds me of my angry reactions when I played sports – something about physical activity (testosterone?) makes me go off much more easily. Combine that with a constant fear of cars, and I’m a timebomb. It is very difficult to keep my emotions controlled when someone wrongs me while cycling. Maybe this is one reason why people think cyclists are snobby?

  6. abby on October 13th, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

    @Patrick agreed on the relative comfort of biking on the east side of Atlanta. I get nervous when I’m somewhere that has a lot of “tourists” from different parts of the city that aren’t always as tuned in to bikes on the road…

    It all comes down, as Jim says, to understanding each other. Very peace and love, Jim.

  7. james hervey (jeherv) on October 15th, 2010 @ 10:31 am


  8. abby on October 16th, 2010 @ 8:53 pm


  9. Sarah (unregistered) on October 17th, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    lol, shaving. Once I was riding down 75 and saw a guy steering with his knees and texting with both hands. If I do ride my bike in-town, I just assume everybody is doing the same thing.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.