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?