|image from ribike.org|
The average American two lane road is about 10 feet wide. The law requires that cars, trucks and cyclists find a way to coexist within this narrow ribbon of pavement. Unfortunately many drivers feel that the size of their vehicles gives them a greater right to road. These drivers have chosen to express their feelings by harassing cyclists. What theses ignorant motorists don’t realize is that they are only hurting themselves and damaging the economic vitality of their town by doing so. In some cities they are also breaking the law.
I do my best to share the road when I am on my bike. This means that I wear bright clothing; I stay as far to the side of the road as possible, I signal turns and obey all traffic rules. I don’t even ride two abreast even though it is within my rights to do so within Massachusetts. I even try to stay off main roads. All I ask for in exchange is that drivers respect my right to be on the road. For some drivers this is too much to ask.
The other day I was riding my bike down a quiet country road when a car came up behind me and tapped his horn. A courtesy honk like this is not unusual and its usually a car’s way of letting me know it is there. Most of these incidents usually end with the car passing me with a wave and we both go about our day. I realized that I could move closer to the side of the road so I did that so the car could uneventfully pass by; except that isn’t what happened.
The car actually slowed down as it passed me and then the passenger literally leaned out the window and told me to “Get the f**k off the road”. The really sad part is that incidents like this are almost the norm. I have had cars approach me at stoplights to tell me that my shorts were ripped (when they were not), and I have had drivers literally lean out there window and sneeze on me as they drove by. I could go on but I think you get the point. I am not alone. Cyclists across this nation are being harassed by drivers; some even end up in the emergency room. That is why organizations like Be Kind to Cyclistshave sprung up across the country.
So what is are these angst filled motorist accomplishing? Sure they might get 1.5 seconds of satisfaction from harassing a cyclist who might have slowed them down for 1 second, but they are really only hurting themselves. On each bike ride I spend about $20 on Gatorade, Payday bars and food. I usually ride with 3 friends which brings the per ride spend to $60. If we do 3 rides a week that adds up to $180 per week and about $3,600 over the 5 month riding season. If I find a particularly epic route I might share a MapMyRide route, tweet, blog post or Facebook post about it. Lets assume that inspires 5 others rides to do the same route a few times a week and we are at $9,600 per season. And what if those 5 riders tell 5 more who share it with 5 others? I realize that my math is pure assumption but the point is that cyclists spend money in the towns that they ride in. I also treat bike rides as a way to get to know new towns where I may want to live.
If I ride in a town where I am constantly harassed by motorists then I will find another town to ride and spend money in. I will also cross that town off the list of places where I would like to live and I will tell all my cycling friends who might tell all of their friends to take this town off their cycling routes. I should disclose that I assume I encounter mostly encounter local drivers because I ride on back roads. So what do drivers who harass cyclists really accomplish? In exchange for their intolerance they are actually damaging their town’s economy and reputation; essentially they are only hurting themselves.
If my economics don’t convince you to be nice to cyclists then maybe the law will. Many cities, such as Los Angeles, are actually passing laws that make it illegal to harass cyclists. So intolerant drivers might find it funny to harass an innocent cyclist but they won’t find it funny when they get sued and lose.
The road is narrow but cyclists and drives can coexist on it. All that is required is a little mutual respect and some understanding from both sides. Is that too much to ask?