Friday, January 18, 2008

n + 1, Where n is the number motorists angry at cyclists

A recent article on the proposal in VA Beach for the Multi-Modal Accommodation Resolution (shown with a picture of some local cyclists 2 to 3 wide*) spawned over 60 reader comments in the local paper on cyclists vs. cars on the road. One Pilot editor puts his perspective on the situation.

*There were only five cyclists and approaching a stop sign so they began to fan out. The picture makes it look like they're 'hogging' the road.

(Attention 757 cyclists, the Multi-Modal Accommodation Resolution will be on the agenda on the next VA Beach City Council meeting on January 22nd - come show your support)

The online version and the reader's comments can be viewed here:

4-wheelers, 2-wheelers need an intervention

The Virginian-Pilot
© January 18, 2008

IT'S ALL THAT spandex. That's where the problem begins. It cuts off circulation to the brain.

It also covers taut bicyclist bodies that by their very existence mock a real American's sloth and cigarettes.

Dressed in such finery, avid cyclists pedal around on $4,000 collections of carbon fiber and titanium, taking up space on narrow roads clearly made for SUVs held together with rust and fast-food wrappers. They refuse to follow the laws, run red lights, blow through stop signs. Bicyclists, that is. No driver would ever do such a thing.

Cyclists putter along at 15 mph - 25 mph if their spandex is brightly colored and extra distracting - holding up traffic and refusing to get out of the way. They even ride in groups, which makes it much harder to pick off just one or two.

Then there's the danger they present. If one of those infernal machines runs into a vehicle, it might scratch the paint. Who's going to pay for that when the rider's lying there, moaning in the ditch?

Will no one think of the automobiles?

That's the kind of thing I might find amusing if drivers weren't, with some regularity, running down bicyclists who get in their way. Getting angry at the two-wheeled - not to mention runners, skateboarders or the guy who rides down my road in a golf cart, for that matter - is as much a part of most drivers' DNA as a cell phone and travel mug.

To pick the most immediate example in my brain: While jogging one morning last week, in a newish neighborhood, I had to leap onto the curb to avoid being bumpered by a driver who: ran a stop sign, was talking on her cell phone and was going like a blind bat on fire.

Anybody who has actually walked, run or bicycled anywhere - even across a mall parking lot - knows that pedestrians and bicyclists aren't the problem. Drivers are. They scare me enough that I won't actually ride my bike on the road; in fact, I don't want to be anywhere near motorists unless I'm surrounded by my own couple of tons of steel.

You know this, too. Drivers are busier, angrier and more distracted than ever. Sitting in traffic - especially one of those two-hour tunnel back ups - is a festival of rising blood pressure and spittle, with men impotently pounding their wheels as if trying to loosen the clog a mile up the road.

Now imagine those same drivers forced to sit behind a bicyclist or two or 10 poking along a narrow road that has home at the end of it.

Here's how it's supposed to work: The bicyclists are supposed to ride single-file, as far to the right as is safe. Drivers are supposed to pass them, making sure to leave plenty of space. How it actually happens, often, is that cyclists don't move, or drivers can't get around. Horns are honked and fingers are raised and everyone gets angry and goes home and writes nasty letters to the editor and psychotic posts on blogs that nobody reads.

(Here's where I allow that bicyclists are in no way perfect, and too often break the laws. They shouldn't. But the crimes they commit, at their worst, endanger only themselves. The traffic infractions of bicyclists are far less a danger to you and your car than the ones committed by your fellow commuters this morning. So let's keep some perspective.)

I don't want to put too fine a point on this, but getting angry at bicyclists, or runners or skateboarders, throwing coffee or hamburger wrappers at them because they break the law or slow you down, makes me worry for your sanity.

If you find your eyes popping and teeth grinding because some bicyclist is pedaling in front of you, take a few deep breaths. Count to 10 and take a few more. If that doesn't work, you might seriously consider pulling over and giving your keys to somebody mature enough to be behind the wheel.

Donald Luzzatto is an editorial writer at The Virginian-Pilot. Reach him at

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