Sunday, August 10 2008 @ 01:56 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
By JAN HOFFMAN - New York Times
“We’ve had a car culture for so long and suddenly the roads become saturated with bicyclists trying to save gas,” Mr. Cooley said 10 days after the attack, still feeling scrambled, in pain and traumatized. “No one knows how to share the road.” He doesn’t plan to bike to work again this season.
Every year, the war of the wheels breaks out in the sweet summer months, as four-wheelers react with aggravation and anger to the two-wheelers competing for the same limited real estate.
Like Mr. Cooley, the newbies are lured by improved bike lanes as well as the benefits of exercise, a smaller carbon footprint and gas savings. But talk about a vicious cycle! With more bikes on the road, the driver-cyclist, Hatfield-McCoy hostility seems to be ratcheting up. Cycling: good for the environment, bad for mental health?
Psychologists and traffic experts say the tension rises from many factors, including summer road rage and the “my hurry matters more than your hurry” syndrome, exacerbated when drivers feel captive to slower-moving cyclists.
And then there’s old-fashioned turf warfare.
The ability of drivers and cyclists to trash talk and then disappear into the anonymity of traffic further poisons the atmosphere. Dave Schlabowske, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Milwaukee, recalled a car pulling alongside as he pedaled to a meeting: passenger, a child of about 6, rolls down window. No seat belt.
Driver, male, fixes Mr. Schlabowske with a glare, and then gives instruction to small child. Obediently, child complies: he flips Mr. Schlabowske an obscene gesture, shouts complementary epithet. Looking triumphant, driver peels off.
To some extent, the hostility is a byproduct not only of the abdication of common sense, but of widespread ignorance of state and local laws. In every state, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. But in the particulars, state vehicle codes and municipal ordinances vary. Consider the frustrated driver who shouts to a cyclist, “Get on the sidewalk!”
The anticyclist hostility even follows riders into court. Just ask a bike lawyer. For as surely as night follows day, with more riders on the road, there is a small but growing peloton of lawyers specializing in bike law, usually representing injured cyclists.
Gary Brustin, a cyclist and California bike lawyer, said anticyclist fervor makes jury selection daunting. “They are white-hot about us,” Mr. Brustin said. “They are seething.” In California, bicycle plaintiffs lose two out of three cases that go to trial.
The anger has not gone unnoticed by officials around the country. A dozen states now mandate at least a three-foot passing gap. In June, South Carolina passed an antiharassment law to protect cyclists. ... Complete Streets bills seek to require that roads be designed for all users.