Trevor Hughes, an old friend and classmate from my hometown has a USA Today byline today- on cyclist/motorist conflicts. Check it out.
The story is familiar, especially for the West: Sheriff doesn't like the traffic conflict caused by cyclists. Lots of recreational cyclists in conflict with people "just trying to get to work" Local cyclist recounts various abuses visited upon him by drivers. Local driver complains about cyclists not following the rules. Sheriff is doing his best to balance the legal rights and interests of both groups. Local driver thinks the problem is the influx of new people into "his" state.
This sort of story plays out all over the place, year after year. Comment threads generated by these articles turn into cyclist/motorist hate-fests, and little understanding ever seems to come of it. Out on the street, some cyclists don't follow the rules, some drivers are jerks to cyclists, and each group defines the other by its outliers. It's not the hundered cars that pass you without incident that you remember, or the cyclist patiently waiting at the red light at the empty intersection.
What is the solution?
It's easy to blame the problem on a lack of indfrastructure. Bike lanes, bike paths, and signage do help, but are slow to produce and expensive. More enforcement? You won't hear me argue that at all. I'd love to see bike and car scofflaws alike pulled over and fined for their transgressions. Anything that encourages all of us to follow all of the rules would be a great help. Perhaps I'm biased here, but I think the start of all of this ought to be better education. A lot of drivers misunderstand their interactions with cyclists because they don't understand the world from their perspective, and a number of cyclists don't seem to get it* when it comes to riding assertively and legally in traffic.
What form would education take? The first thing is to impress upon the minds of the American public that a bicycle ridden on the road is not a toy. It is a vehicle, and using it on public roads involves following the rules for those roads. In my mind, this education could happen as a part of the coursework that is necessary to get a license to drive a car. Start that coursework with a couple of days of teaching effective cycling on the road.
In fact, how about having to take an effective cycling course and logging 100+ bike miles on the street before being able to get a learners' permit? Maybe when people turn 13 or 14, they take a class and pass a test, all on their bikes, all about the proper way to ride with traffic, to yield, to take the lane when necessary, to give the lane when safe, etc. Maybe a road test at the end. What if everybody who had a drivers' license in this country started off with a real-world understanding of "share the road."
On the enforcement side, how about cyclists who get busted for running stops signs and red lights getting points on their licenses, and losing the right to drive a car if they get too many points, even on their bike? Most cyclists are also drivers and depend on their cars at least some of the time. There are even cyclist who start every ride they go on by driving to its beginning point.
It sounds like the sheriff in Trevor's article is trying pretty hard to maintain peace between the bikes and the cars in his little part of the world. He has some disomfot with teh "three foot law" which can effectively trap a motorist behind a cyclist on a narrow canyon road. In my mind, the onus in that case falls on the cyclist to find a safe place to get over on the side and let the driver by, especially when the cyclist is going well under the speed limit. There's nothing wrong with the cyclist waiting untiol it is safe to do so, but uneccesarily impeding traffic is jerk behavior no matter who's doing it.
What do people think? Will we ever move past this tired old conflict, will we ever recognize that we cannot define each other by the small number of rule-breakers? Can't we all just get along?
*Like the guy we had to deal with on Williston Road between Dorset Street and Hinesburg Road the other day. Nice road bike, full kit** in some sort of team colors (don't know who's riding in red shorts this year), looked like he was a pretty serious rider. But he wasn't serious enough to flow with traffic. Instead, at every red light in heavy traffic, he would ride up on the right of the stopped cars, using the sidewalk if he had to. The light would go green, and everybody who had just passed him after the last red light would have to pass him again. He was causing a huge congestion problem, he wasn't riding with traffic, and he was making cyclists who use the road legitimately look bad. He also wasn't getting where he was going any faster than anybody else on the road.
**Another peeve- I'm mentioning that he had the spandex uni on in this case to make the point that he looked like he was pretty serious about cycling, not because I'm falling into the "spandex-clad Lance Armstrong wannabe" stereotype, which is a staple of Internet cyclist hate comment threads. To anybody who has ever made that comment- spend a hot day on a bike, riding into the wind, wearing regular shorts and a T-shirt. you may never wear the spandex*** stuff yourself, but you'll probably understand why many cyclists do.
***It's actually lycra, but nobody gets that right.