An Experiment in Driver-Cyclist Interaction, Powered By Christmas Lights

When you’re on a bike getting passed by motorists going 20 or 30 mph faster than you, it can feel like one act of deliberate aggression after another. And in many cases there is real, seething hostility and complete disregard for other people’s safety at work. But a lot of the time, people drive fast because that’s the message the street design is sending, and they don’t know any better.

Three out of four motorists dig these lights. Photo: Transport Providence

Today on the Streetsblog Network, James Kennedy at Transport Providence shares a story to illustrate the point:

I have these battery-lit LED Christmas lights strung up on my bike, and they’ve proven a great improvement for my mental health. I suggest you get some (they’re like $20 for a two-wheel set) and go riding at night. It’ll make a true believer of you about how street design rather than people’s personalities is the font of all driving mistakes.

I was riding home along S. Water St. the other night, from Waterfire no less, and the lights gave me a great thing. Here’s what was said to me out the car windows:

Driver 1 (whizzing by too fast): Great lights!
Driver 2 (also whizzing by too fast, then speeding up even more): Get on the fucking sidewalk!
Driver 3 (yep, too fast): Your bike is awesome!
Driver 4 Yeah!

What do we learn here (mind you, with a very anecdotal sample size)? 3 out of 4 drivers like bikes on the road and will hang out their window in order to say so if there’s a good reason. The last 25% are aggressive, awful people. The actual numbers are probably different, you know, but let’s just say that this proves the wisdom that most people are nice. At minimum it also shows that no amount of being nice will make you behave on a road that makes you feel like you’re not speeding when you are.

Until we have roads that constrict bad driving, good drivers will go way too fast, and bad drivers will act like they own the road. It just takes that one person yelling out the window to ruin a whole ride, and for most people that will be the last they ever get on a bicycle. But on S. Water St. I encounter someone yelling at me 100% of the time. At least one person out of that line of people always yells. It’s just that usually it’s during the day so I don’t get the positive reinforcement along with it (I do get the universal speeding).

Honk! Honk! Protected bike lanes! Build ’em!

Elsewhere on the Network: A grassroots push for a revenue-neutral carbon tax is butting up against a cap-and-trade proposal with the backing of establishment players in Washington state, reports Seattle Transit Blog. And Vibrant Bay Area weighs in on a missed opportunity to make a sports complex in Petaluma more transit-accessible.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Refereeing the Raging Debate Over the “Specialness” of Cyclists

|
There’s a tussle going on right now about how cyclists should ride on city streets. Yesterday’s Streetsblog Network post took a snapshot of this debate, excerpting the WashCycle’s response to a Sarah Goodyear piece in Atlantic Cities. Sarah wrote that cycling is no longer a mode for daredevils and mavericks weaving through traffic. Some cities now […]
People who bike are no more likely to disregard traffic laws than people who drive, according to a new survey published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use. Photo: Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons

Busting the Myth of the “Scofflaw Cyclist”

|
According to a certain perspective that seems to hold sway among local newspaper columnists, bicyclists are reckless daredevils who flout the road rules that everyone else faithfully upholds. But the results of a massive survey published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use point to a different conclusion -- everyone breaks traffic laws, and there's nothing extraordinary about how people behave on bikes.