I don’t like the people that cars create. I subject myself to this judgment, remembering the 65 pounds I gained in the two years I owned an automobile in the early 2000s, when I could feel the laziness accumulating in my midsection as I folded myself into the driver’s seat.

Go ahead, give it a test: I’m willing to bet one of the worst versions of yourself is the one that holds a steering wheel. You’re likely more stressed, less patient, more entitled and aggressive, a bigger bully yet a perpetual victim.

And you might not be too bright, either, if you’re among the majority of drivers who constantly complain about gas prices and traffic, as if those aren’t two guaranteed burdens of car ownership. Some folks say Americans’ addiction to gasoline funds terrorism and destroys the planet, and all we care about is getting a few more gallons for fewer pennies.

Drivers seem enraged by every other car on the road, every pedestrian, every red light, every construction cone, every yield sign and everything else that interrupts their forward progress. As hopeless as Donald Trump’s election prospects are, he could win the White House by promising to equip every American’s automobile with a button that would unfurl a nuclear landscape that allows drivers to reach their destination without impediments (which is totally something Trump would instruct his Secretary of Transportation to implement for those who can afford it).

While drivers loathe the universe with which they are forced to share the road, most feel uniquely venomous toward bicycle riders, as has been previously discussed in these pages. Drivers’ main gripes against cyclists is that many biker riders run red lights, which is illegal.

However, it’s disingenuous for drivers to pretend they care about traffic violations. I’ve never had a driver scream, “Same rules, same road!” when I break the law by riding on the sidewalk during an extended uphill, so as to not delay the cars behind me.

Drivers only hate cyclists when they’re in the way, when the driver has to waste 5-20 seconds to pass the bike rider. Here’s a pro tip about life: you ain’t that busy, so calm down.

The bitterness drivers have toward cyclists is so irrational that many feel if a bike rider faces no punishment for running a red light, a driver should face no punishment for mowing a cyclist off the road. The same people who ignore the dozens of laws they break in their daily commute – from surpassing the speed limit and not yielding to pedestrians, to texting and being buzzed while driving – are ready to impose the death penalty on someone who pedaled past a stop sign.

Atlanta’s status as a car-centric city is evident in the soulless growth we’ve experienced over the past two decades. How many of Atlantans have never walked more than two blocks from their residence or the places they drive to regularly, whose primary interaction with this city is from a front door to their parking space?

The BeltLine promises to boost Atlanta’s pedestrian/street culture, but the trend in development is “urban campuses” such as Atlantic Station and Ponce City Market. These centralized hubs of “city life” that most people drive to (including the BeltLine itself) are chic, but they are far from the best version of Atlanta.

2 Responses

  1. Peter

    There’s some truth to this, but there’s more to it than the “cyclist is slowing me down.”

    The cycling community talks about how vulnerable cyclists are. And it’s true–we are vulnerable. And cars must take that into account when dealing with a cyclist on the road.

    But then the stop sign shows up.

    Now, the safest thing for a cyclist to do is to stop at the stop sign. It is very rare that a cyclist would be safer running a stop sign than stopping. At the very least, not stopping is as safe as stopping.

    So the cycling community talks about how safety is the most important thing for them. We just want to get home alive, after all. But then they do dangerous things like running stop signs.

    And if a cyclist is injured or killed when doing so? “You have to watch out for cyclists!” cries the cycling community. “We’re so vulnerable!”

    If you ask cyclists about running stop signs, you generally get two responses. The first is “the only person I’m risking is myself.” And I have no problem with this attitude, if the cyclist is also willing to accept responsibility for that risk. But it appears the cycling community is not willing to do so. If I’m cycling and I run a stop sign and nothing bad happens, woo hoo! I made a smart move! If I run the stop sign and something bad happens? “It’s the other guy’s fault! I’m the victim here–the car hit me!”

    Public risk, private reward.

    The second response is that stopping is “inconvenient.” As a cyclist, I work hard to build momentum and I definitely do not want to lose that momentum. Even if I didn’t work all that hard for the momentum (eg, coming down a hill), I still don’t want to lose it. So coming to a complete stop, unclipping, resting my foot on the ground, looking both ways, waiting until it’s clear before proceeding, and then having to build that momentum back up again is definitely not what I want to do. It’s a lot more work than a car, where you press the gas pedal and go. Especially after I’ve ridden 30 or so miles, the last thing I want to do is stop. I’m tired.

    Of course, as a motorist, I find stop signs “inconvenient” as well. They cost me money–that same exercise a cyclist has to do is something my car’s engine has to do. And if I’m approaching an intersection and I don’t see any cars, why should I have to stop?

    And this boils down to a third thing: We are all equals on the road. For the most part, we all follow the same rules. There are some who have extra rules that enhance everyone’s safety (eg, tanker trucks stop at railroad crossings). But the idea is to create a safe environment that we all can share.

    So, yeah, I’m inconvenienced by a stop sign. But so is everybody else. And it is safer if I stop. So I’ll put up with it. But here come the cyclists who say, “Hey, this rule shouldn’t apply to me! I shouldn’t be inconvenienced by a stop sign.” Well, why not? We share the same road, why does your convenience trump my convenience?

    And that’s the big thing: The Road Is A Shared Resource. Yeah, I’m constantly amazed at the idiots out there–regardless of their mode of transportation. I would love to subject certain people to eight hours of Barney’s “Sharing is Caring” song–I’m picturing a sort of “Clockwork Orange”-esque viewing environment–to try to get through to them that they are not the most important person in the world and they have to get along with everyone else. So, yeah, you can chill behind the cyclist going 15 MPH down the street for a minute or so. Conversely, you can stop at the stop sign and let the car behind you pass.

    If we spend a bit more time thinking about the other person over ourselves, maybe we can have a better world.

    Reply
  2. Charlie Stadtlander

    I no longer drive a car and now walk almost everywhere. As a pedestrian, I’ve quickly learned some important lessons.

    First, my life is almost always in danger from cars, motorcycles, and bicyclists. When I’m walking the dog, the risk doubles. The greatest danger doesn’t come from “crazy” car drivers.
    Instead, it comes from bicyclists who pedal at high speeds-often with ear buds in-who show a total disregard for all traffic laws, safe defensive driving, and common courtesy.

    Many of these bicyclists ride in an irratic and unpredictable manner. They weave back and forth at high speeds between the road and sidewalk, without giving notice to cars, other bicyclists, or pedestrians.

    As a pedestrian, I am constantly dodging bicyclists who ignore basic traffic laws, as well illegally zoom down sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks. I’m surprised that I’ve not yet been hit. It’s come close, buy not yet.

    These bicyclists commonly run stop signs, go in and out of pedestrian lanes and sidewalks at will, ride in between cars to get to the front of the line (putting pedestrians exiting a vehicle or bus at risk of being hit), and regularly commit many other unsafe and illegal behaviors.

    But, let a driver or pedestrian accidentally cross a bicyclist in the wrong way. Your mistake will result in a wrath of fire, and you will receive the most severe tongue lashing about your disrespect for humanity and mankind.

    My Own Personal Experience:

    While walking my dog one recent morning, I came way too close to being severely injured, or even killed, by one such bicyclist as described above. This bicyclist was pedaling quite fast, darting back and forth from the sidewalk to the road-and then back again. According to witness statements, she had been cycling very dangerously immediately prior to our encounter.

    As I was crossing in a clearly marked pedestrian crosswalk at a 4-way stop sign with my dog, the bicyclist suddenly appeared. She was approaching the 4-way stop, including the crosswalk I was in, at full speed. Since she was going so fast, it was clear that she had no intention of adhering to her legal obligation to yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk.

    As I realized that she was going to blow through the 4-way stop sign as well as the pedestrian crosswalk I was in, I started to panic. She was coming so fast and driving so irraticly, I didn’t know how–which way to go–or if I had time–to get out of her way.

    Fortunately, a Good Samaritan driver saw what was a about to happen, and quickly maneuvered her car into a protective position. Almost instantly, the bicyclist crashed into the Good Samaritan’s car-causing a lot of damage to her bicycle and the car. Due to this kind lady’s quick thinking, she most Iikely saved me and my dog from serious injury or even death, caused by an inattentive, arrogant, and unsafe, bicyclist.

    What surprised me was the combative attitude of the bicyclist who had clearly violated several traffic laws and nearly hit me. Once we made sure she was okay after crashing into the car, she began hollering that it was “all our fault,” apparently forgetting that the cars were stopped, I was in a pedestrian crosswalk with my dog and had the right of way, she was speeding, ran a stop sign, and caused an accident with significant property damage.

    I decided that it wasn’t going to make much impact to try to educate this bicyclist on the law. One of the more disturbing aspects was that the bicyclist believed that both pedestrians and cars were required to yield to bicycles. She also believed that bicyclists were only” encouraged” to follow the traffic laws of the road when it was safe to do so, but that it wasn’t a legal requirement.

    The Good Samaritan ultimately had to file suit against the bicyclist for the damages to her car. The bicyclist argued that she was not liable because our city is “bike friendly,” doesn’t require a drivers license to drive a bike, and that the law isn’t clear if bicyclists are required to obey the traffic laws of the road.

    Fortunately, the she lost and had to pay to fix the Good Samaritan’s car. She also received a stern lecture from the judge and was ordered to attend a bicycle training course.

    The ultimate point of this long post is to show that it’s not always the cars or the pedestrians causing danger on the roads. Bicycles-especially while going at a fast speed-can cause serious injury to pedestrians or even car drivers.

    It would be incredibly smart to require bicyclists who cycle on public roadways to take bicycle training courses and to even receive a bicycle driver’s license.

    I also wanted to highlight the fact that many bicyclists-though not all- have the totally wrong attitude and thought process about the “rules of the road” for all. Traffic laws absolutely apply to bicyclists. And, pedestrians almost always have the right of way. Yes, remembering to share the road is important for car drivers. But, making sure that bicyclists also know that they must obey all traffic laws and are responsible for bicycling in a safe manner is equally important.

    This will ensure that we are all as safe as possible as we journey across our cities and towns to get to work, school, and play spaces.

    Reply

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