The Rules of the Road...and of Physics
August 3, 2010 9:35 AM
Can't we all just get along? That was the gist of a very good article in last week's Cap Times by reporter Steve Elbow: http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/health_med_fit/article_ff444eaf-6904-55e6-8eac-17b9b66554e3.html.
An intrepid bike commuter, Elbow wrote his article as an open letter to car drivers and fellow bicyclists calling for a truce in what he and others perceive to be growing tensions between them. I have to say that most of my experiences have been just the opposite. I find motorists stopping to let me cross at intersections, sometimes even when they have the right of way (I'm sure this has nothing to do with anyone recognizing me as the dominant inclination in that case might be to hit the accelerator instead).
But I don't doubt Elbow's story. I hear similar stories from fellow bikers, and I see it in my mail. I think the solutions are partly in traffic engineering and partly in a little human understanding.
We're hard at work on the engineering part. In my recent trip to Europe, one thing I learned is that bikers (and they have a lot more of them than we do) know exactly where to be at all times. Lanes, paths and crossings are clearly marked and they're plentiful. As a result there's a place for bikes, cars and usually mass transit of some kind on virtually every street. Nobody has to feel like they're competing for space. When I was biking in European cities, I never worried about cars.
But while Madison has around 100 miles of bike paths and bike routes, we have about 1,700 lane miles of streets. So the installation of more infrastructure will take some time.
So, in the meantime, we shouldn't have a mean time. We need to build some understanding between bicyclists and drivers. We should all start by trying to obey the rules of the road more than we do now. And we should keep in mind some basic rules of physics and common sense. I am both a driver and a bicyclist, and I drive a lot more than I bike. But I understand that when I'm behind the wheel of a car, I'm in control of a few thousand pounds of glass and steel that can reach high speeds. When I'm on my bike, I'm riding maybe 25 pounds of metal and I can hit 25 miles per hour if I'm lucky. If I hit a car while riding my bike I might dent a door. If I hit a bike while I'm driving I could very well kill the cyclist.
No matter how irritating a driver might find cyclists (and I admit that some cyclists aren't as careful as they should be), there's just no excuse for an over aggressive attitude on the part of those of us who have the heavy responsibility of driving a heavy vehicle. I get irritated every so often too, but then I think is there anything a cyclist can do that would get me so upset as to justify hurting or killing them? It's a good idea to just take a deep breath once in awhile and keep things in perspective.
On a lighter note, there was a good article in the New York Times the other day about the wonders of biking in the Madison region. It reminds us that biking isn't just fun, but an activity that generates visitors, tourism dollars and goodwill for our area. You can check out the story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/sports/cycling/28wisconsin.html.