Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On reducing friction between motorists and cyclists

This post was offered by Fred Meredith on the League Cycling Instructor e-list as a suggestion for increasing cyclist-noncyclist (i.e., motorist) cooperation from the cycling perspective. The context was addressing and reducing anti-cycling attitudes. Fred has been a writer, a nuclear reactor operator, college student, and trainer of League Cycling Instructors. He rides bikes a lot, too; check out his web site.

Read on.

From Fred:

All of us out there on the road, regardless of the vehicle we are "driving," have the same needs that apply in the rest of our lives. We need to be acknowledged and we need to be validated.

When you ride in the traffic lane whether alone or in a pack, if you never turn and look at the roaduser behind you until you need to make a course change, you are not doing much to acknowledge their presence.

Unless the roaduser behind you understands about helmet and eyeglass-mounted mirrors and spots yours, they have no assurance that you know they are there. Acknowledging their presence is important.


If, upon their approach behind you, you do not acknowledge their presence by a look back in their direction or a change in your behavior (a move toward the shoulder, a singling up of the group or a cooperative hand signal, whichever is appropriate), you not only fail to acknowledge their presence, but you fail to validate their right to be there and the right of faster traffic to receive cooperation from slower traffic, when possible, to help facilitate their progress.

Acknowledgment and validation are COOPERATIVE behaviors. Appearing to totally ignore the needs of any overtaking roadusers is none of the above. It is often interpreted as defiant, hostile and self centered (like motorists who race up a vanishing lane to get in front of everyone else on their daily commute -- it's about them, and nobody else.)

Even though I am a cyclist, when I am driving and come up behind a group of cyclists, or even a single rider who makes no indication that they know I am there or care whether I am being impeded "unnecessarily," I feel some negative thoughts creeping in. I can only describe those feelings as righteous indignation that builds as the duration of the "ignoring" grows longer.

In cyclist vs. cyclist terms, the feeling is similar to what I feel when I give a nod, a wave or a verbal greeting to another rider (traveling either direction) and they respond by totally ignoring me. No return acknowledgment. I usually think of them as snobby SOBs even though I know their brothers and sisters will come to their defense with excuses like, "They are so focused on their training that they probably didn't see you." Yeah, right, focused. More likely it is that I have a rack trunk or a pannier on my bike and I'm wearing a bright yellow t-shirt instead of a jersey.

I have a theory that THESE individuals are some of the prime candidates for pissing off motorists.

As they tick off the number of negative incidents they have with motorists, they will insist that they have done nothing wrong to provoke such reactions. Well, maybe so, but they haven't done enough right, either.

Part of being professional out there on the road, is being cooperative and working with others to keep the situation safe and flowing.

This is long enough for this post. Some time in the future I will expand on my theory like explaining how one cooperative act is an acknowledgment and two successive cooperative acts (with the same motorist) becomes a validation. The former may get a friendly wave, but the latter almost always will.

Fred (ruthlessly longwinded) Meredith

When in doubt … ride your bike, or at least write about it.

Fred Meredith
P.O. Box 100*
Manchaca, TX 78652

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