How do we improve driver/cyclist cyclist/driver relationships?

Driver/cyclist, cyclist/driver relationships where I live are pretty bad.  We have comedians encouraging motorists to go and run over riders, we have people deliberately trying to run cyclists over and we have a legal system that seems to think that killing a cyclist is a lesser offense than killing a motorist.

But, we all have to live together.  Yep, even on bad roads, with heavy traffic and poor infrastructure, and a government that doesn’t have enough money to fix it.  So, in this post, I’ve tried to take out a lot of the angst, the blame and the finger pointing, and put down a couple of ideas that I think might help.  These are only looking at our behaviour.  I have lots of ideas on systems, legislation and infrastructure, but that’ll come later.

  1. Mutual respect.  Cars, acknowledge that bikes have a right to be there.    A cyclist is exercising their right to engage in a legal, valid form of transport.   If the roads aren’t built for cyclists?  That’s not the cyclist’s fault.  Lobby the government for better bike infrastructure and everyone wins.  Bikes, acknowledge that you do generally hold up traffic  .  Choose your route to minimise this.  For example, I know it’s a cyclist ‘s right to be on the road, but choosing to ride up a 1 lane steep, 5 km hill which is also a main road, in peak hour traffic?  Probably not a good idea.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but if you can, choose a different route.  Yes, I understand that you don’t HAVE to, but this is about us all trying to make the best out of a bad situation.  Let’s work together.
  2. Obey the road rules.  Cars, indicate and check your blind spot before pulling out, or changing lanes.  Don’t drive in the bike lane – no, not even 2 wheels.  Bikes? Stop at red lights.  You are legally allowed to go to the head of the queue of cars, but stop.  Yes, I know it’s a pain to get your foot out of the cleats, and I know that it’s a pain to have to accelerate off the lights.  And yes, I even know that sometimes it’s safer to go through the light then stop.  However, everytime a motorist sees a bike go through a red light, it makes their blood boil, and we end up creating anti-cyclist motorists.
  3. Acknowledge good behaviour as well as bad.  We’ve probably all gotten angry at a bike or car, maybe even made a few angry gestures.  I also try and make happy ones too.  If I’m stopped at lights (either in my car or on my bike), I try and give the driver/rider a smile and wave.  If a car lets me in, I pop up my hand to give them a thanks.  If I cyclist looks around a bend and waves me through to overtake, I wave on the way through.    Saying thanks, or acknowledging good behaviour makes people feel good about doing it, and helps to reinforce that it’s the right thing to do.   I watched a really interesting documentary once about the differences in the way people act when they walk or when they drive (cycling wasn’t mentioned).  Have you noticed that if you bump into someone walking across an intersection, you don’t immediately feel angry, swear or give them a finger? Why is it, when we drive, that if someone cuts us off at an intersection, our first indication is to get angry?  What they said was that we need eye contact and body language to read people’s intent.  When you are walking, you can see the other person’s whole body, so you can judge intent which means that you know that the person didn’t mean it.  The person says sorry, we move on as friends.  In cars, you are distanced from the person.  They become depersonified, and it is hard to read their intent.  Therefore it makes it easy to get angry with them.  So, by giving them a smile and a wave, it helps connect cyclists and drivers as two people battling against bad traffic, as opposed to two people battling against each other for one place in the traffic.

Anyhow, this probably sounds pretty fairytale-ish and probably even preachy, but they are my ideas for the day.  I know that the next time a driver yells at me out the window, I’ll still get angry, but if we can improve cyclist/driver driver/cyclist relationships, everyone wins.


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