Describe Your Ride: What riding a bike can teach us about driving a car

Here’s a little different take on this feature. 

Brian Dotson offers insights on what he’s learned about “mindful driving” by riding his bike in the suburbs of Houston, which he compares to Anaheim.

And that may be my favorite new phrase of the year. 

……..

I’d like to describe one of my ride’s effects on me.

I cycle primarily for transport in the suburbs of Houston Texas.  My environment is like that around Anaheim.  We’ve got a few shared-use routes like your Santa Ana River Trail, and we’re getting more.  And these trails are really good when they go the right direction.  But to reach destinations like work, stores, and public services, I have to cycle with motor vehicle traffic.

Consequently most of my cycling is on suburban roads with 35-50 mph posted speed limits, and my primary objective is preventing collisions.  Over the past ten years I’ve gotten in the habit of replaying each trip in my head, thinking through ways to reduce my risk.  As recently as my last trip to an infrequent location, I decided to adjust my route to handle a specific situation at an intersection in a different way.  This “mindful cycling” is a habit that kicks in anytime I ride, even on the shared-use trails.

Earlier this year I had occasion to think about the pyramid of traffic casualties that is topped by over 300 deaths per year in Harris County, Texas.  By far, the majority of the casualties are motor vehicle occupants.  So I decided to start “mindful driving” when motoring.

Wow.  I’m finding it incredibly difficult to change 40+ years of habit.  What drove this home for me was the day I started off with no radio (no distractions for “mindful driving,” of course) and when I got to my destination, the radio was on!  All by itself!

Why is this?  It must be because I’m a highly-trained, above-average driver who is so experienced that thinking about my driving experiences and looking for ways to improve just aren’t worthwhile.

Yeah, right.

Much more likely is that 40+ years of mindless habits inside a steel box are very hard to break.

So my ride has shown me that I have a driving problem.

I need help.  I’ve recruited my daughter to help me say a little reminder that “no one gets hurt around us on this trip” when we set off in a motor vehicle.  Maybe going public with my problem will help. I really want to drive as safely as I cycle.

……..

If you’d like to share your ride with us, just send it to the email address on the About BikinginLA page. It can be a rant, rave or anything in between, from a few sentences to a detailed description. Or any other format you think tells the story best, however and wherever you ride.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

4 comments

  1. Brian’s “mindful driving” and “mindful cycling” are great reminders to realistically or even skeptically self examine our driving and cycling experiences.

    As he said, we can play back each ride or each drive in our heads and think of ways to do it better.

    My wife and I have go beyond self examination by offering friendly critiques if we notice something that isn’t safe. It takes some assertiveness to offer that criticism, and it takes some self confidence to accept that criticism, but I’m sure we’re safer because of it.

    Good article!

  2. Karen Karabell says:

    Brian’s observations remind me of a column CyclingSavvy founder Keri Caffrey wrote five years ago on Mindful Bicycling: http://cyclingsavvy.org/2010/06/mindful-bicycling/

  3. yawfle says:

    Best thing I’ve read in a while. Yes, habits in a box.

  4. Ralph says:

    It is hard to keep your focus, especially on a commute route. When everything has become mundane. I applaud the effort. I think cycling makes for safer drivers. The reason being is that you tend to develop the habit of being more aware. Would be good to see some data.

    Take care and stay alert.

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