I want to share something that was sent to me recently. The author asked to remain anonymous, but trust me, he knows what he’s talking about.
Why do so many drivers hate bicyclists? Bicyclists force drivers out of their normal stupor, making them pay attention to the road around them. Drivers recognize, if only subconsciously that they have to change their behavior or risk killing someone. How does one react when being told to change their behavior. I find my 5 year old nephew’s reaction is likely the same for many adults. Denial, Anger, Projection, depression and acceptance.
Denial. The first reaction is naturally defensive; I did nothing wrong! The cyclist appeared out of nowhere, as if they were transported off the Starship Enterprise. Or the mixture of lights, reflectors and bright colored clothing just happened to blend into the color of the asphalt while the sun completely blinded me going 40 mph when I couldn’t see a thing because I was texting on the cell phone, yet decided to speed anyway. See. Not my fault. A freak act of god (small g).
Anger/projection. Because they remain in denial, the anger is often projected outward towards the cyclist. This “fault” ends up being they are all lawbreakers. If they see another motorist run a stop sign, the first thought is that the motorist must also be a cyclist.
Lycra is the new symbol for a bike riding street gang on the same level as some nationwide criminal gangs, threatening you with taunts such as “Hey buddy, nice car. It would be a shame if it got my blood all over it.” The driver then races off in fear, peeling rubber as the bicyclist chases after them at a dangerous 12-15 mile per hour pace. Yes, they remember reading “The Tortoise and the Hare” and it didn’t end well at all for the hare.
Worse are the confrontations that happen at this stage. Adrenaline abounds on all sides after a near collision.
Bargaining. This is actually when recovery really starts, as the motorist is now thinking of solutions, albeit clouded by denial and anger so solutions must benefit the driver and punish cyclists. When they think about how they can resolve the issue, they offer such non solutions as registration fees, gas tax equivalents. Somehow, if bicyclists would only pay the $3/year for registration, drivers would welcome them onto the streets, pass safely, offer free donuts at stop lights and offering the occasional come hither look (hey, a cyclist can dream right?).
Depression. As much as I would enjoy the schadenfreude, being called out on his poor behavior that a driver would, like my five year old nephew, fling and then bury himself into the back seat of the car, crying and kicking.
Wait, let’s just pause for one moment to visualize that, (sigh) ok, moving on.
Depression is a good thing. Drivers are now noticing bicyclists on the road, and while peppered with anger and frustration at the occasional lawbreaker, they are noticing bicyclists and watching out for them, seeing how the rhythm of bicycle/motor vehicle occurs. Perhaps they are noticing where the road could be designed a little better to get cyclists out of their way. (I admit, I often perform mental bike audits when I am driving)
Acceptance. This is where the motorists truly recognizes the right of the bicyclist to be on the road, anticipate bicyclist behavior and act accordingly. Allow me to digress slightly to make my point. Years ago, when I first started taking transit, I would sit in the front row of the bus (to watch my bike on the rack), and I would gasp, hiss and cringe every time a car cut the bus off, or the driver had to hit the brakes quickly. Recognizing my frustration (and being annoyed by it), when we stopped at a light, he turned back towards me and said, “relax. I’ve got this.”
I call this the Tau of the Bus Rider. You can’t control everything so you must put your faith in other people to do the right thing. Bicyclists need to be predictable. Motorists need to pay enough attention to be able to predict what bikes are going to do and react accordingly.
In summary, motorists should pay more attention while driving, quit whining and just accept bicyclists as normal roadway users. but until that time, expect a lot of juvenile behavior.