Saturday, January 5, 2019

Never mind fault, nobody is looking at the real problem

The Washington Post ran a story a few days ago about a fight between a cyclist and a motorist on M Street in the District, a four-lane street. Apparently, the cyclist was in the right lane, the motorist came up behind and honked, the cyclist took offense, the motorist grabbed the guy's bike, and the cyclist responded by clobbering the driver with his U-lock, sending the guy to the hospital to get 18 stitches. Lots of other stuff involved (drugs, a non-functional ankle bracelet, lots of stuff involving race).

After reading the story and about a hundred comments, the one thing everyone missed is that a driver came up behind a cyclist on a four-lane street and honked at the cyclist. All else is downstream of that.

The cyclist was legally in the lane. Ignore for now any inebriation. Not relevant to the upstream issue. Cyclist was biking slowly, as if that mattered. It doesn’t matter if the cyclist was totally stopped. Four-lane street, you change lanes and go around, regardless of what the obstruction is. That’s what four-lane streets are *for*.

I will assume the driver was at or below the speed limit. I have no reason to think he was speeding, though my own experience from 10 years of on-street cycling tells me that 50% are 5 mph over, 10% are 10 mph over, and 1% are more than 15 mph over. But even if he was at or below 25, there’s no reason for him to lay on the horn. Just silently change lanes and go around.

Not doing that started the chain of events. So, why’d he honk instead of changing lanes? There’s the fundamental problem, never mind everything else. That is what every cyclist deals with on a constant basis, whether city, suburb or rural. Drivers simply do not know what to do when there’s a cyclist ahead. Cyclists are startled or annoyed, or scared out of their wits when this happens.

We have a cyclist who lives in the same area as where I bike occasionally, who’s regularly been in the news for being difficult when approached from behind. At the base of it, he’s right for insisting on lane control, but he’s been known to block cars trying to pass legally, and once brought rocks into a courtroom to pelt anyone he disagreed with. So, yeah, there are some idiot cyclists, but that does not excuse motorists who didn't just go around him, thus triggering the bad interactions.

I blame state departments of transportation for not educating drivers what the rules are. If everyone had to take a written exam every four years when renewing their license, and had to show they know what the rules are regarding interaction with bikes (and motorcyclists, horseback riders, pedestrians, motorized wheelchairs, etc.), maybe we’d see less of this.

We will only get significantly greater cyclist mode share, and have a hope of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, if we can reduce driver stupidity on this.

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