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More bicyclists provoking driver backlash?

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:06am

Image of bicycle commuter
From Newsweek, 07.28.08:

Pedal vs. Metal
A surge in bike ridership spurs a new kind of road rage

When gas prices surged above $4 per gallon earlier this year, it didn't take Nostradamus to predict that there would be a resultant rush to carbon-free commuting options—especially in a place like Portland, which is known for its ample network of bike lanes. Cyclists in "Stumptown" are spinning their spokes here in unprecedented numbers, trading in their fuel-guzzling SUVs for stylish 27-speeds.

But the cycling surge has created conflict, as the new breed of commuters bumps up against the old, oil-powered kind...An escalating war between two-wheelers and four-wheelers, brought on by sky-high gas prices? Absolutely not, insist cyclists, city officials and the local newspaper, which has called the hoopla "a war of anecdotes." Injuries to cyclists remain steady even as ridership surpasses record levels, according to statistics kept by the city. Portland was recently named one of two "platinum" U.S. cities by the League of American Bicyclists, and most agree that there's safety in numbers; more pedestrians and cyclists on the road means more awareness and greater caution on the part of drivers.

But there's also clearly plenty of tension on Portland's streets, and the strange two-week spate of clashes this summer that has people wondering whether the incidents are a sign of further trouble to come...The numbers of new cyclists on the road are staggering...The surge has by and large been safe. Injuries to cyclists has remained flat even with double-digit increases annually in their numbers over the last several years. ( Read more.)
Provocative article about a purported escalation of conflict between bicyclists and motorists on streets in Portland and other American cities. Record high gas prices are clearly leading to more bicyclists. Combining this trend with widely publicized incidents at Critical Mass events in New York City and Seattle, a few journalists have aroused themselves to suggest a raging battle on the nation's streets. Hmmmm. Count me among the skeptical.

Typical of this coverage of animosity between drivers and pedalers was a recent Reuters article, Cyclists and drivers struggle for harmony, which also pointed to the incidents in Portland. Another recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Risking Life and Limb, Riding a Bike to Work in LA, highlighted the hostility from motorists confronting some Los Angeles area bicyclists. "Cyclists have equal rights, but in fact a lot of motorists think they should get off the road," Lynne Goldsmith, manager of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority's bike program, told the Journal. "When we're used to seeing more cyclists, we will treat them better."

Are the streets really more hostile to bicyclists today than they were a year ago? Have high gas prices raised the temper of the country's most malevolent drivers? Do more bikes really cause greater traffic congestion? There is clearly a continuing struggle for space on American streets, but is it reaching a critical breaking point? More thoughtful commentators, such as Charles Montgomery in his Momentum Magazine essay "Bike Rage", point to a legacy of poor transportation planning as the real cause:
This kind of road rage is a symptom of the corrosive effect that modern commuting has on urban culture. Aggressive streets are not just dangerous, they change the way we feel and the way we treat each other, even when we’re not commuting.... The problem is that city planners have mixed bikes and cars together in ways that offer little certainty about how each should operate, and lots of chances for conflict. Cyclists feel threatened in traffic, just like drivers. Many of us feel hard done by and under attack. I sure do. The average arterial road is an engine of conflict. ( Read more.)
For more than 60 years transportation planners prioritized vehicle speed above nearly every other consideration, providing motorists with a great sense of empowerment. It will be some time until we can quantitatively determine the significance of the reported surge in bicycling, and if it will persist. If bicycling activity does continue to grow, this should support advocacy demands for improved street design (" Complete Streets") to better accommodate bicyclists. As always, bicyclists will need to be involved with advocacy.

I'm admittedly fortunate to travel in a relatively bicycle-friendly environment, commuting from my home in bronze-level bicycle city Sacramento to my office in platinum-level Davis. My own experience and my understanding of the research confirms Lynn Goldsmith's assertion, that more bicyclists equals greater safety for all bicyclists. But what's your experience where you travel? Are drivers really getting more hostile?

Image: Web capture.
Visit:Moving Targets, New York Times
Visit:The Myth of the Scoflaw Cyclist, TheWashCycle
Visit:Motorists should give bikers a little leeway, Lexington Herald-Leader
Visit:Bicyclists and motorists clash as more ride bikes to avoid high gas prices, Vero Beach Press Bulletin (FL)
Visit:How to kill a bicyclist, Bicycle Spokesman
Visit:Conflict on the Roads, Bicycling.com
Visit:Blogging Cyclist Calls for Truce in Car v Bike Culture Wars, StreetsBlog LA
Visit:Newly Numerous, Cyclists Face Angry Drivers, New West
Visit:More Taking to Bicycles - But Use Caution, Ozarks First
Visit:Do drivers know how to share the road?, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Visit:Uneasy riders bemoan quality of infrastructure, South Jersey Post-Courier
Visit:Sydney drivers 'worst' for bike rage, Sydney Morning Herald
Visit:Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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