On Sharing the Road: Cars, Cyclists, Pedestrians, and How We Can All Be Safer
|My pretty car back in Denali when she had Alaska plates.|
There's a lot more to say on this issue, as there usually is on most hot topics, but the subject of road sharing has become particularly prevalent in my life these days. According to the Philadelphia City Paper's recent cover story, Biketopia, the number of cyclists in Philadelphia has doubled in three years and I can see why.
Cars are expensive and a royal pain to keep in the city. I have a car, and I love her. But I definitely do not love fighting with other residents for parking spaces, or with the PPA to keep my car in the space without tickets or towing. (Yep, I heard about the TV show "Parking Wars" long before I moved to Philly.) I refuse to move my car from a safe spot unless my life depends on it. Not to mention the blood pressure spikes I experience trying to drive around the city; the use of turn signals is never required, lane changing without looking is a given, and forget trying to get anywhere during rush hour. So, when I go to the rock gym, a friend's house, any location more than ten blocks from which I don't have to carry anything huge, I'll consider using my bike. That opens up a whole new can of worms.
I firmly believe drivers and cyclicsts should be able to share the road in a friendly, efficient, safe manner. In a perfect world, every road in Philadelphia would have a bike lane, but right now there is no real network of bike lanes in the city. Lanes will begin and abruptly end. There are lanes on roads that don't need them and no lanes on roads that are in desperate need of them.
|Friends (with helmets!) on the Ben Franklin Bridge, bikes in hand! (M. Pierwola)|
Drivers need to accept the fact that cyclists are here to stay, and rather than revving engines or speeding past cyclists on roads , they should help cyclists stay safe. And cyclists need to accept the fact that if they're riding on the road, they need to ride defensively and pay attention to traffic rules.
On the way to the rock gym last night, I almost witnessed a serious accident between a cyclist and a cab. Three cyclists were riding east on Pine Street, helmetless. One fell a bit behind, and in an effort to catch up, ran a red light and almost got slammed into the pavement by a cab driver. I can't imagine the guy would've survived being hit by a car going 30mph without a helmet. Although I'm guilty of this as well, there is absolutely no good reason why, as a cyclist, you should disobey traffic signals. I won't even enter in to the helmet debate here. And, while I'm at it, why on earth is there a helmet debate?
I would argue that a large part of the reason why drivers hate cyclists is because they ride on streets with cars, expect to be respected and treated like cars, but don't behave like cars. As both a driver and a biker, I get extremely angry when I see cyclists weaving in and out of traffic and speeding past cars stopped at traffic lights. True, getting on a bike means using your own pedal power to get somewhere, and it takes you longer to ride one block than it does a car to drive the same distance. But is running a red light or stop sign, rather than waiting like all the other vehicles on the road, really worth it?
A good friend told me last night he'd read or heard that our brains are so trained to look for other motor vehicles at intersections that we don't even bother to look for cyclists. Our eyes are trained to see large moving objects, not the small ones, when we're driving. Both cyclists and drivers should be aware of this, and make a more concerted effort to watch out for each other.
In a really ideal, really perfect world, we'd be able to model our cities after places like Amsterdam, and other forward-thinking places that have realized the importance of planning around non-motorized and public transportation. We would have bike paths and lanes that connect the entire country, or at least a major metropolitan area. Cyclists would be well respected, and cycling would be recognized as an efficient, healthy, environmentally friendly way to get around. But until then, we're just going to have to share.
Are you comfortable cycling on roads where you live? What do you think would make cycling on roads safer? As a driver, what are your thoughts on cyclists on roads originally designed for cars? We'd love to hear from you!