The wheel thing

One of the greatest feuds in history: Bikes vs. cars. This week, members of Salon's community, Table Talk, try to find middle ground.

Published June 13, 2008 10:40PM (EDT)

Issues and News

Bicycles vs. Cars

comixchik -- 11:26 am Pacific Time -- Jun 10, 2008

With the cost of gasoline going up and up, there are more bikes on the streets. More bikes means more bicycle vs. car confrontations. In Chicago, animosity between car drivers and bicycle riders is very high. If you drive a car, or ride a bike, or both, here's the place to discuss.

Jen -- 12:42 pm Pacific Time -- Jun 10, 2008 -- #2 of 21

I would like to use a bike more often but I'm frankly terrified. As for anecdotes of bad drivers, I see both horrible car and horrible bike behavior (I have seen 2 cars and at least 10 bikes ignore stop signs within the past few days) on my suburb's side streets this time of year. If I felt like I could ride safely, I'd ride more, but I think it would take dedicated (barricaded) bike lanes to get me onto busy streets during rush hour.

Randall -- 02:29 pm Pacific Time -- Jun 10, 2008 -- #3 of 21

I don't bicycle much anymore, but used to be quite a biker. When I first moved to Boston in the late 80s, I bicycled downtown as it was easier than driving. One day at lunch I was eavesdropping on the table next to me where a man kept going on and on about almost getting killed on the road. I thought, "What a weenie, I almost get killed 2 or 3 times every day and you don't hear me whining." But when I said that out loud to someone later, it occurred to me that I really shouldn't be bragging about that. I changed then from an urban biker to a country rider.

comixchik -- 02:49 pm Pacific Time -- Jun 10, 2008 -- #4 of 21

I've been doored several times. Part of the problem is that in his desire to make the city seem more green, the Mayor decreed bike paths. They consist of about a 2" painted path along streets, between the parking lane and the traffic. And no one honors them. Also, they have a tendency to disappear when the streets narrow.

Jen -- 09:36 pm Pacific Time -- Jun 10, 2008 -- #6 of 21

When you put parking on streets that shouldn't have it, have buses cutting in and out of lanes, inadequate or no bike lanes, and heavy urban traffic with a big dose of tourists and day visitors, plus bikes and pedestrians -- it's a statistical safe bet that someone's going to screw up and someone's going to get hurt.

I support bicycle (and pedestrian!) rights and think we need more signage and education to remind drivers that they must share the road, yield at crosswalks, give space to cyclists. And more enforcement during this time of year when I see the most stupidity -- we need cops pulling those people over immediately. If we wait until someone dies, we'll never see any behavior changes.

Cars kill a load of people in cars, too. Seat belts and speed limits and helmets minimize the results of human error -- it's a combination of rules and enforcement and designing to make errors -- which will happen -- less costly, right? If we want people to use bicycles, calling it "bike to work week" (did you know it is?) is great, but I think if we expect this to be a viable transit alternative for more than the hardy and brave few (or those who live along the lakefront), we need to actually spend some more money to redesign streets in a way that prioritizes safety for cyclists. Less on-street parking, better bike lanes separated from traffic, etc.

princessalex -- 08:43 am Pacific Time -- Jun 11, 2008 -- #9 of 21

DH talks about car drivers here who will throw bottles at bicyclists. Intentionally. He also comments about almost "biting it" on his regular rides to/from work. Fortunately, a large part of his commute is along a canal, where there's no car traffic.

Yeah, just telling people that they should ride their bikes, and saying that "it's okay" to ride them on the streets, with virtually no bike-safe improvements, is almost like adopting an older child and bringing him/her home, then telling your current child that "it's okay" -- this kid is going to share your room and all your stuff. And, then, expecting everyone to play nice and have no resentment? Get real.

comixchik -- 09:45 am Pacific Time -- Jun 11, 2008 -- #10 of 21

Chicago has made more gestures than anything else. I suspect it's the same most places. Our cities have been altered to accommodate the car, and regardless of how much damage that's doing, there are too many powerful interests making money off cars, including cities, to go against that.

Tona Aspsusa -- 06:52 am Pacific Time -- Jun 12, 2008 -- #14 of 21

Coming from a far less car-oriented place, my experiences will naturally be a bit different.

I too have experienced drivers who seem to have some unresolved issues with bicycles -- but really very, very few.

In the city I have far more trouble with people on bikes, both when I'm on one myself and as a pedestrian. I sometimes do stupid/inattentive things too, and sometimes I can't quite withstand the lure of gliding down a one way street or cutting across something on a sidewalk, but I really, really try to only do this when I'm virtually alone, no people or cars in sight.

It's not that all, or even a majority, of cyclists are egotistical idiots who think all rules of traffic magically disappear once you don't have an engine under you. It's just that there are enough of those to make me grind my teeth and mumble rude things.

I biked a lot more 10-15 years ago than I do now (I was more active and about town in general). That was about when the city started really building lots of dedicated bike lanes. Which in theory is good. BUT here they made the mistake of placing them level with the sidewalk, not the street proper. Which is a huge, huge mistake because it reinforced the numbskull cyclists' notion that they are somehow above normal traffic rules. AND you get pedestrians spilling over onto the bike lane, often without noticing it and without warning.

Except for the fact that many streets right around where I live are stone paved and/or have tram tracks on them, I'd really prefer sharing the space with cars instead of pedestrians and numbskull cyclists. Drivers in the city are usually on their way somewhere, they are paying attention (and I do give them slack on that front vis-à-vis me being small and sometimes hard to see), and they generally follow the rules. They are not out exercising or enjoying nature or feeling goody-good about how ecological they are being.

And I feel bad about complicating their driving when I because of convenience choose their space instead of the bike and walk paths. But if I'm in a hurry, and the street proper has a nice non-cobbly surface, no way I am going to make detours and tear up my nerves with the healthy bird-watching-from-the-saddle crowd, the dogs and the people just strolling along.

Oh, one thing: When riding in traffic, having a rearview mirror is a totally awesome thing. Really.

Randall -- 08:50 am Pacific Time -- Jun 12, 2008 -- #15 of 21

One of the local small cities mandated some bike paths. Apparently they assumed that bicyclists would want to bike the most heavily traveled roads. So they put a bike lane on the feeder roads from the highway to the shopping malls. I've never seen a bike in one, but drivers love using them as an auxiliary turn lane.

Clifton Nelson -- 08:09 am Pacific Time -- Jun 13, 2008 -- #18 of 21

I have always looked out for motorcycles since I began to drive -- including the old Allstate Motor Bikes. Therefore, I have not run over a bicyclist yet, but pretend that I am totally invisible when on my Schwinn. Cyclists who ride against the traffic are taking a horrible risk at intersections.

zollydog -- 08:17 am Pacific Time -- Jun 13, 2008 -- #19 of 21

Actually, that's a mini-rant of mine ... cyclists who break laws. There are some laws that I personally consider silly, and neither follow nor get angry at others when they don't follow. But then there's riding on the sidewalk, riding against traffic, riding inappropriately in formation, riding through stop traffic lights, and so on. It's a bad thing -- not only does it put the individual cyclist at risk, but it also puts all cyclists at risk by suggesting to drivers that cyclists aren't law-abiding or deserving of respect.

MLB -- 08:35 am Pacific Time -- Jun 13, 2008 -- #20 of 21

I don't live in a bike-friendly community. I'm 3.5 miles from work -- and if I DID ride my bike (on a Friday when it's casual dress day) -- I'd be on the sidewalk all the way.

There are waaay too many people who are not paying attention while driving. Either cell phones or iPods or screaming kids or whatever.

The same cannot be said for bikers.

A couple of cyclists have been killed -- by car drivers not paying attention -- riding in the local canyons and on long-distance rides.

There are "bike lanes" but absolutely no support whatsoever from the city/county/state to stand up for the rights of cyclists.

comixchik -- 08:39 am Pacific Time -- Jun 13, 2008 -- #21 of 21

I notice that there's a big difference here in how the bike messengers ride and how the bike commuters ride. Like cabdrivers, bike messengers are out to get where they are going fast -- and don't mind cutting corners to do so. They ride the wrong way, blow through traffic lights, ride the sidewalks, whatever it takes, just as the cabdrivers swerve through traffic and park illegally.

Your average commuter, however, is way more cautious, preferring to arrive uninjured to beating the clock.

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