As the old biblical verse goes, let he that is without sin cast the first scowl at a wayward cyclist.
Drivers: Who among us has never tiptoed over the speed limit, or failed to come to a full and complete stop? Have we all diligently signaled every single lane change?
Instead of calling out every cyclist who rolls through a stop sign, let us look into our hearts, to the road rage there. Are we not simply deflecting attention away from our own shortcomings as drivers? None of us is perfect. We could be better drivers, fellow road warriors, and in doing so, better humans too.
They – the cyclists, e-bikers and electric scooter pilots – could be better too, as Drive columnist Andrew Clark recently noted in calling out the dreaded L-turn. I’ve pulled a few Ls as a cyclist, sure. I’d like to report it felt glorious, gleefully naughty, but in truth it simply felt safer than the alternatives: merging across car traffic to a turning lane where there’s a 50-50 chance of being honked at, or crossing straight then left and being in the way of cars turning right.
The two-wheeled hordes are not without sin, but with greater power – two tonnes of steel propelled by several hundred horsepower – comes greater responsibility for drivers.
The true fault here lies not with drivers or cyclists, of course, but hold that thought for a moment.
The immediate issue is this: Schools are reopening now, and given the fact that transit ridership is down and bicycle sales have gone through the roof recently, owing largely to fear of the pandemic, youʼd better believe there’s going to be a wave of new, perhaps wobbly, excited young cyclists taking to the streets very soon.
This makes it an excellent time for drivers to kick some of the bad, road-hogging habits.
Stuck behind a car turning left? Squeezing to the right, between the curb and the turning car, can get you through and on your way. But squeezing right can also cut off any cyclist who happens to be riding beside you. Do it suddenly, and it leaves a rider nowhere to go but flying across your hood. Itʼs better to just be patient.
The casual glance
It’s all too easy to see only cars and trucks and miss the cyclist riding silently down the edge of the road. Check your mirrors and over your shoulders like it’s a nervous twitch. Stopped at a red light? Cyclists can ride up alongside at any time, and yes, some of them may be about to pull an L-turn, but all we’ve got to do as drivers is check right – something we should be doing anyway – and we’ll see them.
We’ve all swerved quickly to avoid a pothole or a nasty bump that threatens to spill whatever’s in the cupholder. Did you check your blind spot and mirror before swerving? Probably not. The swerve is a reflex that could send any cyclist who happens to be beside your car into the curb (at best) or under your wheels (at worst). If you’ve got to swerve to avoid something, check for cyclists.
No eye contact
Making eye contact with cyclists is a small gesture, but it makes traffic flow so much better. As a driver, a quick wave or nod lets a cyclist feel seen and know you’re not about to drive into them. The rider won’t need to slow down, which means they’ll get out of your way sooner.
Even if a driver leaves enough distance when passing a cyclist, the speed differential can be scary, like being overtaken by a minor tornado. Riding at 15 km/h and getting passed by an SUV doing 55 is harrowing. So if possible, slow down while passing a cyclist and leave plenty of distance. Too often, drivers do the opposite: they speed up to blast past.
The list could go on: opening a door without looking, sticking the nose of a car into a bike lane while turning across it, parking in a bike lane, squeezing past in a narrow construction zone.
Friends, road users, countrymen: Let us not cancel one another. The real reason we occasionally find ourselves at odds is that most roads and intersections aren’t well designed to accommodate all of us. The streets have yet to catch up to the way we use them now. Until they do, we need to be better.
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