Bikes versus cars

The common morality in regard to the automobile is based upon obeying the law, and this makes it easy for people to dismiss their own driving as having little impact upon pollution or our dependence upon foreign oil. I even know a great many motorists who hate bicyclists, because, as they claim, bicyclists use the roads without paying a gas tax. Most road funds come from other taxes, but even if this were not true, shouldn’t bicyclists be given a break for the harm they don’t do? They don’t stink up the air; they don’t contribute to global warming; they don’t make noise; they don’t leak oil; they don’t wear out the pavement; they don’t increase our dependence upon the Middle East; and they almost never kill people. None of these factors are relevant in the minds of people who hate bicyclists. I think that if they were honest, they would have to admit that they mostly hate bikes because bikes are not the common mode of transport (they’re damned near un-American to hear some people tell it), and because they slow traffic.

I just returned from the supermarket. I was obliged to bike on a busy street for part of the trip, and his gave me two choices: I could ride in the right-hand traffic lane, or I could ride where people park. The traffic lane had been paved repeatedly since the parking area had been paved, so the pavement in the parking area was rough, cracked, and potholed. It also contained an occasional parked car along with such roadside obstacles as rocks, broken bottles, and sand from street deicing. But the traffic lane was filled with motorists who wouldn’t hesitate to honk, curse, and pass without changing lanes. When a motorist is in a hurry, and something that is slow and small blocks his way, the impulse is to show the offender who owns the road. This means that dozens of times per mile, two and three ton hunks of steel piloted by drivers of varying abilities and degrees of sobriety pass within twelve inches of my handlebars at forty miles per hour.

Since most motorists exercise considerable caution when passing that close to a stationary car in a parking lot, I must conclude that they place little value upon my life as a bicyclist, although I’m sure they would be extremely sorry—for themselves at least—if they were hauled into court for killing me. Unfortunately, juries are composed largely of drivers who could just as easily be on trial themselves, and are therefore eager to pardon their brethren.

Cars hit bikes so frequently in Eugene that such accidents aren’t mentioned by the press unless someone was killed or the motorist fled. There was an incident last weekend in which a man in a Jeep Cherokee hit a woman on a bike (and in a bike lane), jumped from his SUV, cursed her as she lay on the pavement, got back into his SUV, crushed her bicycle, and fled the scene. The very idea that someone of driving age would choose to ride a bicycle when she could be driving a car absolutely infuriates a some people even in this city that is known for being bicycle friendly.

Pedestrians are treated some better if only because they are in the road less. But let one try crossing the road. (Two blocks from where the bicyclist was hit by the Jeep, a pedestrian was killed by a hit-and-run driver the previous weekend.) Eugene recently installed a great many pedestrian/bicycle crosswalks, yet not more than one out of fifty cars will actually allow a pedestrian to cross. I see person after person waiting in the crosswalk, not until a car yields to him, but until no more cars are coming. I’m not so timid. No privileged class gives up privileges until forced.