- This Week
The Bike Plan is finally free. Can it help soothe tensions between cyclists and motorists?
08.10.10 - 3:20 pm | Rebecca Bowe |
At this point, no one really knows what made the SUV driver ram into Casajeros and the others. Yet during the press conference, Wyle sought to link the tragic rampage to a wider trend of drivers' aggressive behavior toward people on bikes.
"It's like a war zone out there," he said. Facing the news cameras, he held up a bumper sticker that read, "Share the road," and said, "this is my message. Just give cyclists some space."
While the terrifying hit-and-runs may have had more to do with Clark's mental state than with the anger that many motorists feel toward bicyclists, Wyle said he can't help but lump them together.
Every day, Wyle — who specializes in bicyclist incidents — says he receives a call from a cyclist who's had a run-in with an automobile. He says most accidents could be chalked up to simple carelessness on the part of motorists.
However, he notes that a small but growing number of altercations stem from reckless indifference or even overt vengeance, and he's represented numerous cyclists who were injured after mean-spirited games went awry.
"We've had cases where people have thrown items out of the car, including bottles, at bicyclists. They probably don't think 'I really want to hurt this person,' but they don't think it through clearly enough when they do play games with bicyclists," Wyle said.
He once had a client who tumbled into a ditch and broke her arm after a guy leaned out of a car window and smacked her on the butt. He's had several clients who were hurt after someone intentionally popped a car door open into their path after a conflict on the roadway. Every cyclist fears being "doored" because the sharp edge and firm obstacle can do serious damage.
The upshot of all this, Wyle says, is "Bicyclists feel like every time they're out for a ride, they're being assaulted by motorists who aren't paying attention ... and who basically are treating the bicyclists as if they're invisible."
But Wyle is quick to acknowledge that there's another side to the coin, especially when cyclists stop obeying traffic laws, often because they see most road users regularly violating traffic laws with impunity. Many cyclists also say stopping at every stop sign doesn't make sense given the importance of momentum and how long it takes bikes to get up to speed from a full stop. Whatever the reason, bicycle scofflaws can be a major source of irritation to some motorists.
"We've all seen that guy on a bike, talking to a friend off to his right, sitting there riding with no hands, taking a drink out of his water bottle, going about 10 mph with traffic piling up behind him. It's extremely arrogant, and it enrages car drivers," he said. "Those cyclists are their own worst enemies."
In May, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released a report summarizing the attitudes and perceptions at play in the streets. After months of interviews and research, the jury concluded, "Motorists see cyclists as arrogant, dangerous, despised, erratic, unpredictable, inconvenient, irresponsible, and vulnerable. Cyclists see motorists as an impediment, selfish, and materialistic, causing world havoc with financial systems and the environment."
Taken as a whole, the attitudes on both sides create a unique brand of road rage, one that often feeds into existing resentments and highlights telling societal power dynamics.
"When you're driving, and everyone's anonymous ... your assumption about why they're driving poorly or bicycling poorly ... is there's something wrong with that person," notes David Gard, a psychology professor at San Francisco State University. "They're a bad driver, they are inherently entitled, or they're a jerk — it's something about them as a person, as opposed to a situation."