Monday, May 11, 2015

Drivers and Cyclists: Can't We All Just Get Along!?

“Civility [is] more than just being nice. It is learning how to live well with others. [It is] thoughtfulness, courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners.”                      --Pier Massimo Forni

I’m back on the road again, riding my bicycle, like thousands of other cyclists on these warm spring days.  Every year about now many of us weekend warriors dust off bikes that have hung forlornly in the garage since last fall. We squeeze into skin tight lycra shorts, sometimes not a very pretty sight.  We pump up the tires, fill up the water bottles and then hop on our two wheeled vehicles and go.


We bike for lots of reasons: to get back into shape after months of sitting still, to train for a charity ride (my main motivator), and to see God’s beautiful Creation at 12 miles per hour.  When you bike on the open road, you drink it all in: the rainbow of bursting flower buds, the sun dappled trees and the balmy breezes that blow you along.  Cycling can be truly idyllic, amazing, and even miraculous: to transport one’s self very long distances and do so with only muscles and lungs and wits and grit. 

But every year when I return to the road, I bring a secret fear, a haunting worry: that this will be the year I get hit by a car or a truck. That one moment I’ll be wheeling along and the next I’ll be flying through the air on my way to a nasty accident.  That what I risk as I ride is not just sore legs or sunburned skin but my life too.  My body.  My safety.  My future. I know I tempt the fates by actually putting these words to paper. Maybe I’m becoming a nervous Nelly as I age. Maybe my fears are unfounded. 

It is only a bike ride, right?

Yet here’s the reality: take a little bike which often weighs less than 20 pounds and then mix it up with a two or three ton vehicle barreling along and every time, the bike loses.  The bike loses.  Every single time.  It’s not even a fair fight.  No contest.  Every spring we pick up the newspaper or surf the net and read the first seasonal story about a bicyclist killed in a collision. A college student on Commonwealth Avenue crushed under a bus.  An after work cyclist clipped by the side mirror of a truck.  A suburban Mom and wife taken from this earth, when a driver decides to text on his phone for just a second, and in that blink of an eye, the biker dies. 

The statistics are depressing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012, 726 cyclists nationwide perished on the road, fifteen in Massachusetts and beyond these fatalities are ten of thousands of injuries from bicycle-vehicle encounters.  There are obvious reasons for this, like physics: big always beats small.  Some bikers are hurt or perish because they don’t wear a helmet, disregard traffic rules or take risks.  Vehicles strike bicycles because drivers are distracted: texting, talking, fiddling, eating, doing anything but keeping their eyes on the road.

For me road safety all comes back to civility: the quaint, old fashioned virtue which governs the best of human relationships.

Civility: having manners, being polite, following the rules, and recognizing that the road of life is not just all about “me”; that instead since we share a common road, it is our job to watch out for each other with kindness and care. I know I risk sounding like a prim kindergarten teacher or pontificating preacher. (Guilty as charged!) Yet the truth is that the overwhelming number of accidents would and absolutely could be avoided if only cyclists and drivers would just be more civil to one another. 

For bikers that means we ride single file always, in a straight line, as far over to the side of the road as safely possible.  Ever seen a big pack of Saturday morning cyclists clogging up the road, three or four or five abreast, acting as if they own the whole road?   They are rude.  They are selfish, stupid, even arrogant. I get to say that: I’m a biker too and when they ride like this, they make all of us look bad.  The cyclist who doesn’t use hand signals?  Runs a stop sign? Passes a car on the left?  They’re in the same dummy club too.  Some of my fellow cyclists get hurt, are killed, because they fail to practice common courtesy and common sense.  End of story.

For drivers, civility means we bikers ask you to just pay attention when you are on the road.  Look out for us.  If you see us rolling up to an intersection, meet our eyes if you can, so we can clearly indicate to you what we are doing next.  Give us some space on the road.  We are right next to you. Use your mirrors. And please, PLEASE put down the phone.  If you can’t see us, we are doomed.  When we wave to you for letting us cross a busy street, wave back to us.  It’s our way of saying “Thanks!”. And please don’t judge us by the actions of a minority of reckless cyclists.  Most bikers just want to share the road, have fun, and then get back home safely.  Remember that the cyclist next to you is a real person, a life.

Cars and bicycles on the road: with just a little civility, this can be a safe and fun season for riding.  Please watch out for us bikers and we’ll watch out for you too.

Thank you.

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