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Strategy for a

The Components of a



Keri Caffrey
Published April 27, 2008

Road Wars are back on the news again. We have some motorists who can't stand to be delayed a few seconds by cyclists in the road. On the other side, there are some cyclists who find it inconvenient to put on the brakes at stop signs.

But if you look closer, the battle is really a struggle between individual self-interest and the compromise and cooperation required for a civil community. The roads are where we all interact as a community (or not), every day.

Americans suffer from "get-there-itis." Behind the wheel, the fixation on "getting there" ASAP causes people to speed, run red lights and weave through traffic. When nothing must stand in their way of getting from Point A to Point B, impatient drivers put the safety of everyone else at risk.

Some cyclists also suffer from a form of "get-there-itis," stemming from the desire to not lose hard-earned momentum or be dropped from a group. Whatever the cause, the outcome is similar: cyclists running red lights and stop signs and weaving through stopped traffic, putting their own safety at risk.

To be sure, the behavior of aggressive motorists is far more dangerous to others, and more destructive to the community, than the behavior of cyclists who violate the rules.

One thing I've heard from cyclists and non-cyclists, alike, is: "That road is too dangerous for bikes." Of course, the roads themselves are not dangerous. It's the behavior of impatient and distracted motorists that creates danger. And most of us are guilty of it at one time or another. Isn't it time we all act to change behavior that kills more than 40,000 Americans each year?

Personal responsibility is the cure.

"Get-there-itis" is well known to pilots as a cause of preventable aviation crashes. Student pilots are instilled with the understanding that they must detach from a sense of urgency to get there and make sound decisions. Pilots know that irresponsible actions will cost them their hard-earned license. Perhaps if society placed a fraction of that emphasis on motorists, our entire traffic culture would look much different.

With fuel prices, climate-change awareness and obesity on the rise, advocates for many causes are promoting bicycling as a solution. A formidable impediment to cycling is fear of cars, or more accurately, fear of the people who drive them. Even those of us who know how to operate confidently and safely in traffic are fatigued by the thoughtless, irresponsible and sometimes hostile actions of impatient motorists.

The lives of cyclists and pedestrians are devalued by a society that places little responsibility on people operating vehicles that can harm them. Motorists often justify their unsafe behavior by saying cyclists are foolish for operating in situations that appear dangerous to them. For the experienced cyclist, these situations are much safer than they appear, and would be completely safe if motorists were more careful and civil.

No amount of infrastructure will solve this problem. We must attack it at its core. This is a social problem under which all citizens -- cyclists, pedestrians and motorists -- suffer.

At its core, cycling safety is not a "special-interest" issue. The social change required to enhance the safety and accessibility of cycling will make our community more livable for everyone. It begins with each of us locking the "me-first" attitude out of the car and operating our vehicles in the best interest of a civil community.