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Posted by on Dec 5, 2008 in Uncategorized | 19 comments

Keeping Score

This timely blog post from Andrew Hartsock just popped into my Google Alerts:

Bicycle-friendly streets? For the most part

When a friend pointed out that his blog posts portrayed an unfriendly cycling environment, Andrew decided to keep score of driver behavior/attitude. His outta-the-saddlebag assessment was that less than one percent of motorist interactions had any sort of intentional hostility aimed at him. Then he payed attention and found:

At the end of close to a month, I had eight Nice entries and one Mean one. Seven of the eight on the Nice side of the ledger were drivers letting me go out of turn at an intersection. The eighth was a man letting me turn in front of him out of a private drive…

Now, there’s no way of knowing how many interactions with cars I had over that span, but surely it numbers in the thousands. If I meet 15 cars each leg of my commute and commute two legs twice a day, five days a week, that’s 300 a week. I figure each of those numbers is way low, but let’s say there were 1,000 encounters with autos.

One meanie in 1,000 interactions works out not to 1 percent, as I’d guessed, but one-tenth of a percent — and a whole bunch of neutral encounters that were neither mean nor nice but simply operators of two vehicles coexisting peacefully.

Perception is an interesting beast.

I’ve come to similar conclusions when really paying attention, too. I’ve also kept score of mindless-driver moves. He mentions a few beauties in his post. Mindless-driver moves used to make up the majority of the conflicts I experienced, but I find them pretty rare since I altered my riding position to the left. Piggy-backing at 4-way stops and passing unsafely into oncoming traffic are the most common things I see.  I experience overt courtesy in about the same ratio to meanness as Mr. Hartsock described. I’ve also noticed that unpleasant interactions increase with distance from the urban center.

Has anyone else kept score?

What percentage of drivers would you guess are:

  1. deliberately mean
  2. unconscious
  3. attentive and cooperative
  4. readily courteous

And if you have actually kept score, what was the result and how did it differ from your perception?

19 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful example of where perception differs from reality. The perception of so many people posting online about motorist animosity is nothing like the reality represented here, represented in Keri’s experience and represented in my experience.

    Keri also speaks of how it was “before”, and that matches my own experience as well. It’s so much more pleasant riding now.

    The naysayers are creating their own illusory problems!

  2. I think your 1/10 percent is in the ballpark. Maybe a little high. The rest really grab attention. I’ll start trying to keep count for a week or two.

  3. I would agree; I see many more “nice” drivers than “mean” ones, so much so that I can only think of 3 instances this year of “mean”, and I would lose count of the “nice” drivers.

    By the way, it’s always nice if you as a cyclist can return the favor! The other morning, I was at a parking lot light at a mall. Waiting for the light to go green, I was planning on heading straight across. A car pulled up behind me (no one else around). She wanted to turn right on red. I made eye contact, hand-signed-asked her if she wanted to turn (she nodded yes), and then moved over in the lane so she could get by and turn right (ahead of me). She was smiling as she went by.

    Maybe as a “vehicle” I technically should not have done that, but as a courtesy, I’m hoping one driver goes away with a better feeling about bicyclists in general ……

  4. I agree about returning the favor!

    Pulling to the left (or stopping on the left side of the thru lane) to let motorists turn right on red is one of those little courtesies that creates goodwill. I do it all the time. I get a lot of smiles and friendly waves… positive, human interactions between vehicle drivers is a Good Thing.

  5. These numbers/ratios seem to describe my experience, too. One thing: I really wish the “nice” ones would NOT treat me differently on the road. I really really really appreciate that they do things like give me a right-of-way that I do not deserve. But I wonder about the other drivers who see this happening. What are they thinking.

    I smile and say think you. And I wonder.

  6. I ride downtown and most often it is unconscious…

  7. while the number of motorists who are rude or outright dangerous may be small, they can do a helluva lot more damage to me in their 4000 lb vehicles than i can do to them on either of my bikes.
    i cannot understand why a person would open the passenger door of a car, attempting to knock me off my bike.
    i cannot understand why a person would clip me with the passenger side mirror and ignore me when questioned.
    i cannot understand why a truck would veer into a turning lane, forcing me onto the grass, and then reenter traffic.
    i cannot understand why anyone, sitting in the rear of a pickup truck, would feel compelled to throw soda and beer cans at me.
    i try to obey the rules of the road, ride right, stay in the bike lane, i even ride on the sidewalk at times.
    i’m 5 ft 1 inch tall, weigh about 108 lbs. i don’t see how i can be a threat to anyone. but i am.

    most motorists observe the rules, even smile and wave, but the nutcases out there are enough to scare some bicyclists into hanging up their helmets. which is a sad commentary on the world, that a few rabid nasties can have such impact.

  8. Robyn,

    All of these events you listed are assault. This is serious stuff. Did they all happen in Orlando? Did they happen in a particular part of town? Were you able to get a license and call police in any of the cases?

    Most of my commuting is in the urban area between Maitland and downtown. As an individual in this area, I’ve experienced a few threatening gestures, but none that would endanger me.

    I’ve experienced a few assaults while riding in small groups. One bottle toss and a number of dangerously-close high-speed passes. All of these have been in what I call the “sprawl zone” — the outer suburbs and places that are still semi-rural but land is filling with new subdivisions. The most hostile places I’ve experienced are Apopka and Lake County (around Clermont, but the hate is spreading north).

    Your comment about the few nasty ones making a cyclist want to hang up her helmet are correct. It may be one in 5000, but a vicious assault several times a year would be more than most people can tolerate.

    If there is a pattern of abuse in a specific area, I think it’s necessary to have a sit-down with the law enforcement agency in charge.

  9. OK
    Here are my own preliminary results – ONLY including bicycle commutes – no weekend Starbucks or Blockbuster runs included:
    Total meaningful interactions per day – about 200. Most of these are around intersections – the passing traffic gathers a lot of attention, but even most of those interactions are near intersections.

    Total “mean” percentage since Keri’s post – ZERO which is not a surprise since I have only had two “mean” encounters since I started tracking my bike commutes last May. That’d work out to the ballpark not of 0.1%, but 0.01%. Those two encounters, however, are memorable, particularly the blue pickup truck with “outlaw” on its side that came around for a second pass.

    Total “nice” percentage since Keri’s post – about 0.7%. Over half of those occurred since New Year which is surprising. Most of those involved out of turn niceness – the nicest was a lady who offered to let me go ahead at a four way stop & then went when I made it clear I’d rather not jump ahead – I didn’t even have to put my foot down and she made it clear she was going at my invitation so there was no element of the motorist appearing to be nice & then zooming through the intersection. Today’s nice garbage truck driver was also memorable since he’s a professional driver & they tend to follow the rules better than the amateurs.

    One OTHER observation: Had I, for the sake of argument, been riding “wrong way,” there would have been a LOT more interactions since I’d be interacting with every car I was facing and I’d rapidly lose track of just how many cars were coming at me. As it is, I get passed by a lot less cars than I see going in the opposite direction which makes a lot of sense. It’s one more reason that should be mentioned in the litany of why you ought to drive WITH traffic.

    Commute is from NE Tarrant County towards Fort Worth. A mix of fairly new suburbs & older ones.

  10. About that blue pickup – I contributed to the second pass after I caught up to it at a stoplight. That experience is why I now practice my line of “let’s go together and talk to the police about it.” As it was, I asked “what did you yell” & then responded with an expletive when they told me they’d yelled to get on the sidewalk. Lesson learned…

  11. Steve: Your tally of meanies since the post is better than mine. I’ve had 2 mean ones on the commute (not including a few aggressive straddle-passes on Corrine, those were borderline). Otherwise the majority of motorists were courteous (more than I can count were very courteous). One that stood out as a “nice” one was a City of Winter Park truck driver who aborted a pass on my request so I could move from the right half to the left half of the lane to avoid bad pavement. In general, I find that most motorists are receptive to merge requests.

    Oddly, on a Saturday trip to downtown Winter Park I was passed too close on Palmer by at least 4 motorists, despite a lane position which usually works well on that road… and the sharrows. It’s not helpful when oncoming motorists move far right to give them enough room for a squeeze-through straddle-pass. I’ve noticed several times Saturday drivers are more aggressive and less courteous than what I experience on the weekdays. Wonder what that’s about.

  12. I wouldn’t put a straddle pass into the “mean” category unless it rose above the “clueless” category. Most close passes seem to be a case of motorist misjudgment rather than evil intent. A deliberate close pass, on the other hand, is MUCH scarier and it’s clearly meant as “mean.” In my book, the real reason for further left lane positioning when the lane isn’t easily shareable is to help the motorist conclude early that he/she ought to move over to pass. That decision keeps the passing motorist (and me) safer since he/she makes her move when it’s safe to do so.

    That being said, I had an experience that some MIGHT have construed as either “nice” OR “mean” today (initially I thought of it as mean), but upon reflection, I decided not to count it as either. I was on a freeway service road with four lanes. #1 was U turn only. #2 was LH turn only. #3 was left or straight. #4 was RH only. I was on the RH side of #3 since I wanted to go straight through the intersection. A lady in a “cute ute” in #4 honked at me as she pulled up past me. After I thought about it, I concluded she was playing it safe since, for all she knew, I might suddenly swerve right in front of her and so she honked to reduce her (and my) risk. Had she been “mean,” it would have involved repeated honking & maybe a little yelling at me through the window. Had she been “nice,” it would have been a shorter honk – just a “letting you know somebody’s passing you on your right in case you’re one of those FLAKY cyclists.” It isn’t only cyclists that get nervous about passing on the right.

    This “nice” versus “mean” stuff isn’t as simple as it sounds!

    Courtesy is more common than most of us imagine it to be. That Winter Park truck was simply acting courteously as part of a cyclist-motorist negotiation with you. Still, I’d count it as “nice” since it was a professional driver and aborted an intended maneuver to help you out. I’ll bet the Winter Park truck driver felt good after doing that, so you inadvertently let a little sunshine into somebody’s life.

    One last item. My wife told me yesterday about her observation of a cyclist who spilled a load of groceries on the road. A truck driver stopped behind the cyclist to block traffic while he collected the load. Both principal parties KNEW the other’s intent and both left feeling better about the world. Sometimes, cycling gives us hope for the whole human race…

  13. RH Cyclist Rule Redux – earlier, on the same trip home, on the same service road, I was stopped on the LH side of the RH lane at an intersection (lane option was straight or RH turn). Up beside me, on my right, pulls one of our local policemen. I waddled the bike further left to the extreme LH edge of the lane & waved to him so he knew he could safely make his intended free RH turn.

    Per the letter of the law, I could have gotten a ticket instead of the wave I received from the cop. It’s a law that needs to be changed. In the meantime, the cop almost got a “nice” tick mark for not enforcing a law that, in this case, slows traffic and creates unnecessary crossing movements. Forester should have ignored his irritation and listed the “cyclist doesn’t need to stay to the right when traffic has to turn right” exception when they were making up the current rules. AND KERI, you ought to TELL him that on Chainguard.

    Maybe the cop didn’t ticket me because it didn’t occur to him to ticket a “nice” cyclist, maybe he just didn’t realize he was letting an outlaw proceed unpunished, or maybe he just had bigger fist to fry. I prefer to think he was using common sense & good judgment. Either way, I wasn’t about to ask why he wasn’t ticketing someone breaking the law less than five feet from him…

  14. SteveA, if you’re stopped at a light and move to the left to allow right turning traffic to do so, after stopping at the red light, I do not believe that you violated any traffic law. I do this sort of thing often, when traffic behind me is using turn signals properly, anyway. If the lane is 14 feet wide or wider at the intersection, you are as far to the right as practicable, because practicable in this case means providing allowance for right turning traffic. If the lane is not 14 feet wide, you can use any portion of it and remain within the FL statutes.

  15. Fred, I agree that technically you’re correct. However, I have no doubt I’d probably have been convicted anyway (after a spirited defense) if ticketed. I also have no doubt that being to the left is the safest and most courteous place to be in this case, regardless of whether or not the lane is wide or narrow. Even a narrow lane is easily shareable in this case since the car is only inching forward.

    Actually, in the case in question, I was already far enough to the left that the cop could have safely moved to make his free RH turn on my right. I did the waddle thing mainly to remove any doubt about it in his mind and so he’d know I was expecting that he’d do it if he was so inclined. It’s probably pretty difficult to waddle in your Velocar, but I like to do it for courtesy purposes, and because it leaves all the motorists who see it with a small “plus” in their minds about cyclists that work AS traffic. I hope that it connects a dot for them about WHY I was sitting there at the left of a lane.

    For the RH turn lane story as it affects cyclists – for those unfamiliar with it, read pages 284-289 of EFFECTIVE CYCLING. I really wish Forester had swallowed his irritation and listed ALL the exception for those goombahs!

  16. Here’s a video still of me on Corrine:

    This is one of 2 spots on my commute where there is a pattern of “mean” behavior (that doesn’t mean it’s frequent, just that it’s more likely to happen here). I noted the straddle passes because they followed the passive-aggressive MO of using part of my lane and accelerating while the left lane is entirely clear. It’s sometimes accompanied by honking and occasionally a close pass. A few moths ago a guy buzzed me then swerved into the lane in front of me… I regarded it as a temper tantrum and pretended not to notice. I had another one begin honking when he was 1/4 mile away and lay on the horn all the way past (as he passed easily). The empty parking lane is what makes this a pattern spot because our culture believes bicyclists belong to the right of a white line. Note: I typically ride this road in light traffic and the small platoons always have a long time to change lanes before reaching me. The ugliness is 100% a social/cultural problem, it has nothing to do with delay.

    Anyway, I didn’t put them in the “mean” category because they didn’t get very close and there was no honking or other indication of a temper tantrum.

    My mean ones were:

    The guy with the trailer who honked and passed into oncoming traffic on a road with a 25mph speed limit and speed humps he couldn’t go over at more than 20mph. He put a lot of other people at risk for no gain because he was a dick.

    And the guy who screamed at me in the 1/100th of a second between the light turning green and my bike moving, then screamed at me to get on the sidewalk after he caught up to me as I was making a right turn. Funny thing about it was 1 1/2 miles before, the motorist in front of me in the queue was daydreaming and almost caused me to miss the light.

    Not included in my list:

    On a group ride in the country last weekend, one member of our group was assaulted by a redneck in a duely and we were yelled at to get off the road by 3 opposite-direction motorists (one yell was so loud and full of anger and hate, I was grateful we were pulling into Yalaha to get lunch). Yet, we were passed courteously by probably a couple hundred motorists. I mention it because I think it speaks to why recreational riders are more sensitive to hostility.

  17. Steve said: I really wish Forester had swallowed his irritation and listed ALL the exception for those goombahs!

    The main problem with the FTR law isn’t the lack of exceptions, it’s the discriminatory premise. We could add another half-dozen exceptions and it would still be interpreted as “cyclists must operate on a far right sliver of roadway.” That’s why we ultimately have to fight in our respective states to get rid of it.

    Lane-sharing behavior to facilitate passing should only be initiated by the cyclist at the cyclist’s discretion. It is a courtesy which the individual cyclist alone must balance with his safety and right to travel on the public roads. That this courtesy is codified into law as a primary obligation with some exceptions makes us unequal road users—second-class interlopers—in the eyes of the public and many in law enforcement and the judicial system.

  18. In my book, while we HAVE FTR law, let’s load it down with every conceivable exception until the ludicrous premise becomes clear.

    I think Keri and I don’t differ at all in desirable end state, nor that the discrimatory premise is the root of the FTR problems. We differ in that I figure each added exception, based on simple obvious facts, strengthen cyclists rights to the road. Most places, a wholesale repeal of FTR is not in the cards anytime soon. As Forester points out, things are going in the opposite direction with the CIC mindset.

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