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Posted by on Aug 4, 2009 in Essays | 30 comments

The Culture of Speed vs the Culture of Trust

bikeandbuggy

I have a number of other things to write about the trip, but I’ve been pondering this post since Day 6 and I need to get it out. By Day 6, we had traveled shady country lanes, busy suburban arterial highways, bike paths, rural crossroads, rolling farm land, urban centers, small towns and steep, winding hollows. But nothing inspired contemplation quite like the experience of time travel—from now to then and back to now.

A few weeks before the trip, Andy Cline tipped his readers to the Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. Said he:

It’s one man’s journey to discover why some countries are happier than others. One of the important themes in the book is the role that trust plays in a society’s happiness. People who trust their neighbors and friends are happier than people who do not. People who trust the average Joe on the street are happier than people who do not. People who trust their institutions are happier than people who do not.

Trust. Think about it.

I bought the book right away (audiobook, because it was a perfect companion to the illustration jobs I was doing) and found it intriguing. The concept resonates with the civility work we’ve been doing here and with the findings of Salter>Mitchell’s research. It shows that people who think other people are generally civil—that is, they trust that other people are going to do the right thing—are more likely to be civil themselves.

There are a lot of layers to trust in a community that go well beyond traffic. But as I’ve said before, the roads are the public space where we all interact every day. If we can’t trust each other there, it profoundly affects how we feel about the community.

Trust in the Traffic Culture

One of the first things I noticed in Amish country was the lack of aggressiveness from faster traffic. I was stunned to see motorists wait patiently for an opportunity to pass, then do so with gentle acceleration. And take turns—one motorist would pass, the next would assess the situation, then pass. If there was any doubt, they waited, perhaps recognizing that aggressive acceleration might spook the horse. They treated us the same as the horse-drawn carriages.

That rarely happens here and it was an uncommon occurrence everywhere else on our journey. All through Virginia and Maryland, we received appropriate passing clearance, but gritted our teeth as passing motorists interfered with oncoming cars. We’re accustomed to seeing oncoming cars have to slow or move over (even partly off the road) for motorists passing us in Florida, too. It amazes me that isn’t a statistically significant crash type. I’ve witnessed more close calls than I could ever count, simply because passing motorists can’t stand to take a foot off the gas for a second. We didn’t see that once on the farm roads in Lancaster County.

I adapt quickly to an environment of trust. Taking a queue from the buggy drivers, we moved right when struggling up a hill. We discovered we could facilitate a motorist’s pass on narrow roads and be given generous clearance. I’ve done that here and in other places and had motorists damn near take off my left arm. Certainly not all of them, but the percentage is high enough that I don’t trust the random stranger behind me (or those behind him) to do the right thing if I’m not commanding the lane.

It seems, the way of life and the high percentage of slow vehicles creates a traffic culture much more benign than most of the U.S. In addition to horse-drawn vehicles, we saw numerous bicycles—most with boxes strapped to them—ridden by women in traditional dresses.

The Culture of Speed Encroaches

farmsprawl

The farmlands of Pennsylvania Dutch Country boast some of the richest, most productive, non-irrigated agricultural soils in the world.Lancaster Farmland Trust

This is the heartland of small-farm food production, free-range animal husbandry and a multi-generational way of life on the land. It is also on the outer-reaches of the Northeastern urban corridor, with high-speed auto access via the PA Turnpike and several U.S. and state highways. As a result, much productive farm land has been devoured for housing developments.

It goes without saying that long-distance auto-commuters are of a different traffic culture than family farmers.

Our bliss ended as we endured a 9-mile stretch of PA 23. We were following BikePA Route S and might have been better off to divert from it. But not knowing the terrain, we feared such a diversion would lead our tired legs into steep hills. PA 23 is much like Florida’s rural state highways—an over-engineered enforcement vacuum which permits speeds approaching 80mph. Heavy, high-speed traffic on such a 2-lane road necessitates riding in the 5-foot shoulder—at least when climbing hills at <5mph. But a 5-foot shoulder is uncomfortable and inadequate when being passed by 80mph truck traffic—in particular, the occasional wide load which hangs a foot into the shoulder.

We’d had a similar experience Tuesday on PA 74. Crossing the state line from Maryland, the shoulder shrunk from 10 feet to 5. But Wednesday, the high speed and noise seemed so much more brutal after hours of moseying through a bucolic time warp. The pre-fab shed whizzing past my head (because the wide-load driver couldn’t be bothered to slow down and move over) was almost more than I could take. Trust was a memory.

Shortly after leaving the highway (now on BikePA Route L, in Berks County), a cluster of cars came up behind us. Two passed safely before an oncoming pick-up truck came over the crest of the hill. The next one passed anyway and caused the truck driver to brake. There were more cars back, so we started straight-arming them not to pass (we were in the middle of the lane, too). They passed anyway. All of them, like a herd of wildebeest. Mindless idiots. The truck came to a complete stop, the driver with his head and arm out the passenger window in a “WTF?” gesture. Did we just fall into the shallow end of the gene pool?

I’m sad to report, it was like this the rest of the way to Yellow House Hotel (near Reading, PA) and much of the way to Coopersburg (near Allentown, PA) the next day, as well. The scenery was beautiful, and some of the roads were peaceful, but where we encountered motorists, their speed was often recklessly fast and the must-pass-this-instant imperative was in full force. I was cut off twice by motorists who chose to pass and run a stop sign (in the oncoming lane) rather than wait their turn behind me. One large pick-up right-hooked me as I arrived at the stop sign on a steep downhill in pouring rain.

Finding our way back to the Culture of Trust

Trust = peace of mind = confidence = empowerment = happiness = sense of place = good citizenship = trust…

For me, the greatest asset of the mindful cycling techniques we teach is the way they enhance our ability to trust other road users. That brings the peace of mind that allows me to enjoy riding. Understanding traffic dynamics and becoming more assertive on the road was a huge leap forward for me, from a world of conflict and distrust to a fairly relaxed riding environment—particularly on urban roads.

But the Culture of Speed still affects our comfort and trust, if not our safety, on suburban arteries and rural highways. Even when you know you’re unlikely to be hit, the constant noise of speeding traffic is fatiguing. Riding on a highway shoulder is a trade-off between the comfort of not being “in the way” and the discomfort of being passed closer, faster and with complete disregard. Neither is particularly appealing.

Harassment is another destructive force. The most likely place where I experience harassment in the metro area is on high-speed roads where motorists are able to pass easily, but don’t believe I belong there. This was true on the trip, as well. The only place we experienced significant harassment was on a 6-lane commercial arterial in Virginia—everyone passed safely in another lane, but there was considerable honking and yelling.

Harassment certainly doesn’t instill trust, even when it’s only noise.

Trust comes back to civility, tolerance and respect for all users of the commons. How do we create that? By creating the public perception that it is normative behavior:

…people who think other people are generally civil — that is, they trust that other people are going to do the right thing — are more likely to be civil themselves.

So, how do we make civility and respect for all users of the commons seem normative?


This is not a bicycle-specific issue. It affects the quality of life for all of us, no matter what mode we use. Yesterday, I drove my car to my old office to remove one last load of stuff. On my way, I was bullied by a jerk in a large pick-up truck. I was driving the 30mph speed limit and this stellar citizen felt it appropriate to drive 5 feet from my bumper. This is a more common experience than harassment on my bike and I’m sick of it. It is a product of the Culture of Speed. “Get out of my way. I’m entitled to go faster.”


30 Comments

  1. Thank you, Keri, for a fascinating essay.

    I’m wondering if one of the key reasons for the culture of tolerance that you noticed in the Amish country is a form of spiritual contagion. The Amish are calm and relaxed and not in a rush and this is so obviously a better way to live that others unconsciously imitate it. To quote St. Francisis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel all the time. If necessary, use words.”

    Perhaps it was because a large number of the motorists were members of more liberal orders that allow their members to use cars. Were an unusually large proportion of the cars black?

    As to the other culture you encountered in different areas… It seems to me that this is an area where cultural change may be driven by law enforcement. Did you contact the local police whenever dangerous and illegal behaviour occurred?

    It is my observation that even if they do not lay charges, the mere process of being interviewed by the police has a profound effect upon the motorist. I can imagine what happens whenever I telephone in a complaint, or use an online complaint form like the one here:

    https://onlinereporting.yrp.ca/dors/app;jsessionid=9024401DB999B118394FEFA7B8B9D648?service=page/CrupFilingPerson

    The police officer arrives in a marked police car, causing all the neighbours to wonder what is going on. The uniformed police officer knocks on the door and asks for the owner of the car. This causes the offender’s spouse and other family members to wonder what is going on. Even if the offender denies everything and no charges are laid, he’s going to have some explaining to do to his spouse, family members and neighbours.

    Imagine if this sort of thing happens more than once. Repeatedly! Can you imagine having to explain to a child who asks: “Daddy, why do the policemen keep coming to our house?”

  2. Kevin asked: “Were an unusually large proportion of the cars black?”

    No, not many black ones. I would have recognized those as Mennonite vehicles. There was a mix of car and truck types ranging from luxury coupes to old beaters, and some commercial vehicles.

    When the predominant culture respects others, it is normative… so to some degree that would permeate even those who are not part of the same faith.

  3. Keri, wonderful essay.

    Kevin, a quick primer on “Amish country.” Amish people don’t drive cars, period. A different religion, Mennonite, is sometimes confused with this. Old-order Mennonites may be quite similar to Amish, with or without cars. I saw what I believe was an old order Mennonite church once — it had stables to park horses, and was a plain unadorned meeting room in a building unpainted inside and out. Then you get the Mennonites who are allowed to drive black cars. In the 1950s, they would paint their chrome bumpers black.

    Mennonites run the full continuum from these old order folks to people who live more, uh, conventional lives. A bunch of my friends and neighbors are Mennonites. They like fast cars (in any color, although it does happen that one of them used to race a black Porsche), moderately saucy jokes, and so on.

    The owner of the black racing Porsche and I were once bicycling together outside an old order Mennonite church on a Sunday morning. We heard the church bell toll “time for worship,” and just then, roaring up the road, was a black Volkswagen GTI that tore into the gravel parking lot, leaving a rooster tail of dust as it slid into a parking space, and the owner jumped out and rushed into the church. We laughed hard.

    I once sold my own Volkwagen GTI (mine was silver) to a Mennonite minister.

    So none of the motorists Keri encountered were Amish, and I doubt most of them were Mennonite either. It’s just that the culture had accepted the notion that it’s okay to be a bit polite on the road. Where I live, 70 miles closer to Newark, this notion competes with the culture of speed, or, as the late great John Finley Scott put it, the NASCAR credo. (I don’t think it’s uniformly bad around here — usually when I go riding, I have no bad encounters.)

    The NASCAR credo is bullfeathers. I’m as passionate about getting to my destination quickly as any driver is, but smart enough to know that meaningless harassment of cyclists doesn’t get me there quicker.

    The politeness that Keri encountered doesn’t have to be in Amish country.
    For example, Adventure Cycling tour participants often marvel at how polite people in Kansas are.

    John Schubert
    Limeport.org
    schubley@aol.com

  4. Nice post Keri. Civility on roadways is a tough thing to teach, or make normative for that matter. Your Amish country experience and other good ones like it give us hope that it is not, however, an impossibility, and that is a very good thing.

  5. Incidentally, there are lots of Mennonites in Kansas, too.

  6. One of the best experiences I had was cycling the Route Verte in the Gaspésie region of Québec.

    French-Canadian drivers have a bad reputation, but I found them to be unfailingly polite. Perhaps it is because tourism is a major part of the economy, and “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is the principle that applies. Or perhaps it was because this rural area has a cultural expectation of not rushing through life. In any case, I was a happy cyclist.

    Even their website is low-key, although I think that “La plus belle véloroute au monde” is a bit much. See:

    http://www.routeverte.com/rv/index.php?page=marchand&code=gaspesie

  7. That is a brilliant piece, seriously good. I was wondering if I could reproduce it in http://www.citycycling.co.uk with an appropriate link back and credit?

    My next issue is being prepared as we ‘speak’ and I think it would make a brilliant addition…

    Thanks again for the provocation of thought!

    Anth

  8. Thank you, Anthony! Yes, you are welcome to reproduce the article. Let me know if you would like the photos in a different size, I can email them to you.

    Nice magazine, btw.

  9. Hi Kerri, that’s fantastic, thank you. You have mail by the way… :)

  10. “This is not a bicycle-specific issue” – I agree. I used to believe that motorists who are aggressive specifically toward bicyclists were a much larger group than the subset of those aggressive toward other road users; but after a lot of observations I suspect that most of these people are simply aggressive to everyone – to bicyclists, other motorists, pedestrians, etc.

    Recent anecdote: I was riding on a narrow, rural two-lane road here in the opposite, northwest corner of PA, and two motorists neared from behind as I approached a small hill. I was not concerned about the lead motorist, because the sightline was still acceptable, but I was hoping the second motorist would refrain from overtaking me because by that time the sightline would be too short to detect oncoming traffic. The second motorist speeded by me in a situation where the majority would simply wait until we crested the hilltop. Why was this aggressive behavior not a bicycle-specific issue? Because the second motorist then proceeded to speed by the lead motorist just prior to the crest of the hill, with very limited sightline!

    To address Keri’s final question, “So, how do we make civility and respect for all users of the commons seem normative?”, I’m not sure we can in the larger sense – a small portion of the population consist of people who are jerks no matter which part of the commons is of concern – excessive noise, littering, butting in line, etc. With regard to our roadways, however, we can at least mitigate the effect of these abusers: we could dramatically raise the threshold for obtaining and keeping a driver’s license. In Germany, it is common to see the phrase “der führerschein wurde beschlagnahmt” (“driver’s license was confiscated”) in articles about police stops for more severe motorist offenses – rather draconian, but it helps get and keep the impaired or aggressive motorists off the road. This is possible in part because of the widespread availability of public transportation there; unfortunately, I don’t think a higher threshold will be possible in the U.S. until we expand our public transportation.

    Now that I’ve just advocated getting the aggressive drivers out of their cars and onto public transport, I’ll point out that I’ve had my share of unpleasant experiences with drunks or rude and aggressive people in German trains and buses – it’s not a trivial issue – but at least these people weren’t endangering others while operating a motor vehicle.

    Chris
    Meadville, PA – in Amish and Mennonite country, or as one rural store owner warned me, “watch out for the road apples”

  11. Chris wrote:

    “In Germany, it is common to see the phrase “der führerschein wurde beschlagnahmt” (”driver’s license was confiscated”) in articles about police stops for more severe motorist offenses”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Same here in Ontario. I can think of two examples right off the top of my head.

    For example, speeding 50 km/hr over the speed limit is deemed to be racing or stunting (even if no other car is in sight) and the car will be impounded and the driver’s license immediately confiscated and suspended by the police. That’s in HTA (Highway Traffic Act) section 172.

    Drunk driving is a criminal offense if the blood alcohol level is above .08%. But if someone is only at .05, then the driver’s license will be immediately confiscated and suspended by the police. That’s in HTA section 48.

    Driving is a privilege, not a right. Suspension of the driver’s license is not legally a punishment and therefore there is no form of appeal or review of the suspension.

  12. Not enough jail or prison space to lock up all the people driving on suspended or revoked licenses. Mostly because if you can’t drive, you can’t eat.

    We already have the highest percentage of our population imprisoned in the world. And what else gets the the proven dangerous, unlicensed drivers off the street?

  13. Eric wrote:
    “Not enough jail or prison space to lock up all the people driving on suspended or revoked licenses”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Those who do in Ontario can expect jail time; a first offense is worth up to six months in jail under the Highway Traffic Act, Section 51. Every so often I read in the newspapers of someone who tries to do it, is caught, and jailed. He usually then also gets a court order not to drive – disobeying a court order is worth a lot more than six months in jail!

    So far, we seem to have lots of space in jail to accomodate these offenders. Probably because prostitution is legal and marijuana possession has been effectively decriminalized. The decision was made that getting violent criminal drivers off the roads would be a higher priority for our legal system.

    Source:

    http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK66

  14. Eric said; “Mostly because if you can’t drive, you can’t eat.

    Sorry to be harsh, Eric, but this is thinking from behind a windshield. I am assuming you are voicing our cultural attitude and not your own thoughts on this.

    If it is illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle on public roads, you must depend on others to operate one for you, or to propel yourself by your own power. Needing to work or eat is not an acceptable excuse for criminal behavior.

    Do you see kids who are too young to drive starving because of it? Lose your license and you are assigning yourself in some ways to a childlike dependence on others.

    If you choose to live far from your workplace, one should be all the more mindful to avoid losing one’s license to drive.

    One of the reasons that there is no cultural shame for breaking traffic laws is that doing so is not really considered criminal behavior.

  15. “Sorry to be harsh, Eric”

    That’s not harsh. The people that are harsh are the employers. Since I have been one, I know . . . and I was harsh, too.

    Do you think an employer wants to hear, “Gee, I’d like to come in Saturday, but the buses only run once an hour, so it would take me three hours to get there and three hours to get home, so it really isn’t worth it to me.”? Or, “If I stay 20 minutes late, then I’ll miss the bus and if I take the next one, that means I’ll miss the day care closing.”? You think that gladdens their heart?

    Do you think they want to see an employee come in sweaty to work? Or demanding showers? Or being late to an important meeting because it was pouring down rain? As you might know, it can rain in buckets here in Orlando.

    I’m sorry to explain to you that when there are 400 people applying for a single opening, employers can afford to be very choosy.

    They can choose not to employ convicts (even ones that have been only convicted of a minor misdemeanor) and one of the stock questions to ask prospective employees is, “How will you get to work?” as well as, “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony crime?” Criminal background checks are pretty standard these days, so lying won’t work.

    That’s harsh and that’s reality. The judges know it, the employers know it and I know it.

    In fact, I and other people in the know look more favorably on people that must ride bikes to eat because at least they aren’t driving around causing mayhem they way the unlicensed drivers are doing.

  16. Eric’s observation is one reason that civil service and professional types (such as engineers) commute by bicycle more often than those in jobs where 400 people can apply for an opening.

    Yet another observation contained in EFFECTIVE CYCLING.

  17. Keri wrote:
    “We need to find jail space to keep scumbags like this off the street BEFORE they kill.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Yesterday morning, Ontario’s provincial police did just that. From:

    http://www.thestar.com/article/678241

    “A 28-year-old Brampton man was charged after police clocked a car travelling at nearly three times the speed limit on a Brampton road yesterday morning.

    Harjinde Sekhon, 28, was charged with dangerous driving and stunt driving.

    He was released on bail and his car impounded and licence suspended for seven days.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    There was no crash, nobody killed, nobody injured. But a crazy car driver was driving at a ridiculous speed, so the police arrested him, threw him in jail, impounded his car and handed him an on-the-spot seven-day license suspension.

    I’ve got a strong feeling that the judge who let him out of jail on bail ran his driver’s license through a shredder. Or, to use more legal language, gave him a prohibition order forbidding him from driving as a condition of his release on bail.

    Dangerous driving where no injury occurs is an indictable offense under the Criminal Code of Canada, good for up to five years in jail. The criminal then has a criminal record, a minimum one-year driver’s license suspension (the clock starts when he gets out of jail) and extreme difficulty and expense in ever getting car insurance.

    Stunt driving is an Ontario Highway Traffic Act charge, good for up to six months in jail and a driver’s license suspension up to two years. Again, insurance companies will really, really, not want to do business with you.

    This is one scumbag driver who already had a taste of jail before he made bail, and is about to get a lot more upon conviction. All BEFORE he killed or injured someone.

  18. Eric said “That’s not harsh. The people that are harsh are the employers. Since I have been one, I know . . . and I was harsh, too.”

    Bingo! The prevailing attitude from most people, is that people that have to get to work by a means other than an automobile are poor, lawbreakers, or derelicts. And those that actually choose transit, biking or walking are granola crunching, tree hugging, hipster fringe folks. The poor are incredibly marginalized in Central Florida.

    The problem is, in order to improve conditions so that using transit is practical even for people that own a car costs money. The general public and especially the elected officials are hesitant to spend money that would ‘subsidize’ the poor and marginalized in our community so it doesn’t happen. Don’t raise taxes is the overwhelming mantra and as a whole, the Central Florida community embraces that philosophy.

  19. Laura wrote:

    “The problem is, in order to improve conditions so that using transit is practical even for people that own a car costs money…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    The expansion of I-75 is South-West Florida took great, heaping gobs of multi-million dollar government payouts. Transit would be dirt-cheap in comparison.

  20. I’ll add my kudos to Keri late; just got back from vacation in the very laid back driving environment of Fraser Valley, Colorado, where bicyclists are everywhere and motorists yield to pedestrians in unsignalized crosswalks.

    Culture change is tough stuff. Our legislature doesn’t seem very interested in doing that; just attacking symptoms (cell phone use, texting, aggressive driving, three-foot law, etc.).

    Guerrilla marketing is what’s needed. Stuff like:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTLqCLYy22A
    and
    http://www.5thguy.com/

  21. Mighk wrote:
    “Guerrilla marketing is what’s needed.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Guerrilla marketing is good, and I particularily liked the Youtube “Free delivery with second order.” That’s got just the right edgy zing for my sense of humour.

    But what I really think is needed is adequate law enforcement. I posted above about Mr. Sekhon. That sort of thing needs to happen in Florida as well as Ontario. Throwing dangerous drivers in jail before they cause crashes, hurt or kill people is the right way to go.

    And it sends a clear message to all drivers: Behave aggressively around cyclists and you’re going to jail for a long time.

  22. Great essay, Keri. I can’t help wondering about the role that this need for speed plays in cyclists’ minds, too. You do all sorts of riding, but I am just now figuring out how to ride “slowly” and be okay with it when I’m commuting. Not only do I sometimes feel endangered or harassed by the drivers around me, as you mentioned, but I also feel discouraged when I can’t pick up my speed to make life better for the drivers around me, especially when I’m first in line at an intersection.

    I once heard in a psych class that there are people who manipulate the world around them and people who find their way into the world around them, disturbing as little as possible. As cyclists, we have to be some of each, I think–assertive but careful. Aware of the terrain but also aware of our role in it. What do you think?

    • Catherine,

      Good comment/question.

      I struggled with this for a long time—the pressure to go fast vs the desire to go slow.

      What helped me was observation of the system. First of all, bicyclists are the least cause of delay in the system. The biggest cause is other motorists, followed by traffic lights, then more minor things like buses, garbage trucks, cars making turns, etc. With that perspective, you realize a solo bicyclist couldn’t cause significant delay if she tried.

      I’ve had drivers pass me in a huff before a stretch of 2-lane road only to have me coasting behind them 2 miles later though a school zone. They didn’t get any farther ahead in 2 miles because of all the cars in front of them.

      So taking that into consideration first, yes, there is a give and take. I advocate and practice “control and release” When that isn’t feasible, I pull over to allow cars to pass if it feels like they have waited too long. I have a fairly low tolerance for having drivers behind me, this is less about holding them up (I’ll see them at the next red light) than knowing there is a span of seconds before which an impatient driver will do something stupid and put me at risk.

      A note about intersection queues. Most of the time, I manage my shifting (and we teach this in CyclingSavvy) to accelerate though intersections. The bicycle is such an efficient vehicle, I often accelerate faster than cars and usually can effortlessly glide through an intersection at the speed of the cars in front of me. However, there are times I don’t want to exert any effort, so I may modify my route or pull over until the green light is stale and go behind the queue. Often, if I’m first at a red light where a lot of traffic collects, I’ll go through the intersection and pull into a convenience store driveway to let the pack go by, then come out behind them on an empty road.

      Being aware of the terrain and the traffic dynamics is super important! For example, on one route, between 2 sections of narrow road, there is a short section of wide road. I approach the wide section anticipating that I will pull aside and slow to make sure any cars that have collected back there can pass me. This is especially important since the next section is uphill.

      The balance of courtesy, safety, reality, perceptions, etc. becomes second nature for a mindful cyclist. I achieved a relaxed comfort by adopting a healthy perspective of speed, delay and myself as an equal road user. Appropriate courtesy comes from a positive place (“I can do this to help you out”), not a negative one (“I’m inferior and should get out of your way”). That’s critical and missing for the vast majority of cyclists.

      Oddly enough, I found that the more relaxed I became, the less harassment I seemed to experience… and the little harassment I get now rarely bothers me. For every one of those, I have at least 10 overtly friendly exchanges with other drivers.

      Tailwinds!

  23. I was referred to this entry on ‘trust’ from the touring@bikelist.org mailing list. Wonderful observations!

    I think some part of the ‘civility’ deficit we may experience as cyclists comes from a sense of entitlement. Drivers feel entitled to go fast, pass unsafely, because the culture is that roads are for motor vehicles, not for cyclists or buggies. It’s “their road”.

    Where the culture is different, where cyclists or buggies are common, even accepted, the shared use of the common road is more civil. We saw this difference clearly in the Netherlands.

    Colin Fletcher’s “Law of Inverse Appreciation” comes into play as well.
    He states this as: “The less there is between you and the environment, the more you appreciate the environment.” It’s not just the steel and glass of cars that come between the occupants and the environment.Speed itself is a barrier. The difference in speed is dehumanizing. Those slower road users, those un-entitled interlopers are not fellow people. They are just “in the way”.

    Jon M

    • Jon,

      Welcome and thanks for commenting!

      I agree. In my experience, the majority of the incivility I experience (and record on video) stems directly from that sense of entitlement (I also call it territorialism). I see it time and again in rear-facing video — honking and shouting from a driver who never even had to change lanes on a multi-lane road and was not the least bit affected by my presence on the road. I suspect that is also a factor in the “must pass” behavior where a motorist passes unsafely within 50 feet of a stop sign or traffic light.

      I like your reference to the Law of Inverse Appreciation. So true!

  24. Like Jon M, I was referred to this entry from the touring list. (I do have you on my feed reader, but don’t recall ever reading this one.)

    I’ve lived in Central PA for about 5 years, after spending most of my life in the mid-west, and have come to the conclusion that mid-Atlantic drivers are among the worst in the country. Specifically, in central PA many drivers are passive-aggressive. Here are a few aggressive things that happen to me almost every time I get on my bike:

    Passing at all costs. No matter how little space the motorist has, and regardless of the cyclist’s speed, he will attempt to pass.
    I’m often passed at intersections. I make it a point to take the lane at stop signs. Often, motorists will pull up next to me, in the left lane, even if there’s a car coming the other direction.
    Horn honking, yelling, other cowardly harassment. This isn’t as frequent as it used to be, but it still happens.

    The passive stuff:

    If I’m waiting to cross a road, or to turn onto it, motorists will often stop, blocking traffic from one direction, to wave me across. If I end up in front of them, they’ll pass at any cost.
    At 4-way stops, even if I get there after a motorist, they will often wait for me and then wave me across. If I’m turning and end up in front of them, they will probably pass at any cost.

    It appears that many motorists in PA simply don’t understand the traffic code or right of way. Navigating intersections with hand gestures and eye contact is the norm, for example. As for speed, only the State Police are authorized to use RADAR in Pennsylvania and they simply don’t patrol most of the back roads. There is, quite literally, no incentive to obey the speed limit.

    • Scott, Where in Central PA are you? I grew up in rural York County. My parents lived in State College for a while after I moved to Florida.

      On this tour, we didn’t experience bad motorist behavior until we left Lancaster County heading East. The closer we got to Philly, the more impatient and aggressive the drivers.

      • Hi, Keri. I live in New Cumberland, which is just across the river from Harrisburg and right in the middle of the Hershey-Carlisle metro area. I’ve noticed this type of behavior on back roads and in towns along the I-81 corridor from here to Hagerstown, MD.

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