(pic source Cristian Science Monitor)

It was a typical situation we all deal with.  But we’ll get to that …

The day didn’t start out so typical.   I began my (typical) commute home from work.  As I rode the bike lane east on Livingston, I had a pleasant surprise.  A gentleman rode up behind me and shouted a hello!  We chatted as we stopped a red light, and it turns out this fella rides his bike twice a week from L.B. McLeod to somewhere in Tuskawilla, for a round-trip of 40 miles!!  Nice guy. Then as we look ahead we see another rider in the bike lane.  We catch up to her at the next intersection as the light turns red.  The young gal has left the bike lane and is in the center of the lane.  I’m not sure what she will do …

I grimace for what I think I know will typically happen next.

But it doesn’t!!  Everyone sits at the red light, waiting for the green.  She glances back, see us, and says hello and that she’s shocked that we have a “crowd” of bikes here at the end of the day on the street.  We all laugh, and I said I wished I had a camera to record the moment.  Grins all around.

But by now, cars have come up behind us, and there are cars in the opposite lane as well.

The light turns green.  And yes, this is when it happened …

Nothing.  Nothing extraordinary happened.

The cars behind the lady cyclist waited for her to make her left-hand turn.  No honks, no revving engines, no shouts.  The cars then passed myself and my new riding friend safely with more than enough clearance.  Later down Livingston, my friend again merged out of the bike lane in order to make a left.  He turns on a road with no designated bike lanes.  He positions himself in the lane. Every car treated him as another user of the road.  They pass him safely (as far as I could see, as I continuing straight).


Really, it is typical.  But unfortunately, the non-typical situation is the one that gets all the press.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  Go take a look at any bicycle-related forum, and count the number of posts relating to negative car-bicycle interaction (ie. “I almost got hit!” or “How many times do you get honked at?”) vs the positive ones (i.e. “I had an great/uneventful ride today).  I guess that’s human nature — it’s the exception we are interested in, not the norm, and it’s “newsy”.  That’s too bad, since the only news people hear about is negative and scary.

We need more positive news about cycling to make it to the mainstream.  Something like this (apologies to Mighk for stealing his idea)

“This just in — today in Orlando, hundreds of bicyclists got on their bikes and road to their destinations.  They were passed by hundreds if not thousands of motorists going to their destinations.  Nothing happened.”

OK, probably is not going to happen just like that.  But positive messages can get out:  messages about health, about the environment, about can-do attitudes.  And even positive messages about safety can make it to people who may have interest, but don’t have all the facts.

We need to be sending this message over and over:  Bicycling is fun.  Bicycling is healthy.  It’s environmentally friendly.

And — bicycling is safe; as safe as driving a car (maybe even safer).  The typical car-cyclist interaction is not aggressive or dangerous; it’s relatively benign — a non-event.  Yes, there are idiots out there, but typically most people do not go out of their way to make your life dangerous or miserable.  There are things you should know about cycling on streets that are particular to cyclists.  But it’s not rocket science;  it’s something that can be taught to just about anyone of any age.


17 replies
  1. Cleaver
    Cleaver says:

    Yes, but . . . it only takes one “atypical” incident to wreck and perhaps end a cyclist’s life.

    A cyclist can learn and practice all the things that are particular to cyclists riding on streets, and it still only takes one “atypical” incident and one distracted or irresponsible driver to wreck and perhaps end that cyclist’s life.

    The stakes are high, and there are inequalities between cars and bikes in terms of speed, mass, and surrounding protection. So even though bicycling truly is fun, healthy, and environmentally friendly, the same “atypical” incident that results in a scratch or a broken side mirror for a car can result in a fatality for a cyclist.

    Positive messages, yes. But to say that “bicycling is . . . as safe as driving a car (maybe even safer)” is fatuous.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Atypical incidents kill people in cars too. This weekend the local cycling community gathered to pay respect to a local cyclist who, along with his three grown sons, was killed in a car by a drunk driver.

      Bicyclists actually have an advantage in speed/reaction time, visibility and perception which enhances their safety over those encased in a cocoon. The cage isn’t always an asset. Mindful bicyclists are arguably quite a bit safer than people in cars.

    • Mighk Wilson
      Mighk Wilson says:

      How one measures “safer” is a tangled mess. There’s relative risk between modes (do you measure on a per mile, per hour, per trip basis?); there’s relative risk applied to health (the British Medical Journal reported that cycling health benefits outweigh the risks 20-to-1); there’s generalized risk (rate per population) versus individual risk (e.g., if you don’t have a gun in the house, your risk of dying from gun use is lower than that of the general population) — same goes if you don’t bike at night without lights, bike drunk, etc.

      A study of the Cyclist’s Touring Club in England found that their members (who tend to be well-trained and responsible cyclists) collectively lived an average of 15,000 person-years between cycling fatalities.

      Biking is very safe if you do it safely.

  2. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    I disagree with the severity argument — a similar analagy would be car driving vs. flying. Statistically, you are much safer flying vs. driving, but if you have an atypical incident when flying, it’s most likely fatal. You have to look at miles travelled vs. incident. Bike riding is safe; bike riding with a little education is very safe.

  3. bencott
    bencott says:

    i think calling attention to bad motorists is warranted in attempts to curb the behavior, or at the very least, prepare others to cope with it. i would love to espouse the positive nature of the interaction i have with motorists when i’m on my bike or in my car, but there is none. it’s either negative or neutral. every single ride i’ve taken over the last couple weeks has been met with harassment and dangerous behavior on the part of several motorists. those that passed safely without incident just did what they’re legally obligated to do. i do enjoy using my bicycle for transportation, but it’s more in spite of my interaction with motorists than because of it. in my mind the only negative aspect to biking is dealing with bad motorists.

  4. rodney
    rodney says:

    Good News! I had a WONDERFUL midnite ride last night. Aside from getting the jeepers scared out of me from the auto sprinklers on Cady Way, it was a most enjoyable ride. Downtown was real pleasant at 2AM also.

    I tacked on another 24 miles in about 2.5 hrs and went no place special. I really like the night rides the best!

  5. Keri
    Keri says:

    I think the typical experience may vary in different parts of town. My regular rat path is similar to Andrew’s… between Cady Way and Downtown (except I don’t use Livingston as much) or College Park. I do a lot of cycling right around Audubon Park. I also go to Winter Park and Maitland. Harassment is an occasional thing, sometimes I can go a month without hearing a honk. And I do actually have a lot of positive encounters here, where a motorist slows to help me merge or wants to let me go first at a stop sign (I wish they wouldn’t do that).

    But when I venture into some other parts of town (Southeast Orlando, Casselberry, Altamonte, Longwood, Wekiva… to name a few) harassment is much more frequent and it’s remarkable to actually make a trip without some kind of territorial noise or passive-aggressive behavior from at least one motorist.

    • Laura M
      Laura M says:

      “I think the typical experience may vary in different parts of town.”

      So very true. Since moving downtown and in the 6 yrs since, I’ve definitely noticed an uptick in the number of bikes on the road these days. I think it started around 07/08 when gas prices shot up. I also noticed more ‘regular’ folks riding the bus as well. Since that ‘crisis’ is over I think a lot of folks stuck with the cycling. Transit ridership had a bit of a decline in 09, but that was mostly due to service cuts and the economy. Ridership is steadily going up this year.

      I think there’s a definite vibe in the downtown neighborhoods that is facilitating bicycle use. We really don’t have a congestion problem downtown and while you may not travel at 45 on the local roads, you get there pretty steadily and at speeds where bikes and cars get along well. Definitely makes a big difference. Context matters.

    RANTWICK says:

    Andrew – I agree with you. For every negative incident (which usually isn’t even a little dangerous) I’ve got dozens of happy, or at least uneventful ones.

  7. Curly Suze
    Curly Suze says:

    Relative newbie here chiming in ..

    First wanted to thank you all for having such a cool blog. Keri, your video “bicycling in traffic is a dance you must lead” is amazing 🙂 It was something of a shock to learn that most drivers are pretty cooperative. I’ve passed along the link to people who don’t believe that it’s [relatively] safe to ride on the same roads with cars, provided that you observe some rules and communicate your intentions very clearly.

    Agreed on the comments about how there are lots of good things to every bad thing. After a month of commuter riding, I’ve only had one relatively close call, and it was this morning when someone took a right turn in front of me, way too fast for the turn, rather than wait behind. Part of that was my fault for not taking the lane right there, but part of it was his for not signaling the turn and for going so fast that I thought he was going straight instead of turning right. But still only 1 vehicle has gotten close enough to touch in this many days of riding, and there hasn’t been a single honk or curse yet.

    Car driver treat each other much more rudely than they do cyclists, I think, so people who do all their transportation via automobile need to be cut a little slack for imagining that it’s suicidal to ride on the regular roads. It isn’t, but learning this requires a little leap of faith to try being assertive on the roads, among the cars.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Curly Suze, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the video and thanks for passing it on. And thanks for joining the conversation here, I especially love hearing from newer riders.

      The right hook after passing is always the motorist’s fault, but it’s good for us to try to prevent it. For the most part, we can. There have been a number of times I’ve been hooked when I was riding too far right, but I have also been hooked by drivers from the left lane when I was totally controlling the right lane. Some people are just determined to pass the cyclist no matter what. Fortunately they are rare enough in most places.

      • Fred Oswald
        Fred Oswald says:

        Keri wrote (in part)
        “The right hook after passing is always the motorist’s fault, but it’s good for us to try to prevent it. For the most part, we can.”

        I like to use the word “deter” since no-one can prevent foolish actions by the determined idiot. But as she says, “for the most part, we can.”

        Another benefit of an assertive position (well away from the gutter) is then the motorist has to make a wider turn (easier to avoid) and also you have more room to maneuver.

        But the biggest advantage is that fewer things go wrong if you ride assertively. And this even benefits motorists because there are fewer mistakes made on the road.

        But how to get them to realize that?


    • Cleaver
      Cleaver says:

      I want to be clear (if I’m being characterized as one of the people who are “imagining that it’s suicidal to ride on the regular roads”) that I ride on the regular roads in Oakland, California, where perhaps there is more traffic than in Orlando, I don’t know.

      I’ve taken the same training, written and practical, that is advocated on this blog. I take the lane when necessary, and I’ll take the whole lane if I have to. I avoid unsafe bike lanes. I obey traffic laws, stay out of drivers’ blind spots, and have never been a gutter bunny.

      I too have watched and appreciated Keri’s “dance” video and I read this blog every day (thanks, Keri). I also believe in promoting positive images of cycling and in getting more people to ride.

      But, sorry, my experience and the evidence of my own eyes tells me that, at least in the Bay Area, “bicycling is as safe as driving a car (maybe even safer)” is not an accurate translation of “nothing extraordinary happened today.” Your mileage may vary (so to speak).

      • Curly Suze
        Curly Suze says:

        Cleaver, sorry, I wasn’t referring to you at all with that comment about them who imagine it’s suicidal to be on the roads with automobiles. It was a reference to all the coworkers and other people here who’ve been baffled when I try telling them that the automobile drivers are much more polite than you think they would be. I’m considering taking video of the daily rides, like Keri does, just to show it to people.

        Clearly this is a YMMV thing. It may help a great deal that I’m out in exurbia in a place where the roads are never used at capacity, where the traffic patterns and signaling are minimal (the town I live in has only 1 signal light, and it’s a blinky yellow some 3.5 miles north of here), and where there’s not enough of a bicycle culture to support the escalation of class conflicts between bicyclists & drivers.

    • Curly Suze
      Curly Suze says:

      Keri, thanks! 🙂

      It took several viewings of that video of yours to build up the courage to go try some of those dance moves. This is out in exurbia (50 miles west of Boston) with tons of SUVs and no bike lanes or racks anywhere, yet the automobile drivers have so far been extremely good. I’m taking care to do a nice thank-you wave & smile when they do things right; hopefully they’ll remember it the next time they pass a cyclist. It’s so counter-intuitive, but often the right thing to do on the road is be assertive about your space rather than trying to simply get out of the way of all vehicles. I think it helps them a lot when you turn around and make eye contact; they’re reminded that you’re a person and not just some kind of obstacle in the road. Traffic is a game, and we’re all on the same team .. and a win is when we all get to where we’re going without incident.

      This blog is a fantastic resource .. even for those of us who don’t live in cities.

      Simpler living & bicycles are a perfect fit 🙂

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