The Change You Want to See

As we’re formulating social marketing strategies, the two questions below came up. As a follow-on to Rodney’s excellent post about his evolution as a cyclist, I thought it would be interesting to ask your opinions.

1) If there was just ONE motorist behavior you could change, what would it be?

2) Was there one thing you learned as a cyclist that caused you to change the way you drive a car (an epiphany that made you a better driver)? Did you learn this organically, or was it inspired by something you learned in a bike ed class, reading a book or website or some other education source?

15 replies
  1. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    1) Lane changing. Typically due to impatience (“gotta pass this guy — he’s going too slow and I’m late!!) and inattention to your surroundings (“oops, talking on cell and I’m in the wrong lane for my turn …”)

    1a) Cell phone/Texting. Ban them from use when driving a car.

    2) Driving slower. Last trip I made to Tallahassee, I deliberately moved to the rightmost lane and set my speed at 65. I may have passed a dozen cars in the 4-hour trip while 100s passed me. But reduced stress from not constantly changing speeds and passing made for a much more agreeable trip. Probably saved a little bit in gas money too …. it also meant I wasn’t guilty of my #1 pet peeve above (lane changing!).

  2. Keri
    Keri says:

    Andrew… you mean constantly shifting back and forth between lanes to get around cars perceived as in the way?

    We want them to change lanes when they pass us!

  3. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    I’d agree with Andrew; that cycling has made me a fairly mellow motorist.

    The sense of invulnerability is probably one of the worst things about the car. Being a cyclist (or pedestrian or motorcyclist) your vulnerability is front and center, demanding a higher level of attention. (Tho this does not apply to teenage and 20-something males; which why I agree with Robert Seidler’s contention that the legal driving age should be 25.)

  4. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    This is barely within the scope of the question, especially since Mighk, Andrew and Keri have echoed my sentiments pretty nicely, but I have a totally-impossible way to make the roads more pleasant. Every motor vehicle should have a platform (with seat) containing the operator, at the very front of the vehicle. Enclose it, air-condition it, play music, but don’t protect the operator from crashes.

    We don’t get air-conditioning, but there’s not much difference between cyclists and the above described “vehicle” and those operators would learn more quickly, in my opinion, that consideration of others improves one’s lifespan.

    Andrew, since my wife and I each own an electric vehicle with top speeds in the 40s and economy speeds in the mid 30s, we are always slower than surrounding traffic. When necessary to travel on the interstates, we are also setting the cruise control to slightly less than the speed limit. Life is so much easier, just as you described.

    I think my point could be summarized as consideration, but probably just as unrealistic as the vehicle configuration, unfortunately.

  5. Keri
    Keri says:

    here’s mine:

    1) The one thing that affects me more than anything else is territorialism. As a cyclist, rarely encounter inattentive driving as a source of conflicts for myself (However, I did when I rode less assertively and visibly). The primary source of unpleasantness I encounter is territorial BS behavior (honking, yelling, buzzing for no reason other than the driver does not believe I belong on his road).

    2) Probably my biggest epiphany was re-coupling speed with danger. As a younger, more type-A driver. Safe speed was all about me and how fast I could handle my car… and of course, I was very good at handling my car… it never occurred to me that speed limits (particularly the cautionary speeds) were based on my ability to react to the unexpected, like, say, a slow bicyclist around that blind corner.

    My commitment to drive no more than the speed limit came directly from cycling and civility advocacy.

    Researching bicycle safety has made me more aware of checking behind me and merging into the bike lane before turning.

    Becoming involved in bike/ped advocacy has made me more aware of crosswalks and more attentive to the edge of the road.

    Like the previous contributors, cycling has made me a more patient and mellow driver. The experience of calmly occupying a lane at low speed has translated to my interstate driving. Like Andrew, I set my cruise control at 65 and relax. I rarely have to change lanes or disengage the cruise control. Driving is far less stressful that way and the time difference is about 10 minutes on a long trip.

  6. Dave
    Dave says:

    1. Single motorist behavior to change? Hard to choose just one, but here’s one that bugs me – I would like motorists to consistently merge right (safely) before turning right. In CA, it’s the law. If there is a bike lane, they need to merge right into the bike lane prior to their turn. Not sure why it bothers me when they don’t – I merge left before intersections in any case, so they’re no danger to me whether they merge correctly or not.

    2. I definitely drive differently. I am on my city’s bicycling safety committee, and we see the accident statistics. Having seen the numbers, I am hypervigilant for sidewalk riders, unlit riders, etc.

  7. ha1ku
    ha1ku says:

    1. There needs to be a cultural change. The view that the road belongs to four wheels is untrue.

    2. I drive differently because I ride on two wheels now. I visualize cyclists on the right and practice my distancing. I have to learn to determine if it is safe to pass or if I should just slow down. I also got into the habit of checking my blind spots for cyclists before turning or changing lanes.

  8. José
    José says:

    1. I wish they didn’t try to use their cars as an instrument of their anger.

    Sometimes (not many) when a motorist has been waiting behind me for a short period of time, unable to pass me, and they finally get the chance to overtake me, they speed up and pass too close to me as if expresing their anger. That is scary!

    2. After becoming a cyclist, I have learned to drive my car at a different pace. I drive a few miles under the speed limit and try o pay a lot of attention to the surroundings. The funny thing is that this is another way to aggravate motorists; they can’t stand slow moving vehicles (not just bicycles)!

  9. danc
    danc says:

    1) Unnecessary Honking – used to justify “passing” on aggression.

    2) Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy*
    Feeling groovy (59th Street Bridge) by Simon and Garfunkel
    Organically, wife sez I drive like my mother-in-law.

  10. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    I’m very intentionally writing this without looking at anyone else’s replies first.

    1) If I could change just ONE behavior? I’m tempted to say close passing, since that feels like the most dangerous behavior, but then I’d be stepping right into the trap that would allow the VC’ist to yell “GOTCHA! You CAN change that!” And I know that, and really it doesn’t happen to me all that often, and for just the reason VC says. So that’s not my official answer.

    I’m also tempted to answer with what is to me the most ANNOYING motorist behavior, but I’m not sure if that is the same as the one I would change if I could only change one. But I’ll say it anyway. The most ANNOYING is the motorist who yields his or her (very often her) right of way to me. Of course it confuses and prolongs the traffic situation, but worse to me is the feeling of condescension it gives me. It is so important to me to act and feel like an equal road user, but this motorist is essentially telling me she does not see me as such. Motorists stop for children they see waiting to cross the street (on foot or on bike), but how often do they give up their right of way for other adults in cars? So what does that say about which they view me as? I don’t blame them personally, they are just acting out of what society tells them about cyclists, and unfortunately, about 90% of the other cyclists they encounter reinforce that same view. And of course can you blame them too much for doing something they think of as being nice?

    A related annoying behavior is the person who pulls way far over and gives me about 10′ of room when 3-4′ would do fine. Of course too much room is better than not enough, but it gives me a similar feeling of being condescended to. Or more probably they don’t know how much they are supposed to leave so they err on the side of caution, which is a good thing, or maybe are just poor judges of distance on the road.

    But maybe if I could only change one behavior, it would be the almost reptilian “must pass cyclist” response, especially when they pull completely over to the wrong side of the road to stop on my left while I am slowing down for a stop sign in the middle of our own lane! >:-(

    2) I think the way that cycling has most improved my car driving is that it has improved my situational awareness on the road while driving either vehicle. Heck, even walking around the “cube farm” at the office, I find myself more often walking on the right, and moving out into the middle at aisle intersections for better sightlines and conspicuity! 😉 I am better at analyzing situations developing around me now, and as a result, I have become a more cautious driver than I used to be.

    I recently remembered that as a teenager, I occasionally observed adult drivers (like my friends’ parents!) taking their foot off the gas and resting it on the brake for a few seconds, not actually braking but ready to brake if necessary, and at the time, I thought it was such an oh-so overly cautious boring old-person thing to do, but now I find myself doing it too! Hmm… 😉

  11. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    1. Inappropriate politeness. The durn cars slow me down enough already without that dance when I’m waiting for them prior to making my LH turn. They also endanger me when they hang back all worried, and then suddenly dart forward & swerve. It’d be nicer for everyone if motorists acted as and were treated as vehicles instead of clogging up the road. Maybe we ought to consider some serious licensing for the buggers. JohnB’s dislike is very much akin to my own.

    2. Mostly, driving now is associated with bringing the clean laundry into work and the dirty laundry home. Or thunderstorms. I guess that’d mean when I drive to work, I double check to make sure I didn’t leave my badge in my shorts when I used to just leave it in the side pocket in the car…


  12. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    I had to think about this one. Much about what I object to in motorist behavior is simply annoying, not dangerous. Narrow roads and lane control make cycling mostly concern free.

    What I would most like to see is motorist attitude change. (Assuming attitude is a behavior!) Operating an automobile has become such an everyday common activity that complacency has become pervasive. Pushing the operational limits is normative now. Due care is such a foreign concept it is not even cited in spite of multiple iterations in the transportation code. (Example: Overtaking laws and the three foot rule. Though redundant, neither is law is used to issue a citation against a motorist who strikes a cyclist.) Not only are motorists failing to take ownership of their dereliction of due care concepts, these omissions are given a pass by those who enforce the law, most notably district attorneys! This is what I most desire to change.

    Cycling has has changed my driving habits by not driving at all! This from a guy who drove for a living for 15 years. Last year, I allowed my commercial drivers license to expire, so now I have no drivers license at all. I don’t miss visiting the DMV.

  13. Rantwick
    Rantwick says:

    1) Honking. The loud honk that comes from right in your blind spot and has startle potential is my biggest peeve. I’m always sort of ready for it and I don’t over-react, but that brief moment of “startle” really bugs me.

    2) I won’t try and squeeze past a gutter bunny without proper clearance any more; as a young driver I certainly used to.

  14. Andrewp
    Andrewp says:

    Keri: Yes, I meant the guy who tailgates to intimidate you to move over, who squeezes into spots he shouldn’t, who pinballs from lane to lane to lane and back again.

    Now, having read everyone else’s response, I realize I answered your first question as a motorist, and not as a cyclist. Probably not what you meant when you asked …

    As a cyclist … you know, I’m not as bothered as JohnB and SteveA by cars acting friendly — yeilding when they shouldn’t, etc. I’ve experienced similar behavior when on my motorcycle. I just see it as civility and really don’t feel it’s condesending or paternal behavoir on their part.

    So what behavior would I want changed (as a cyclist)? Keri, your answer incorporated all the things that bother me most. If we could conbine the loss of territorialism with an increase in patience, we’d just about be there …

  15. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    1) The one motorist behaviour that I would change? Stop driving cars.

    The best way to encourage this is to get rid of car infrastructure. Better yet, don’t build it in the first place. It was a huge 20-year-long fight here in Toronto from the 1950’s to June, 1971 not build a USA-style expressway system. Where I currently live in the Riding of Toronto Centre, the car mode share is 24%. That is actually lower than Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

    The reason why can be summed up in one word: infrastructure. We didn’t build roads to drive cars on and didn’t build car parking and all the rest of car infrastructure. We saved a bundle of money and have a livable city.

    2) I don’t drive a car. There is zero car parking where I live and zero car parking where I work. It takes me 10 minutes to get to work on my bike. If I were to drive a car to work, it would take 50 minutes. Most of that time would be spent going to and from off-site car parking. Parking that would cost me about $420 per month. $225 of that would be for parking near where I live and $195 for parking near where I work. I could walk to work in less time.

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