F^%&ing cyclists

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Lately there have been a number of media items that highlight a terrifying attitude of extreme animosity towards people on bicycles. Note I said people on bicycles, not “cyclists”. A huge barrier to a kinder, more understanding behaviour on the roads is the very natural human tendency to split up into tribes.  In the mind of the average person who is driving, “cyclists” are a weird tribe who sometimes wear lycra and insist on being on the road, even though it is clearly designed for motor vehicles.

When an anti-cyclist observes a person on a bicycle behaving in way that they believe is technically against the road code, they remember it and then attribute that behaviour to every other person using a bicycle, as if riding a bicycle automatically made one just like everyone else who rides a bicycle.

Let’s just put aside the fact that most of the adults who ride bikes also drive cars sometimes, and many people who drive cars have ridden a bicycle at some point in their lives. Let’s imagine there were two distinct groups. People driving cars, being a much larger percentage of the population, are not usually identified uniquely as “motorists”. Although I regularly see people in cars texting, talking on the phone, driving above the speed limit and running red lights, somehow there is not a widespread feeling that all “motorists” are dangerous and should be banned from using the roads.

But I regularly hear that “cyclists” ride three or four abreast, slow traffic and shouldn’t be allowed on the road. I also hear that “cyclists” don’t pay for the roads and therefore deserve whatever happens to them, as they are the idiots taking the risk on the road.

The motorists are correct that most of our roads are, at the moment, designed only for cars. That does make them dangerous for people on bicycles. But bicycles are a legitimate mode of transport, and every time someone chooses to cycle they save the country money. A study in Australia found that people on bicycles are worth $21 per 20 min round trip commute.

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Infrastructurecosts

First off, roads are paid for by all taxpayers – not just people who drive cars and trucks. Over half of our local roads are funded from general rates, and everyone (even renters) pay rates (through their rent). Cycle infrastructure is far more cost effective at moving one person per kilometre than car infrastructure – it requires less land, and far less maintenance because bicycles are (conservatively) 50 times lighter than the average small car. Road wear is non-linear, so bicycles cause exponentially less wear and tear than cars.

Secondly, all consumers in the economy pay higher prices for goods and services because of car parking rules – so people who bicycle and don’t take up car parks pay more than their fair share for all the parking that “motorists” almost never pay for directly.

space-needed-to-transport-60-peoplePeople who bicycle for transport also have fewer health problems and so save taxpayers money by getting more regular exercise than the average car commuter. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the safety risks by at least 20 to 1.

There seems to be a widespread belief that bicycles slow traffic down, and they may do (for up to a whole minute). But bicycles don’t cause traffic jams – quite the opposite. The more people who leave the car at home, or don’t own a car, because they bicycle, the fewer delays because it is cars that require lanes at least three metres wide (usually to carry one person).

I’m not even going to mention the obvious value of less water, air, climate and noise pollution when people bicycle instead of driving.

Given all these benefits, people driving should be very thankful for those on bicycles and may want to show them extra courtesy, because I can tell you from experience, it is bloody scary to have large motor vehicles overtaking at speed right next to you when you’re on a bicycle.

How should one overtake a person on a bicycle? Best practice is to leave 1.5m. If you can’t leave 1.5m, slow down and wait until it is safe to change lanes – just as you would for any other slow moving vehicle. It’s not going to kill you to drive a bit more slowly for a few minutes, and it’s certainly not worth risking killing someone’s family member.

How to pass a cyclistI often get overtaken at tight distances, only to catch up with the same car at the red light. Average speed of a bicycle can be very comparable to or faster than a car in urban areas. There’s no point in driving at top legal speed to slam on the brakes at a red light. You may as well save some fuel and your brake pads by coasting up to the light.

If we can get past the labelling and the tribalism, and acquire a bit of patience, I’ve no doubt that New Zealand drivers can show respect and a duty of care to the heroes who choose to bicycle in the current hostile traffic environment. As soon as the Greens get into government, we can all look forward to roads that are obviously designed to accommodate bicycles, and then cyclists will no longer be a weird lycra-clad tribe, but people we all know.

 

30 COMMENTS

  1. Possibly a lot of (male) motorists hate cyclists because they see them as weak, meek, and possibly effiminate. Don’t ask me why, but this seems to make them very ANGRY as if cyclists are are an affront to their masculinity.

    Just a theory and possibly completely wrong, but whatever the reason, there is nothing at all rational about why a lot of motorists hate cyclists, so it has to be some sort of psychological reason.

    I would also conjecture that cyclist hating motorists are more likely to be supporters of John Key, Stephen Joyce and Gerry Brownlee.

  2. This is a brilliant post, thank you. If only there was some way to get the people who cut us off, drive too close, toot their horns at us or spew vitriol at us during our daily commutes/rides to pay attention to this. Unfortunately, I think most New Zealanders view driving as more of a competition instead of simply a mode of transport – and add in the (un)healthy dose of selfishness and poor time management skills (“TIME IS MONEY”, “I NEED TO BE AT THIS PLACE YESTERDAY” etc. etc.) that permeates around our major cities and I can’t see cycling ever getting a fair deal on our roads. Sad.

    • If only there was some way to get the people who cut us off, drive too close, toot their horns at us or spew vitriol at us during our daily commutes/rides to pay attention to this.

      I suggest putting a camera or two on your bicycle and supplying the video footage of such law breaking to the police.

  3. love the title… hopefully they’ll breed.

    Seriously, the more cyclists there are the safer each cyclist is. And the more, more usable cycle facilities there are the less cyclists are forced to interfere with the flow of moronists. It’s a win-win-win.

  4. I stopped riding my bike after I got side swiped by a car. I love riding, but out on the roads – it is to bloody nuts! There I said it; I’m sick of being abused and buzzed by cars – I’m sick of people shouting out of there cars and throwing things.

    I know we should balance the whole car/bike debate but damn it – when a car hits you it’s bloody painful, scary and you hope you done enough not to be killed. Just to make it more fun – your the one stuck with the long recovery and all the costs associated with that. Because car drivers don’t pay a damn cent in the majority of accidents they cause. ACC is a joke, how in the name of anything good can they claim to help when they only pay part of the costs? Then the wet bus ticket slap handed out by the courts to car drivers – is a cruel twist indeed.

    Now I’m driving more, I’ve noticed something else – when ever I slow down and give a cyclist some room – the driver behind me will start tooting there horn. Or the worst one last week, I moved out to give a rider some room, and the person behind me – did the exact opposite. It was a near miss by millimetres.

    I expect drivers to get all self righteous now – Oh this cyclist did this, that cyclist did that. But just stop for one bloody second – you are driving a killing machine – when you stuff up or hit some one on a bike, you at minimum cause a soft tissue injury – it gets worse from there – right up to death. When was the last time a cyclist killed a car driver?

    I’ll leave you with a bad joke told to be by a cafe worker in Avondale.

    There are only two types of cyclists – those who have been hit, and those who are going to be hit.

  5. In general I’m at a loss to understand why some motorists are so hostile toward cyclists.

    Perhaps it is the self-righteous personality of some, “I ‘m obeying the rules therefore you have to as well”, as another activity that appears to incense some motorists is that of cyclists “running” traffic signals. Yet I believe that in some situations this practice can be safe.

    I would hazard a guess that almost 100% of automated signals were designed to control motor vehicle movement and that no consideration, or extremely little consideration, was attached to cycle integration.

    Every cyclist quickly learns that some signals, by no means all, simply interrupt progress for no logical beneficial or safety gain. For example, typically, if the path is clear of other cyclists, a left turn at lights can be made safely against the lights, the only danger being from other cyclists requiring the same space, or from opposing right-turning traffic – who to be a danger would have to ignore the usual safe passing distance from a cyclist in their clear field of vision. A cyclist is easily able to judge this risk in the same manner as a motorist exercises judgment at a give way control.

    Cyclists are vulnerable to injury – and as most adult cyclists know this, most do not take unnecessary risks.

    • So you advocate breaking the road rules to suit yourself. And you then wonder why people get angry.

      Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain…

      • Many nations have free turning at the lights when turning with the traffic, i.e, in NZ that would be turning left. I also know of a number of intersections in NZ that have been designed for such. The problem isn’t the cyclists doing something logical and reasonably safe but the law that stands in the way.

        • Sure, but part of the reason following the law matters is that it shapes each person’s expectation of what other users are going to do.

          If people want to petition for a law change to allow this, that is fine with me, but that’s different from just doing it because you personally think it is safe. The latter is likely to cause trouble no matter the justice of your cause.

          Only cyclist I saw coming home from work today had no lights or helmet (it was 5:30 and getting dark) and casually cut across oncoming traffic without signalling.

    • lol richard, i think you are one of the people making motorists angry at cyclists. why would you expect others to follow rules such as 1.5m overtaking bikes when you break them intentionally on a subjective judgement call? It is NOT ok to overtake bikes at a 5cm distance just because the motorist decides there is no logical beneficial or safety gain.

    • I think it is much safer for cyclists to anticipate a light turning green and getting a head start on cars so they are not wobbling around getting up to speed as cars race past them.

      Also I tried to up vote this but accidentally clicked the thumbs down instead – sorry

      • Nick in Nelson we have cycle “stop boxes” in the front of the traffic lines at some intersections – to give space for cyclists to be in front of cars , get off first and up to speed so then the cars can safely pass them. Ask your local council for these on more interest ions.

  6. The motorists are correct that most of our roads are, at the moment, designed only for cars. That does make them dangerous for people on bicycles.

    The reason drivers don’t like bicycles is that they impose a cognitive burden on drivers. Human beings are pretty good at co-ordinated movement when every other mover is approximately of the same size and mass. Not so much when this is not the case. The same thing happens with motorcycles (speaking as a former motorcyclist and cyclist myself).

    So you have a bunch of people sharing the road who are small, difficult to see and don’t move the way the rest of traffic does – this imposes a cognitive burden on drivers. Is it any wonder that they get irritated? This isn’t something that can be easily fixed – it’s deeply embedded in human nature.

    The solution is, as you point out, to redesign roads to be more cycle friendly. I think that’s right. But in the meantime, cycling in heavy traffic is for the brave. When I went for my motorcycle license, the instructor told us we were idiots, and he was right. Casual motorcycling for fun is pretty safe, but you are in the lap of the gods if you use it as your everyday mode of transport. Same goes for bicycles. I got hit a couple of times before I finally gave it up.

    People are not going to change. Roads might, but people won’t.

    But bicycles are a legitimate mode of transport

    I don’t even know what that means.

    • The reason drivers don’t like bicycles is that they impose a cognitive burden on drivers.

      “Cognitive burden”?!

      Oh dear… Tom, however do you cope with pedestrians, children, dogs, etc, tha happen to be crossing the road as well…

      I drive as well. But I also accept that the road does not belong solely to me. I share it with others. Therefore, I adjust my cognitive abilities acordingly.

      On the occassions I’ve been involved in a crash, if it was my fault, I accept responsibilty. I don’t try to shift “burdens” onto others.

      • Oh dear… Tom, however do you cope with pedestrians, children, dogs, etc, tha happen to be crossing the road as well…

        Jeez…

        Because in almost every high traffic area there are these special, brightly lit and painted places where pedestrians can be clearly seen when they cross, and in many cases these places are controlled by lights to show who has to give way to who. You may have seen or used these facilities yourself. They are needed for precisely the reason I noted. People in cars need to be helped to look out for pedestrians.

        In other words, the road is designed specifically to facilitate safe dual car/pedestrian uses where this has shown to be necessary. Julie Anne’s point in the original article is that most of our roads aren’t designed for safe cyclist/car dual use.

        Either modify the roads to have proper cycle lanes, separate from the main body of the road, or have separate cycleways. I don’t mind tax money being used to fund either. The problem with such solutions is that they might actually work, and people who love complaining self righteously about the dubious virtue of drivers/cyclists would have to find someone else to pick on.

        • Julie Anne’s point in the original article is that most of our roads aren’t designed for safe cyclist/car dual use. –

          I’m in general agreement with this point, but my earlier point, which you apparently fail to grasp, is that neither are the rules to control the traffic on such roads designed for both users. They are overwhelmingly designed to safely control motor vehicle movement, not cycle movement. Modification of the code to make them more user friendly toward cyclists is safely possible.

          • I don’t have any argument with that. I wonder how effective it could be, but that’s for empirical testing.

  7. One of the many dire mistakes made in Western society was repealing the [British] law that required motorised vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag because motorised vehicles were extremely dangerous.

    Now we have a society that is nearly totally dependent on dangerous motorised road transport, just at the time when global extraction of oil has peaked and is in decline, and just at the time when carbon dioxide emissions have triggered positive climate feedbacks that will take humanity into the runaway greenhouse phase that will cause utter mayhem from pole to pole over coming decades. CO2: the most deadly gas on Earth.

    Of course, bought-and-paid-for politicians and self-serving corporate media ensure that the general populace is never given the correct information on energy or the environment because the truth would impinge badly on business-as-usual rorts.

    The good news is that the global economic system, now dependent on money-printing and ‘unconventional oil’, is on track to implode fairly soon.

    The bad news is that 99.9% of the populace apparently hasn’t got a clue about what is happening and still believe the lies churned out by politicians and the corporate media.

    • The good news is that the global economic system, now dependent on money-printing and ‘unconventional oil’, is on track to implode fairly soon.

      I tend to agree with Greer’s Long Descent hypothesis although I don’t think we’ll see the complete collapse of industrialism as he seems to think.

  8. The road is my personal race track. I drive a big fast V8 4WD therefore you better get out of my way. I hate following anybody, and will make reckless manouevres to prove my manhood. ARGH ARGH ARGH

    /tongue in cheek

  9. Good article. I give riders good space but once almost opened my car door on one. Eeeekkkk. I don’t recall being warned about that one during my driving licence process.

    I do get annoyed at adult cyclists on the footpath though although I guess they’re being safe.

  10. I can’t ride a bike any more, so I walk to most of the places I need to go. Sometimes I catch a train, bus or taxi. About once a fortnight I take my wife somewhere in the car (she doesn’t drive). The people I come across that I object to most are lycra clad runners, some of whom think they own the footpath, and the drivers of SUVs, who are absolutely certain they own the road. I can’t remember the last time anyone on a bike or motorbike did anything that inconvenienced me in the slightest. In fact, I think the roads would be much safer if we all had to ride motorbikes (or trikes) for the first couple of years, and only then graduate onto cars, with SUVs being banned from urban areas. Mana’s transport plan for Auckland would also be a huge help.

  11. I don’t ride bicycles much any more as I was knocked off by a driver who didn’t see me. Fortunately a low speed afair but I still have the scars. I do ride a motorbike still and I know that I am considered a public enemy on the road. Car divers hate bikes going to the front of a cue even though we are way quicker off the mark that they so actually assist the traffic flow. I know I have to drive defensively because most car drivers simply don’t look. Having driven in the UK I know that this is a lack of training. If 15 year olds were allowed a small motorbike license but not a car licence until they were 18 they would have a vastly increased visual acuity and every parent out there would pay more attention. Bike riders are not free of responsibility as a group but no group ever is free of ratbags. Tosspots on vast noisy cruisers and young girls riding in high heels and skirts or shorts make me grind my teeth but motorcyclists are no a group they are individuals just as all car drivers aren’t homicidal maniacs. What is clear is that cyclists and motorcyclists are helping to decongest city streets and government legislation should encourage not discourage them.

  12. If someone was wandering the street swinging an axe or other dangerous object around in close proximity to me I would probably want to nail them, so why should I not feel the same when some arsehole cuts me off, carves me up, abuses me etc in a car – equally as dangerous, if not more.
    Right of way my arse. I saw a guy get hit by a car and killed once, and the car driver felt more sorry for her self than the guy because it was ‘very upsetting’ for her. She ran a red light and just nailed him. Did touch her brakes ’till after. Police thought she was texting at the time. Less cars, more bikes and better education for drivers please.

  13. I drive on a country road about 10ks long around about 3 times a week, most days there are cyclists enjoying the fresh air and exercise, usually two side by side which takes up most of the road heading south which means if they have music in their ears they don`t hear cars coming up behind them. More often or not the cars behind them have to wait until traffic coming the other way is clear to pass. It really annoys me.
    I think cyclists should be required to have some sort of registration number to link rider with bike so that repeat offenders that cause traffic stopages and use the road as though they are a car could be sent a reminder of NZ Road Rules. I have thought of carrying my camera in the car to take pics but what would be the use as they can`t be identified. If a car is been driven dangerously a person can take note of the number plate, if bike riders want the same rights as motorists they need to be identifiable.

    • It often makes sense for cyclists to take up more space so cars have to wait until it is safe to pass to do so. If you are passing bikes on a country road with oncoming traffic at open road speeds you are unlikely to be leaving one and half meters space, which is barely enough space at those speeds.

      Those people who think cyclists are entitled should remember who are the ones that deem themselves so important that they warrant locomoting a ton or more of metal and plastic on their daily commute.

  14. Until cycling is seen by low confidence riders as a logical, safe and healthy alternative to car use the cycling revolution of Amersterdam and Copenahgen and Zurich and …. won’t happen here – It will remain the preserve of the reckless, the aggressive, the brave and the foolhardy.
    To have cycling enticing to low confidence riders we need to have 30km hour speed limits for non arterial roads and have no cycle lanes on these and have cycle paths following routes of arterial roads, but physically separated from the motor vehicles (ideally the physical separation is by distance to avoid intimidation and vehicle fumes (toxic emissions).

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