One of the best t-shirts I've seen in years:
There are 10 types of people in the world.
Those who get this t-shirt and those who don't.
But, I digress.
From a cynical cyclist's perspective, there are two types of drivers:
- Those who hate us
- Those who are going to kill us
I had this insight the other day as a commercial van driver in the lane I was in honked at me. The people who get angry at bikes honk, which is tedious. But, the angry drivers are rarely -- in my experience -- the ones who are involved in close calls. Most people just aren't homicidal.
Almost to a person, the people who cut me off, are abjectly apologetic. "Sorry, I just didn't see you." That also seems to be the case in the recent car v. bike incidents where the cyclist was not at fault.
The notion, if generally true, that the inattentive driver, not the hostile driver, is the greater threat to cyclists has important implications for both the we've-just-got-to-get-along crowd and the same streets/same rules approach. The get-along advocates stress the need for mutual respect. But, a lack of respect doesn't make streets unsafe for cyclists, it's a lack of attention. And, there is no logical causal connection between bad cyclist behavior and inattentiveness. It just doesn't make sense that a driver, consciously or otherwise, is going to decide to be inattentive as a response, for instance, to seeing cyclists ride through red lights. ("Damn those two-wheeled scofflaws! Next right turn I take, I'm definitely not looking in my side-view mirror!")
The same streets/same rules advocates suggest that mutual respect for existing rules will make the roads safer and calmer. It's not clear that existing rules prevent conflicts. The driver who ran over a bicyclist on Comm. Ave., for instance, was not cited and the cyclist was blamed though he was engaged in perfectly legal conduct. And, any policy that relies on strict adherence to the laws of the road is bound to fail. Motorists and bicyclists routinely flout the law. (More on that in another post.)
The reality is that bikes and cars are radically different beasts and engage in radically different behaviors on shared roadways. To prevent incidents, we need to do what we can to separate bikes from cars. And, we need both motorists and bicyclists to understand and recognize the opportunities for potential bike v. car conflict and avoid them. The potential bike v. car conflicts are different than car v. car conflicts. The specifics of the rules are almost irrelevant, especially by focusing on the rules that are the same. Ultimately, the same/same philosophy masks or distracts from the need for motorists to engage the road differently than they have before. And, it falsely suggests that law-abiding is all that bicyclists need to do to stay safe.
You don't have to like me. Just don't kill me.