How Much Do Bicyclists Really Slow Down Drivers?

530050555_e1bd487327_m.jpgWhat’s really slowing these cars down? Probably not bikes. Photo by richardmasoner via Flickr.

What is it about bicycles that drives some motorists so crazy?

Anyone
who’s ever ridden a bike more than a handful of times in this country
has experienced it. The honking, the rude remarks, the vehicles
speeding past with drivers shouting "get out of my way."

There’s no doubt that drivers sometimes have to slow down because there’s a cyclist in the road ahead of them. But Streetsblog Network member M-Bike.org wants to put the inconvenience in perspective:

Throughout
the Detroit suburbs, cyclists can expect to hear the occasional verbal
assault from motorists. The typical theme is "you don’t belong on the
road" or "you’re in my way."…But are motorists really that concerned
about being occasionally slowed due sharing the road with cyclists? How
much time do Metro Detroit motorists "lose" to cyclists on the roads?

Rather
than attempt to answer that question, it’s perhaps more important to
step back and judge all the issues that delay motorists.

How much time do motorists lose to:

  • Road construction
  • Stop lights and stop signs
  • Speed limits
  • Rush hour traffic
  • School buses loading and unloading children
  • At-grade train crossings
  • Inclement weather
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Slow downs due to vehicle crashes
  • Other cars on the road

Motorists’
time lost to bicyclists is certainly minor compared with most of these.
So are these same motorists yelling at school buses and emergency
vehicles to get off the road?…

And speaking of travel delays, this past week an apparently careless driver
caused a horrific tanker explosion on I-75 which caused over a $1
million in damage and has left the expressway closed for days. This
portion of I-75 carries 160,000 vehicles per day and the closure is
causing many minutes of delay per vehicle.

This single crash has likely caused more motorist delay than all the cyclists in Metro Detroit combined — ever.

Of course, some people don’t let school buses slow them down. But M-Bike definitely has a point.

This
post reminded me of something I recently said to a friend who, like me,
uses a bike for transportation in New York: Why is it that drivers in
this city, who frequently tout the "personal freedom" and speed of
their chosen transportation mode, are the angriest, most impatient
people on the streets? I sometimes think that drivers hate on
bicyclists so much because, consciously or subconsciously, they envy
the freedom that being a bicyclist represents. And lest there’s any
confusion, I say that from the perspective of someone who has spent
many (too many) hours behind the wheel of a car.

Of course,
cars can slow you down when you’re on a bike, too. When that happens to
me, I try to be philosophical about it and not succumb to the anger
that is too often rampant on asphalt.

Your thoughts?

Other good posts from around the network: Seattle Transit Blog has a postmortem on the first day of the city’s new Link light-rail system. The Dirt
reports on a new article from The Economist that says perhaps
high-polluting people, rather than high-polluting nations, should be
the focus of carbon-reduction efforts. And for those of you who wondered if chic cyclists wear helmets, they do, at least some of the time. Just ask Let’s Go Ride a Bike (scroll down for the proof).

  • David Galvan

    I don’t commute by bike every day, but I do ride my bike for errands and the occasional bus/bike work commute several times a week, and have been doing so for about 10 months now. I have certainly encountered drivers who pass me far too fast and far too closely, but I haven’t been yelled at yet. Of course, I do try to plan my routes so that I am on major auto thoroughfares as rarely as possible. Makes for a much more relaxing journey.

    In general, I think drivers react to a cyclist the same way they’d react to a car that is moving significantly below the speed limit. They are annoyed and will have to either hold their patience or make an effort to change lanes and get around. I doubt that most drivers are philosophically opposed to cyclists, or that they are angry because of some psychological repression as suggested in the post (“; it’s just that the presence of a cyclist on the road in front of them is one more obstacle to their progress on the long list of obstacles mentioned in this blog post.

    Sure, there are some jerks and No Good Punk Kids out there in cars, no doubt. But there are jerks and NGPKs on bikes as well. Just a couple of weeks ago I was driving down a quiet residential street and some NGPKs were walking slowly in the street ahead of me (no sidewalk). One of them had a bike, and when she saw me driving along (rather slowly in case one of them decided to dart out in front of me), she pointed her bike perpendicular to my car, as if she were about to ride out directly in front of me. She was looking at my eyes and smiling, basically trying to fake me out and make me stop just for fun. I did stop at first, worried I might hit her, but when I saw she was just being annoying I just kept rolling on. Annoyed, as I rolled past her I yelled out the window that she should find something better to do with her time.

    My point: It’s not “drivers” (applied in general as in the blog post: “Why is it that drivers in this city. . . are the angriest, most impatient people on the streets?”) who are so angry and impatient. It’s people, either on bicycles or on foot or in cars, who can become impatient and angry dependent on their own personalities and the circumstances.

    As I’ve stated before on this blog, I don’t like the demonization of drivers that often seems to come up in the tone of many of these posts. Just trying to point out that there are good drivers and bad drivers.

  • DJB

    When we evaluate a mode of transportation we can’t only consider speed and impacts on motorists. If we did, walking, biking, and transit would almost always fail.

    There is so much more to transportation:
    How good is your transportation for the environment?
    How much exercise do you get from your transportation?
    How much does your transportation cost you and SOCIETY?
    How much does your transportation slow down emergency vehicles?
    How safe is your transportation for you AND FOR OTHERS?
    Does your transportation allow you to read while you travel?
    Is your transportation comfortable?

    It may seem a bit off topic, but I think my point is drivers tend to consider speed, and comfort, but tend to miss a lot of this other stuff.

    We can’t compete on speed most of the time advocating for alternatives to the car, but we don’t have to if we emphasize some of these other points and support clean transportation with the right land uses.

  • Spokker

    First of all, I don’t think drivers are honking at you just because you are on a bike. Drivers honk at other cars driving too slow. They honk at other drivers who are slowing down to look for an address on a house. They honk at ice cream trucks. And if scooters or skateboarders were on the road, they’d on honk at them too. They don’t hate cyclists, they dislike vehicles travelling slower than they are.

    Second, drivers don’t see it as a big problem, just a minor annoyance. Most people do not ride a bike in the street for the same reason they don’t ride a motorcycle. There’s little to protect you in the event of an accident. Even a Smart Car could probably do some damage to you on a bike.

    I used to ride my bike about 3 miles to my first job back when I was a teenager. I rode on the sidewalk and wore a helmet 100% of the time. And I was courteous about it. There were few people walking on the route I took, but when I encountered a pedestrian I hopped off the bike, walked it around them and continued on. Nobody cared.

    Even if drivers were completely courteous to cyclists, most people would not ride their bikes in the street, whether that bike has a motor or pedals. Motorcycles can go as fast as cars and get way better gas mileage. They are a minority on the road.

    “Just trying to point out that there are good drivers and bad drivers.”

    In fact, I think the vast majority of people, even drivers, are kind, patient and never want to inconvenience another person. The vast majority of people hold open doors for other people no matter who they are. I think it gets kind of silly sometimes as someone waits 3-4 seconds to hold a door open for me, which prompts me to speed up to the door so they don’t have to wait so longer to do a kind thing, but I thank them just the same, and I do just the same for others.

    When I drive, I see assholes weaving in and out of traffic like they’ve got a hot shit in the chamber and don’t care about getting into an accident. Sure, they exist. But that’s one guy out of a thousand drivers at any given time. Most people are okay.

  • Spokker

    “Annoyed, as I rolled past her I yelled out the window that she should find something better to do with her time.”

    You shouldn’t even do this. Ignore it and move on. You don’t know if your shouting match can escalate into something violent. Whether you are in a car or on a bike, don’t succumb to road rage.

    Because if you are on a bike, you aren’t going to win.

  • David Galvan

    Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have succumbed to my anger, but what can I say. This kid was doing something that could only serve to piss off someone with a motor vehicle. I was moreso angry at her stupidity in putting herself in danger that way. It reminded me of another time when I was in the car with my wife driving, and she slowed to a stop before she intended to make a righthand turn (at a red light). There was a pedestrian standing on the corner there on the sidewalk on our right, and just as my wife had looked both ways and began to start moving to make her turn, this jackass jumps slightly forward (still on the sidewalk) as if he was about to suddenly run out into the street. He was looking clearly at both of us and, when my wife stopped suddenly, he just stood there and laughed. I’d never seen anything like it.

  • Spokker

    It’s just another way for disgruntled kids to lash out at the world. I was riding the Surfliner one day when this kid whips a rock into the window I was sitting at. As the train passes by the kid is laughing his ass off and flipping off the train. He was probably doing it for the same reason the guy in your scenario was screwing around.

  • Spokker

    Just today I was attempting to make a right turn from a residential street onto a busier street. The intersection was not signaled.

    Another car was attempting to make a left hand turn and was out far enough so that I could not make the turn safely. If I did, I would be turning blindly.

    It took about 30 seconds for the other person to complete their left hand turn, and when they did, I made my right turn when I was able to.

    While all this was going on, some hard-looking thuggish asshole was slamming on his horn trying to intimidate me to make a blind turn. He apparently could not wait. Once I made my turn, he rode my ass, changed out my lane, flipped me off as he sped by and tailgated another car who was attempting to turn into a shopping center. All I could do was smile and ignore it. It’s not worth it.

    This happens sometimes in this particular area. So it’s not just drivers bitching at cyclists, it’s *some* drivers bitching at everyone else.

  • bicycle commuter

    I have been commuting from Manhatten Beach to Los Filez for the past 3 years. I ride to work around 4:30 – 5 pm during rush hour, and ride home around 2 am. Here are the things I have learned about LA traffic over the years.

    1. use bike trails as much as possible. (the Beach Trail & Biona Creek Trail is 1/3 of my ride)
    2. pick roads with wide lanes (or)
    3. pick roads with multiple lanes
    4. ride strong and be confident
    5. clam the lane

    To tie this all together: If you are riding fast and with confidence cars will see that you are riding with a purpose and not just out riding around and getting in there way. If you are on a road with 2 or 3 lanes and people are buzzing you and getting to close, just get in the middle of the lane and make a statement, “hey shithead, I have as much right to this lane as you do”. If you are riding at rush hour pick options 2 and 3 and choose routes that are congested. A slow moving car is not going to surprise you much, just pay attention to the front wheel of the car you are overtaking (you will see if they are turning and have time to react) also look for blinkers make eye contact with motorist and always be ready to react.

    I can make it all the way across the city in 55 min. – 1 hour on my bike, it takes about 10 minutes longer in my car. It’s a time save, and I feel great when I get there. Have fun, be safe, and stick with it. You’ll get more confident and anticipate better with time.

    Oh and as for my ride home at 2 am. OMG love it. If you have not rode your bike in this city between the hours of 2 am and 5am, do it (not on Fri. or Sat.). The city is dead. If you take main roads with signal priority often times you can ride 15 – 20 blocks at a time with out catching a red light. Often times I only see a dozen or so cars on the road my whole way home. It’s cool and quite. For me it is my meditation time, I just completely clear my mind and concentrate on breathing and cadence and rhythm.

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