The Need for Cyclists to Communicate with Drivers

Posted: September 11, 2010 in Cycling
Tags: , , , ,

“Tell them what they need to know” (nothing more, nothing less.)

One day I was getting into my car at the Lumberyard Encinitas. My car was parked on the road, next to the curb, adjacent to the outdoor patio seating area near the Starbucks. By the way, there is no bike lane indicated near that curb.

But I know, despite the lack of indication (bike lane) that there are cyclists…because I am one. So when I went to get into my car, I looked south, then opened the door to the car and proceeded to get in. Suddenly, a bike lurched by me and the rider yelled out: “Asshole!!” and rode by.

Oh my god, I felt bad. What happened?!!?? Maybe I didn’t glance far enough down the road to see if cyclists were coming from a few blocks down. Maybe he just pulled onto the road from some parking lot and flew by me. Maybe I just didn’t see him. Maybe anything…and I, of all people, should be aware of bikes, right??!!

But, whatever the case, and whom ever fault lies with, I started to think about what had just happened. And then it hit me: Really – instead of calling me names and making me remember only how much of a prick he was, that rider should have yelled out some useful instruction instead. Something I could think about – and maybe learn from.

His message was intended to let me know that I should watch out (or watch more carefully) for cyclists, right? But he didn’t really communicate that message very well, did he?

He could have yelled (and without the ‘asshole’ tone of voice): “Watch out for cyclists!!” or “This is a bike lane – keep your eyes open for bikes!” – something that actually had meaning. It could have been loud, it could have been as he whizzed by, but if he wanted to teach me to look out for bikes, calling me an asshole was not exactly the most effective way to do it.

So for the next 10 minutes of my car ride, I heard and thought about the words “Asshole, asshole, asshole” in my head.

Imagine if the rider had told me something useful and I spent the next ten minutes thinking of THAT instead…I would definitely be watching out next time I open my car door on the side of the road! Instead, I drove off feeling angry at cyclists.

I guess that rider is not going to be enlightened by this email, but those of you who DO read it: please do think about it. If our ride is ‘interrupted’ by someone who was maybe not looking, or not thinking, or not paying attention, or just made a mistake, and especially if there is nothing to remind people of bikes in the area, such as the painted bike lane, don’t bitch or curse at them.

Just tell them what it is that they ought to know. They might actually learn something. Tell them something useful so that more and more people will actually become aware of cyclists and remember to share the road with us.

Oh yes, and LESS and LESS people will perceive cyclists as screaming and swearing idiots!!

  1. Unfortunately, I find around here (Vancouver) that too often, too many people display arrested development while in motion. Drivers consider themselves 18 yr olds in a hotrod, bicyclists consider themselves 12-14 racers and skateboarders are 10-12 kiddies. Pedestrians are just lost in a fog of self-absorption. If they’re not communicating, it’s because they want to exist in their fantasy-land and you’ve been inconsiderate in startling them back to reality. Solution??? Maybe yell back at them, “Buddha loves you!” or something equally loving and nonsensical. Perhaps they’ll start thinking about what you said for a second just for curiosity.

  2. Brien says:

    Mmh. Those barbs do stick, don’t they? Unfortunately, because bikers go so fast they can engage in the same sort of anonymous hate that affects drivers (road rage) and internet commenters (trolls). The guy entered and exited his interaction with you so quickly that he not only didnt care whether he was right or wrong, he didn’t care about being civil. He threw that little angry hate grenade and never thought about it again, while you deal with the aftermath. This lack of civility is corrosive to communities. It is so important to take a breath and not respond to accidents and inconvenience with hate.

    • Well said, Brien. It’s so true and does ‘trickle up’ to all levels of community interaction.

      • Brien says:

        I thought about this post a few days ago… I finally got back on the bike after a long hiatus. I hate long breaks because I feel very out of touch with traffic compared to my usual hyper vigilance as a regular rider. Thursday morning I was being extra cautious.

        There is a traffic scenario that I dread… I’m sure you can relate. You are approaching an intersection going 25-30mph on a 2 or 3 lane highway. The last of the cars on your side of the road are just about to clear the intersection and the oncoming left turn lane is loaded with cars. The problem is, you still have another 10 – 20 seconds before you reach the intersection. The first car in the left turn lane sees you, realizes he can safely turn in front of you and goes. Car #2 sees you and turns even though he is cutting it close. Driver #3 is now a sheep, quickly following #2, totally unaware of you. The driver sees you at the last minute and panic stops right in front of you.

        Driver #3 was a minivan for me that day and I skidded right up to her passenger door. She just stared at me. I threw my arm in the air as if to say “WELL!!?” and she zoomed away. I shook my head self-righteously (for the benefit of anyone who was watching) and rode off.

        Was the driver in the wrong. Absolutely. Did I need to punctuate the moment so dramatically? No. Since I didn’t have a horn, shouting “HEY!!” would have been appropriate, but my self serving gestures (while far from being rude) were a bit silly once I realized I was doing it in case others were watching. I guess the rule I try to follow is “only communicate what is necessary for safety”.

  3. could be things on your mind that are making your responses a little more drama-filled than absolutely necessary for the scene – which you’ve correctly assessed…or it could be that there is some of that “Type A” stuff at work there!! LOL

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