Bikes Vs. Cars in the News: Your Thoughts?

It seems like every day there is another news article stating that with the escalating gas prices and the surge in bicycles on the road, friction between motorists and bicyclists has skyrocketed. Surely, you’ve read such articles in places like the New York Times, Reuters newswire, The Wall Street Journal and a variety of other sources.

From www.taiwanderful.net
(photo from Taiwanderful)

Many of you have probably read (and responded) to such articles and discussion topics on a variety of bicycle-friendly blogs. Perhaps the most reasoned response I’ve seen comes from Paul Dorn of the excellent Bike Commute Tips blog. Check out his coverage of this issue and his thoughtful responses to this “media frenzy” by reading his article.

Another impassioned response to this media-driven “phenomenon” can be found on the Austin Cycling News blog. Writer Adriel (a frequent commenter on our site) breaks the argument down and provides some stirring rebuttals to the various “claims” of these news articles.

Put me in the “skeptic” camp…while I believe that more bicyclists are on the road and that many of them could stand to build up their skill levels a bit (something we’ve discussed before), I refuse to believe that there is a sudden rise in bike vs. car tensions. Conflict sells in the media, and with all those new bicyclists on the streets, there are a lot of “unseasoned bike commuters” out there who may perceive yelling and shouting from motorists as a terrible new development. Most of the more-experienced bicyclists out there know that this is par for the course, for the most part.

I certainly have not experienced any increase in the number or frequency of bike vs. car conflicts around here…nor have I seen a dramatic uptick in the number of bicycles on the road. But, as always, I’d like to hear your thoughts on these matters: is this all a bunch of hype to help sell newspapers? Have any of you experienced a rise in tensions on the road? Is there really a rise in these kinds of conflicts, or have a couple of highly-publicized confrontations (such as the New York and Seattle Critical Mass run-ins) put a biased spin on the public’s perception?


21 Comments

  1. Iron Man August 12, 2008 6:24 am 

    From news coverage in my town it seems motorcyclists have been getting the worst of it. I wish whoever comes up with the headlines could get it straight that cyclists and motorcyclists are not the same thing. I’ll see a headline that reads “Cyclist hit at…” only to find it’s a motorcyclist that has been injured. I have only read a of a couple instances of cyclists being injured this year, though I’m sure many occur without the news catching wind—such as mine. But I can’t say I’ve been seeing or hearing of much conflict between drivers and cyclists.

    Reading the comments after articles in the online edition of our local paper suggests that drivers are upset with the behavior of many cyclists and probably see the streets for autos only, but then it seems like the same 20 guys comment on all the articles. So that can’t be too scientific.

    I have not seen any increase in driver hostility towards me. In fact I’m interacting more with traffic now than ever before due to moving to a different part of town. I take the lane more now than ever before and it seems that drivers are content to let me be.

  2. Bob August 12, 2008 6:42 am 

    I recently started bike commuting, and already have a small treasure trove of anecdotes about stupid drivers. I read this article in the NYT (my wife insists we get it), and didn’t feel good about my choice to brave 23 miles a day of idiots in gas powered wheel chairs.

    Yesterday I had some young lady get behind me and lean on her horn, making gestures to get off the road… there was no shoulder. I slowed, veered left, summoned my Infantry First Sergeant parade ground voice, and told her to “LEARN THE LAW!”… I think she wet herself, wouldn’t pass me even when safe, and held about 20 cars at bay while I kept pedaling for about another 1/2 mile.

  3. tadster August 12, 2008 6:42 am 

    I haven’t had any unusual problems with drivers at all. I certainly don’t feel any new tension.

  4. Ghost Rider August 12, 2008 6:47 am 

    Bob…I love it: “gas-powered wheel chairs”.

    In the incident you describe, the motorist is actually the cause of the delays and resulting congestion, and this is probably pretty common. Yet, the bicyclist will be the one blamed and will receive the honks, shouts and other displeasures of those motorists.

  5. Tony Bullard August 12, 2008 7:05 am 

    I started biking to work about 3 and a half months ago, through Atlanta, which I’m told is pretty bike un-friendly.

    The roads are certainly not set up for cycling. The bike lane on Peachtree St only goes for a few blocks, so it’s not too helpful.

    But as far as driver/cyclist relations, it’s not too bad. I’ve had the “get out of the way” honk a couple times, but for the most part, drivers seem to understand that they have the advantage. Patients is the biggest thing missing. I’ll be going 25mph in a 25 mph zone, with speed bumps, and cars will bottom out on them trying to pass me. If they do pass me, I tend to pass them again at the next speed bump. Silliness really.

  6. Carrie August 12, 2008 7:23 am 

    You know, I never read a single article about “car v. bike” conflicts and I didn’t have a clue what Critical Mass was (nor the controversy around it) UNTIL I started biking myself, and reading about them on blogs and bike forums.

  7. Lance August 12, 2008 7:36 am 

    I’d have to agree GR. I mean about there not being any increase in tension.

    That certianly doesn’t mean there isn’t any. There’s as much as before…drivers continue to be A-holes at a consistent rate, at least on my commute. :)

  8. Ghost Rider August 12, 2008 8:13 am 

    Carrie, that’s a telling point — and reinforces just how marginalized bicyclists have been in mainstream media over the past couple decades.

  9. Quinn August 12, 2008 8:26 am 

    I think there are 2 angles on the bicycle vs. car new articles, 1 there Are more bikes on the road now, so naturally there will be more inccidents. 2, there are more articles because someone, is trying to give bicycles a bad name, so they can make more money off cars.

  10. Randy August 12, 2008 8:36 am 

    I think it’s mostly hype. after gas prices surged, media started paying attention to alternate forms of transportation that weren’t on their radar before. so, nothing’s really changed, they are just reporting it more now.

  11. Mike C August 12, 2008 9:06 am 

    Note that there were fewer (if any) of these stories before drivers started getting jealous of bicycle milage…

    And before politics started creeping in with the Righteous Right auto drivers vs. the Liberal Left tree-hugger cyclists.

  12. Jay August 12, 2008 9:37 am 

    My own experience leads me to agree with everyone above who thinks incidents are being over-reported and hyped up in the media.

    I’ve been riding to/from work, 6.5 miles each way, into downtown Chicago for the past 8 years. Honestly the only difference I’ve noticed this season is that the bike room in the building where I work is a lot fuller on a daily basis than it ever has been before. That’s the only indication I’ve seen that more people are riding (at least to the building where I work); bike traffic I encounter along my rides doesn’t seem any different than what I’ve ever seen before.

    I’ve also had no more “incidents” with auto traffic than I ever have, either.

  13. john the bicyclist August 12, 2008 10:49 am 

    The media is full of s***. Things are the same out there. Only difference, a few more cyclists than usual.

  14. Ghost Rider August 12, 2008 12:21 pm 

    I’m pleased to hear that my suspicions are pretty justified…boy, the media sure loves their “scare stories”, don’ t they?

    Thanks, everyone, for responding to these questions.

    Bike room, eh? Man, I wish more companies had amenities like that…it might encourage even more folks to get out there on a bicycle if they knew they had a safe place to store their bikes during business hours!

  15. Will August 12, 2008 1:13 pm 

    As far as my commute goes, I would have to agree with everyone about incidents being over-hyped.

    The real problem, at least as I see it, is that motorists have no idea how to deal with cyclists on the road. They forget, frequently I might add, that we have the same rights (and responsibilities) as cars. Bicycles are regarded as a nuisance because motorists aren’t prepared or patient enough to handle their presence on that ever disputed, albeit shared and coveted, entity that is the road. If motorists were better acquainted with bicycles/cyclists, they might be willing to make a few more concessions on the road and not try to “slip by” when there is little or no shoulder on a narrow road, or demand that they be its sole occupant.

    Point being: “Unseasoned” bicycle commuters create a danger on the road, but it is the job of both the motorist and the cyclist to be vigilant and make the necessary concessions/take the appropriate precautions to avoid calamity. Personally, I feel that motorists’ unwillingness to adapt to changing conditions on the road is more to blame than unskilled cyclists. I also think that they have some extra responsibility considering their preferred mode of transportation is capable of causing the most damage to an individual.

  16. Tooks August 13, 2008 6:35 am 

    I’ve definitely experienced both varieties here in Rochester, NY: been cussed at, honked at, and otherwise abused for riding on the road (riding courteously, I think), but also I have had people be as patient and reasonable as I would hope. (Check out my recent post at http://www.tooooks.blogspot.com for one anecdote.) I think that, media aside, we cyclists have to be our own ambassadors and rise above the fray. Good press helps, of course, but we need to behave ourselves, ride responsibly and respectfully and obey traffic laws ourselves, if we expect the world’s drivers to treat us right.

  17. Kristen August 14, 2008 12:21 pm 

    Here in Ypsilanti MI, we are definitly experiencing an uprising of bicycles on the road. As the first author mentioned, we do have those folks who are riding because of the economy-many of whom do not know bicycle laws and safety rules. Therefore some of the uprise in new bicyclists are those who are riding on the wrong side of the road, w/o helmets, etc. etc. But on the other hand there are so many folks who are doing it oh-so-right.
    The News is what it is- (I should say MOST of the news!) picking up on anything to do with conflict and fear. But overall I am VERY happy with the large amount of bicycles on the road and trails right now. It warms my commuting heart. :)
    And, luckily, there are many of us in our Bike Ypsi group, as well as neighboring County and Ann Arbor groups who are out there doing education, talking about safe cycling, and-yes-having the critical mass discussion on many google groups and blogs.
    Ride on!

  18. Tim August 15, 2008 8:50 pm 

    I’ve noticed a lot more bikes on the road this year in Austin, although I have not been aware firsthand of any increased tension. However, my coworker heard an interview with Austin’s police chief where there was a call-in segment. Apparently there were a lot of drivers calling in to complain about unsafe bikers breaking laws: running stop signs, lights, cruising sidewalks, etc.

  19. Jack September 2, 2008 5:23 am 

    It does not do to get into an Argument with A Motor Vehicle, remember they are over 1 1/2 Tonnes or more if a Truck and some of them might have Anger management Problems. I hate it when a Car is behind me Revving the Engine trying to get past me,it makes me very nervous . They do not have to sound the Horn ,the mere Physical Presence of them being there agitates me. I just pull in and with a big Wave of my Hand I tell them to pass. If they persist in Driving in a Dangerous manner they will Crash eventually, so keep your Cool they are not worth a confrontation . We have Nutters like that in Europe as well, it is best to let them drive on dont get involved in Arguments with them . As you do not know who you are dealing with and can attack you with their Car. Dublin Ireland.

  20. tonyh January 14, 2010 10:08 pm 

    “BANC”
    “Bikes are not CARS”
    They belong in my opinion in the bike lane when there is one. I dont mind sharing the road with a bike, but I do think they need to obey the laws of the road when they choose to ride in a lane that automobiles utilize. That means when there is a “Red light”, they should stop. They dont belong in a left turn lane. And shouldnt they travel the speed limit? Why should a vdriver get a ticket for going under a certain speed limit and a bike does not? If the speed limit is 45 mph. Why can bikes lawfully travel less. The recent verdict to prosecute the doctor who casued bike riders to slam into his car has posed an issue that byciclist now can do what they want on a road. It’s bad enough with motorcycles that cut in and out and travel between cars way above the speed of traffic. I say the bikes should remain in the bike lane unless none exist. They should not be allowed to ride in a lane of traffic unless they can travel the minimum speed limit. “BANC” “Bikes are not CARS”

  21. Brent P January 15, 2010 7:48 am 

    Tony..

    No lefts huh Tony…Thanks…Ill just get there somehow by only making rights..How bout we push for no right turns from cars because you’d have to cross our bike lane to do so..

    Why dont we belong there??

    Because were slower than you? There is nothing so important that you cannot slow down for 5 extra seconds..

    Dangerous? For who…only us..Yes your insurance will go up but we will probally be dead.. Again..Just slow down just a hair and pay attention..

    “The recent verdict to prosecute the doctor who casued bike riders to slam into his car has posed an issue that byciclist now can do what they want on a road”

    The bikers were doing the speed limit..The good doctor however broke the speed limit, passed them and then slammed on the brakes in front of them..

    Will says:
    August 12, 2008 at 1:13 pmAs far as my commute goes, I would have to agree with everyone about incidents being over-hyped.

    The real problem, at least as I see it, is that motorists have no idea how to deal with cyclists on the road. They forget, frequently I might add, that we have the same rights (and responsibilities) as cars. Bicycles are regarded as a nuisance because motorists aren’t prepared or patient enough to handle their presence on that ever disputed, albeit shared and coveted, entity that is the road. If motorists were better acquainted with bicycles/cyclists, they might be willing to make a few more concessions on the road and not try to “slip by” when there is little or no shoulder on a narrow road, or demand that they be its sole occupant.

    Point being: “Unseasoned” bicycle commuters create a danger on the road, but it is the job of both the motorist and the cyclist to be vigilant and make the necessary concessions/take the appropriate precautions to avoid calamity. Personally, I feel that motorists’ unwillingness to adapt to changing conditions on the road is more to blame than unskilled cyclists. I also think that they have some extra responsibility considering their preferred mode of transportation is capable of causing the most damage to an individual.
    AMEN !!!

    And TOOK says: we need to behave ourselves, ride responsibly and respectfully and obey traffic laws ourselves, if we expect the world’s drivers to treat us right.

    Anonther BIG AMEN !!!

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