The typical street is full of people trying to get places; pedestrians, bikes, cars, buses, trucks...Our society has a mentality of needing to get places fast, no matter where they are going, or if they are even in a hurry. In a totally unscientific argument, I have observed that the need to go fast ironically goes up the faster mode of transportation you are in. When walking we are typically not in too much of hurry. In a car, however, our #1 objective is to get where we are trying to go in the fastest way possible. Biking is somewhat of a middle ground. Bicycle commuting is obviously a way to GET places (as is walking), but people often bike in a more relaxed manner than they drive (again,, unscientific observation). The different attitudes of people contributes to quite a bit of conflict on the road.
I'd like to spend a moment stereotyping first:
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Jokes aside, the reality is that each of these different people are in different states of mind, with one common goal to GET places.
I think it is difficult for drivers who have never commuted by bike to understand what it is like to get around this way. How fast I am biking and my mood are just about directly related to how cold it is outside. Sometimes biking around isn't a real pleasant thing, but if its the only way to get somewhere, so be it. I guess what I'm trying to say is, when I'm CRAWLING up the Cleveland Ave hill in 40 degree weather, getting rained on, after having biked for 8 miles to get there, that is the FASTEST I CAN GO. Promise. If I had a bike lane to get into to get out of your way, I would use it so don't yell at me. :)
In the film "No Impact Man", a film about a couple in New York and their baby girl living as "no impact" as possible, the wife describes the feelings she had about bikers in a very interesting way. She describes feeling like the BIKERS were the ones making roads unsafe for CARS because they are hard to see and cars are constantly having to get out of the way. While this might seem ridiculous, it is really interesting to hear very honestly what it is that goes through people's minds to react the way they do as drivers of cars (and on bikes). Everyone has a reason to think the way they do, and the only way to resolve these issues is to take a meaningful look into another person's life and try to understand where their opinions are coming from
I actually wrote this entire post, and then deleted it because it had such an "angry biker" tone that wasn't addressing the real obstacles of getting around by bicycle. Whether this one has any better tone, I'm not sure. What I do understand, is that although our safety on the road as bicyclists is very personal, ranting about the "asshole bus driver that cut me off" and the "cars" who "don't care about us" (whether they do or not) is just an expression of bitterness and fear and would not be getting to the core of the issues-which are SO important.
The stories of bicycle dealths on the road are very sobering, as seen on websites such as http://www.ghostbikes.org/. A handful of bikers are killed each year in Minneapolis and 1000+ more are injured in some way.
The language we use to describe accidents is very telling of the way we view these incidents: We say, "that CAR hit me" or "that BIKE cut me off". We aren't recognizing the PEOPLE in those cars and on those bikes. We aren't recognizing each other as humans.