A line of cars snakes along a two-lane road at about 12MPH, even though the speed limit is 40. At the head of this line is a lone cyclist pedaling in the middle of the lane. At the point where a new lane emerges on the right, all of the vehicles swerve to the left and pass the man on the bicycle, increasing their speed in order to make the green light up ahead. The man on the bike gives the motorists an accusatory sideways glance as though they are doing something wrong.
Another time my wife was driving us on a thoroughfare into town when we found ourselves stuck behind a gaggle of cyclists in Spandex clogging up the right lane. As soon as she got a chance she passed the bikers on the left (obeying our state’s law that requires a three-foot space between our car and the cyclists), passed, and then pulled a few car lengths in front of them so we can make the right turn at the next intersection. After making that turn we wait at the next stoplight when, all of a sudden, one of the cyclists stops at our car (while standing in the lane going the opposite direction) and began berating us for passing his group, lecturing us and threatening to take away my wife’s driver’s license(?). His harangue finished, he proceeded to run the stoplight after the rest of his group while we waited.
In the past 10 to 15 years confrontations between bicyclists and motorists have flared up on the streets where I live. It can range from a single cyclist with a rude word or gesture to mobs causing physical damage—a few years ago a friend of mine had his driver’s-side window smashed in by bicyclists wielding chains. And while these tactics can escalate a situation out of proportion to the cause, I can understand the cyclists’ frustration having to deal with aggressive or rude motorists. I used a bicycle as my main source of transportation for a few years and was even hit once by an inattentive driver (suffering no injuries), so I know how dangerous riding in Atlanta can be. Tactics that make outlaw biker gangs look polite in comparison do cyclists no favors. Taking a bicycle on a public road is something like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Cyclists have every reason not to pick fights with automobiles. Yet they continue to drive on heavily traveled roads and then tragedy occurs as they are often severely hurt or killed when hit by a car.
Although Georgia ranks only 26th among bicycle-friendly states, cycling is a popular form of recreation and transportation in the metro Atlanta area. Often in the warmer months of the year drivers will find themselves behind a lone cyclist, or sometimes in groups that take up all the lanes. This causes Atlanta’s traffic to be more of a nightmare than it already is. When cyclists behave as though they are motorists by driving in the middle of the lane instead of to the side, but doing a fraction of the speed limit, tempers can flare and accidents sometimes occur.
I recall visiting Boulder, Colorado in the early 1990s and thinking how nice it was that the city provided bicycle riders with special lanes, thus ensuring their safety without inconveniencing drivers. But the fact is that drivers hardly acknowledge or expect bicyclists here because the roads were designed only for cars and are funded by the owners of those cars.
Last year members of the Georgia legislature introduced a bill that would charge a $15 licensing fee on every bicycle that touches public asphalt. The bill was later dropped. Advocacy groups hate this idea. So where should the funding come from to implement these safer roadways for bikes? Every year I have to pay a fee to renew my automobile registration. And drivers are required to obey the traffic laws. Many cyclists seem to think that they can take up space on public roadways just like cars but don’t have to pay for the privilege. And they break the law with impunity—I have seen many of them run stoplights, for example.
Every time I see a “Share the Road” bumper sticker I think, “Really? Then perhaps you ought to share the cost.”