Critical-Mass does not work, it just makes motorists (even more) angry. “One less car” stickers do not work, because angry motorists would prefer you to drive a car than to have a cyclist slow them down (a whole 15 seconds). “Share the Road” signs do not work, for 1) people do not like to be told what to do (unless it is by corporate advertising [e.g. “just do it,” “think different,” etc.], 2) people think they are doing someone a favor when they share. The fact is that motorists often appear to hate cyclists, whether commuters, recreationalists, or racers. In my opinion, the only real way to gain respect, or at least some granule of courtesy from motorists is to do one, some, or all of the following:
- Get out & (try to) ride often, preferably in “civilian” clothes, on “civilian” bikes, regardless of the ride’s mileage (errand or sports ride)[or is it, “ride smileage?”]–you heard that pun here first, by the way. People on bicycles should look like just that–people on bicycles.
- Claim more road and do not fear the car (as long as you are seen): If the pavement is in rough shape, or if there is no bike lane, or if you are almost at a stop sign, or you are on a right hand turn (car front/rear wheel radii are asymmetrical, and you can get clipped on a right bend), or if you are on a blind hill, etc., etc.. The fact of the matter is that drivers do not want to hit anyone, they only seem to want to almost hit you. Killing a (wo)man on the way to work will ruin anyone’s day and a hit-and-run will most likely cost tens of thousands in therapy (and/or legal fines);
- Be communicative with cars (no, not with “the bird,” or a “What the F***?!”). Unlike motor vehicularists, it is possible for a bicyclist to hear cars coming in the both directions. If you can safely wave cars past (i.e., you are confident you will not cause a head-on collision), do so, and motorists will (somewhere deep down) appreciate it. Try giving them an “OK to pass” arm swing (with the back of the palm facing them), and as they pass, try to wave courteously. Hope, however, that they do not honk their horn to say “hello,” or “thanks,” or “I ride a bike, too,” or “I had a bike as a kid,” etc.. Horn use near a bicyclist is inconsiderate and LOUD (if you do get honked at a lot, carry a portable air horn, and blast it in the passenger window when you catch up to the car at a stop light). Also, on the same primary topic, feel free to communicate with cars when things are not cool, like when there is a car coming from the opposite direction, or if you have a really slow (or timid) cyclist ahead of you, or if it is simply not safe to pass due to any number of reasons. This is best done by claiming more road space, dropping your left arm down and out (left arm in the U.S.A., Mexico, Canada, etc.), opening your hand with the palm back, and sort of pushing or pressing back with your arms a few times in a firm, confident way. This is the closest a cyclist can get to saying, “don’t even try to pass right now.” The circumstances might not be wholly understood by one driving a car, but the motive of the message is to guarantee the motorist’s (and the cyclist’s) safety. Most people get the point.
- Be communicative with motorists, redux (for when they are simply too angry & aggressive). Feel free to flip them the bird, call them names, pull out a squirt gun, slap their potential “involuntary manslaughter” vehicle with a convenient object, etc. I think most of this can be avoided by claiming more space, so the driver has to fully commit to, say, crossing a double yellow with the threat of a head-on collision. These redux communication techniques might lead to some sort of altercation, and should it come to that, I recommend attempting to diffuse the situation by being friendly once everyone is out of the car and off the bike. You can explain the bird/word/slap thing on being “really scared” at how close everyone was to each other, like “I thought you were so mad you might accidentally hit me,” or some such victimized nonsense. Try to get an impatient driver to imagine how (s)he would feel if it were their child being put in jeopardy by a car veering inches close at a speed over four times as fast as they, etc.
- In the event of an altercation, appeal to the universal experience of cycling or being the parent of a child / loved one who rides a bike (see the end of #4), If you have a clear view of a license plate, make/model of the car, and description of the driver (try to get them to say their name), and they strike you (or spit on you, or throw food at you), do not do anything. Remember the information. call the police, and have them booked on felony assault. This will be far worse then you deciding to kick their ass on the spot, should you be so lucky to kick their ass. If you are in a life threatening situation, reach for the pepper spray you reserve for rabid dogs and give them a sample–but only in extreme self defense. If you assault them physically, they can try to sue you. That is bad.
- Try one of the two following novel techniques to give drivers pause (or invent your own).
Note: Be sure not to wear your Ipod!
Or maybe make a sign like this:
The point is to trigger angry drivers’ sympathy, guilt, or whatever. No one really wants to kill a bicyclist; but even more so, no one, but no one wants to hurt a deaf person on a bike, or to hit a fellow “farmer” on a country road. These suggestions are courtesy of Velo Apocalypse, but I have actually seen another good one not of my own design: a recumbent rider in town with a “Senior Citizen” sign taped to the back of his seat. Very cool. He got lots of space, even in the morning rush hour.