Lectures From Angry Motorists

My hometown newspaper, the Ogden Standard Examiner, posted a letter yesterday from a motorist who is irate with cyclists.  I thought about commenting, but decided to deal with it here instead.  If you want to read the letter itself, here it is.

I’ve seen enough of these letters now to know that there are always three points to be made. These are:

  • We cyclists are lawbreakers.
  • We’re not paying our fair share.
  • The letter writer is very concerned for our safety.

Let’s deal with the easy one first.  Yes, some cyclists are lawbreakers…just like some motorists.  In fact, I suspect that approximately the same percentage of motorists and cyclists break the law.  If anything, it’s probably a little lower for cyclists since we have the most to lose in a crash.  This is a classic straw man.  All classes of road users break the law.  Those that do should be cited and fined regardless of what type of vehicle they drive.

This is the Washington Avenue "painted path" she singles out.  It's hardly a major inconvenience for motorists.

This is the Washington Avenue “striped pathway” she singles out. It’s hardly a major inconvenience for motorists.

The fair share argument is also pretty easy to deal with, but it’s going to require a paradigm shift on the part of many motorists.  Cycling is low impact.  Twenty five pound bicycles don’t damage roads and bridges.  Four thousand pound SUVs do.  Bicycles don’t pollute.  Cars do.  The costs of road repair and pollution mitigation are not borne solely by motorists.  Increasingly, they’re paid by society.  We haven’t raised the federal gas tax since 1993.  The difference is coming out of the general fund, and we all pay into that…even cyclists.

In fact, the 2015 report “Who Pays for Roads” by US PIRG and the Frontier Group lays waste to the popular motoring fiction that cyclists and pedestrians don’t pay their fair share.  From the report:

Bicyclists and pedestrians generally do not pay a “user fee” for use of the roads. There are many good reasons for this: bicyclists and pedestrians mostly use local streets and roads (which are largely supported through
general taxes), impose negligible damage on those roads, and take up a tiny fraction of the road space of motor vehicles.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the safety issue.  This letter writer can barely hide her contempt for us when she says:

A biker who goes up and down Ogden Canyon must have a death wish. It is dangerous to go around a snaky curve with a semi, a car and a bike at the same curve.

Here’s where she’s wrong. It’s no more dangerous to go around a “snaky” curve on a bicycle than it is in a car. The only thing that makes it dangerous is motorists who take reckless chances with more vulnerable road users.

I don’t know this letter writer so I don’t know what’s going through her mind, but I do know that her letter is a virtual carbon copy of hundreds of other letters from angry motorists I’ve seen over the years.   The vast majority of these letter writers could not care less about your safety or mine.  I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that many are the same people who buzz me, come up hard on me from behind, honk at me, throw things at me as they fly by at dangerous speeds.  She says she lives in Liberty which is a long way out of town.  Traffic has undoubtedly gotten worse.  It probably takes her longer to get where she’s going than it used to.  Maybe it’s no fun any more. Maybe that’s her problem.

We cyclists aren’t.  We’re just an easy target.

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3 thoughts on “Lectures From Angry Motorists

  1. I once had a firefighter/paramedic complain to me about cyclists using a country road outside of our town. The road does have a lot of “blind hills” and he expressed concern about hitting cyclists as he or someone else topped one of these hills. For once I was quick and asked him how he would miss someone in a stalled car on the blind side of the hill, or a local resident on a tractor (it’s a rural area) or anything else. Indeed, I noted that on most of those hills a cyclist is probably doing 15, 25 or even 40 down the hill and would be hard to hit compared to the other people. A good person, he was silent because he realized that outdriving his vision is not smart, nor are roads with no shoulders.

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  2. Looks like your bike lanes are as stupid as ours. Cars must cross the bike lane in order to turn while bikes can go straight. Ridiculous. Also, it appears the cars are supposed to change lanes within 100′ of the intersection (dashed lines on bike lane), which is illegal, at least in our state. As for the letter writer’s complaints; I would suggest that the percentage of bikers who break the law is much higher than those driving, at least when it comes to running red lights, stop signs, and yield signs (probably not so much for speeding, which most bikes couldn’t manage). They probably come out about the same for signaling turns or lane changes. Cars automatically signal stops with their brake lights, so that’s a no-brainer that bikers lose on that one, too. As for paying their fair share, many if not most bikers also drive and therefore pay motor vehicle taxes and wheel taxes, but not all of them. They also cause at least as much pollution as they save by riding in that they frequently cause a great many motor vehicles to travel at lower speeds (following bikes) or stop where they wouldn’t have had to if it weren’t for bikes in their way, especially in places where cars must yield to bikes. Regarding safety, a crash might be just as likely for a car on a snaky curve (or anywhere else) as it is for a bike, but who is in more danger?

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    • Thanks for your comment and for being civil about it. I would encourage you to try riding the streets on a bicycle and see the things we have to put up with. It might change your mind to a degree. Thanks again for stopping by. Be well.

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