Everyone on the Road Hates Everyone Else

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There's a war on the car, too. So get out of my bike lane!. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

A recent Australian study found that over half of the people who drive think that people who bike aren't people at all. As reported on TreeHugger, they are considered a lower form of life.

On both ape-human and insect-human scales, 55 per cent of non-cyclists and 30 per cent of cyclists rated cyclists as not completely human.

The cyclists evidently feel dehumanized by other road users, and "they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanization against them."

A recent British study found that "66 percent of drivers think cyclists are inconsiderate, with drivers over the age of 65 most likely to believe that (69 percent)."

OK, people on bikes have always had issues with people in cars. Then there are the interactions with people who walk. I used to participate in a Facebook group about walking in the city, but finally bailed on it because of all the hate on people who bike, who are evidently "so smug and yet so many of them break all the rules of the road and put themselves, pedestrians and even car drivers at risk."

Dufferin Street, Toronto
I'm sorry, but I want to survive this trip. I'm riding on that sidewalk. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I tried to point out that even I have been guilty of that cardinal sin, biking on the sidewalk — in the suburbs where there is nobody on the sidewalk and cars are driving 60 mph in the 40 mph zone at twilight and I'm afraid of getting killed. The response:

The idea that you can head onto a sidewalk any time you feel at risk, is a selfish act that in essence says "my safety is more important than yours" and that entitled attitude, is precisely the issue here and the problem that needs to change. Cycling will always be a high risk activity.

And of course, the people who drive hate the people who walk for slowing them down, for darting out from between parked cars, for being too slow when crossing the street, for not walking half a mile to the crosswalk, for wearing headphones or dark clothes or looking at their phones.

The problem could be solved if everyone had enough room, their own safe space, but over the years much of the space in our road allowances have been given over to cars, and people who drive get very upset any time anyone tries to take away some of their space. Everybody else isn't fighting over cookies; they're fighting over crumbs. Just last week, the mayor of Seattle undid eight years of planning for a road redesign, killing bike lanes in the process, "bending to a vocal minority who used tactics of fear and misinformation." As one activist noted, "This represents a blow to the nearly eight years of community efforts to bring safety improvements to the Northeast Seattle arterial, and follows more than a year of contentious fighting between local safety advocates and business interests and their supporters."

One approach used to delay or stop bike infrastructure is "concern trolling" where people are suddenly concerned about the safety of old people. Whoopi Goldberg did this recently on "The View", when she complained that putting in bike lanes made it impossible for old people to park near where they shop or for ambulances to take them to the hospital, even though the vast majority of older New Yorkers walk everywhere and don't drive and who would benefit from the better sidewalks and protected bike lanes that make streets safer for everyone. As Dan Burden, founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute noted in an article on AARP:

"I've always said the reason for bikeways is not what they do for bicyclists, but what they do for the whole community. They're great for drivers because they make it safer to get in and out of parked cars. They're great for walkers because it creates more distance between the sidewalk and speeding vehicles."

Or as Ben Fried noted in Streetsblog,

Sidewalk cycling has declined dramatically where redesigns have made people feel safer biking on the street. The more streets that get this treatment, the less pedestrians and cyclists will fight over sidewalk scraps, and the more protection everyone will have from reckless motorist behavior.
cyclists at red light in Copenhagen
You won't see this happening in the U.S. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I have written before on Treehugger about the weirdest thing I saw in Copenhagen: people on bikes who stopped at a red light at a T intersection, something that is rarely done in other cities. In Paris, they have changed the laws so that you don't even have to, just be sure to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way. They do it in Copenhagen because people who bike are treated with respect, and the attitude is that the rules are designed with them in mind, not just for cars.

Palmerston cars
On this street, there are stop signs every 266 feet so cars will slow down. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Whereas in Toronto where I live, residents of one street complained that too many cars were going way too fast, so the city put in stop signs at every intersection, every 266 feet. The result is that the cars went away, driving on the arterial road one street over. The stop signs were put in to control cars, but what is a guy on a bike, who is trying to avoid the arterial road, supposed to do? Of course, we ignore it, because the stop signs were put in there for speed control and we are not speeding. So we are seen as disrespecting the law and accused of breaking all the rules.

All of this will become particularly important over the next 10 years, as the baby boomers get older. Already in New York City, there are almost 600,000 renters over 60 years old, 27 percent of all renters in the city, and almost all New York renters are walkers. And according to one study quoted in the New York Post:

While New York has the biggest share of these older denizens, the cities with the biggest increases in senior renters over the last decade are exclusively warm-weather locales. Austin, Texas, saw a 113 percent increase, Phoenix, Ariz., notched a 112 percent gain, Fort Worth, Texas, logged an 83 percent jump and Jacksonville, Fla., increased by 83 percent.

In 10 years, when the oldest of 70 million boomers are in their 80s, the drivers are going to have a lot more to complain about — millions of old people who take too long to cross the street, many more crosswalks and traffic islands taking up space, wider sidewalks and wider bike lanes to handle an explosion in the numbers of e-bikes and mobility devices.

Unless we start planning now and figuring out how to share the space we have equitably, in 10 years it won't be drivers hating pedestrians hating cyclists, It will be everybody hating old people. Because we will be everywhere.