Live and Let Live

Really, seriously.

I’ve been following the increasingly rancorous debate in the Austin Chronicle between the cyclists and the car drivers aka the motorists. It has from the start been very polarizing and has become increasingly aggressive as one side take offense at the other.

One thing’s sure, Austin is changing and there are loads of people that don’t like it. Buildings are getting bigger and taller, traffic is getting busier, the steets more cramped. Anywhere where people get “in your face” it causes friction. People in New York City are not a different species, yet they seem to have a hardened, more aggressive voice, nature and look, inside they are just people but they’ve had to adopt a certain attitude in order to survive the pressures of daily life.

And so it is here in Austin with the cyclists and motorists. I’ve been lucky enough to have cycled in many of the worlds biggest cities, London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Manchester, San Francisco, Melbourne as well as in Spain, Italy, Germany and more.

I bike to work from South Austin to up past Braker Lane a couple of times most weeks mostly on the most direct route up Lamar and Burnet. From time to time when I don’t have early meetings and have left my laptop at work, I do the whole length of 360 and some.

What I can tell you is that I’ve been really impressed with most motorists here in Austin. Mostly they do leave space, in town it is not uncommon to be cycling in the right lane and to have 25 out of 30 cars actually pass in the left lane. Would almost never happen anywhere else.

Yeah, you get the occasional driver who really doesn’t think through making their next right turn, overtakes and completely underestimates the 22-24MPH I’m going and cuts right in front of me, causing me to brake. Then there are the motorists not paying complete attention as they make a turn out of a parking lot and I am coming down the street, its hard to “stop on a dime on a bike”, the easiest way is to put a 2000lb steel object with 4-wheels in the way!

And yes, motorists and cyclists don’t adhere to the letter of the law. However, generally Austin is better than many. Rather than escalating letters blaming each other for our problems, lets try to understand that we both have “issues”, both are not perfect but things can get better.

I for one have realized that storming down the right gutter at a long line of cars waiting at a light, probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do. In other cities that might be acceptable, here in Austin though where most drivers will move into the left lane to overtake, it just frustrates the motorists as not only did I possibly pass dangerously, but now I’m making the line even longer forcing them to have to wait more. Mea Culpa, I’ll wait in the traffic from now on.

On the other hand, next time you are coming up on a right turn in your car, and there’s a cyclist between you and the turn, think about it. If you slow, wait for the cyclist to pass the entrance to the turn, at most it won’t even cost you a minute.

A pack of cyclists cycling together is often referred to as a “train”. When a train makes a crossing, you wouldn’t expect every carriage to stop in turn, the same for cyclists. Cycling in close proximity requires attention and a pack like behavior, while the law might require each cyclist to stop individually, in reality, it’s impractical and probably more dangerous, so cut us some slack when it’s our turn to go, please wait if there are more than one or two.

Equally, cyclists need to realize they are often the master of their own destiny, cycling in a cavalier or irresponsible manor will ultimately get payback. We need to take a sensible, consolatory perspective. Many drivers are increasingly finding Austin a difficult place to drive in, and increasingly expensive. Many can’t afford to make the changes that they want. Apart from a minority, nobody enjoys sitting in traffic on I35, Mopac or downtown to go a few miles, and watching the dollar bills get blown out of the tail pipe. Like it or not, cycling to work isn’t an option for most people, most days even me.

I for one applaud the cities efforts in raising awareness of a healthy lifestyle, including cycling. I appreciate their effort to provide an increasingly cycling focussed means of getting around. But equally motorists and cyclist need to focus on safe driving. As the city gets bigger and busier, we all need to do better and focus more, blaming each other for the problem gets us nowhere.

Collide by Howie Day is playing in the background, nothing more than a coincidence I hope.

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills my mind
I somehow find
You and I collide

6 Comments so far

  1. ttrentham on May 24th, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

    I don’t currently own a bike. I drive around like a good gas guzzling Texan. However, I realize that this jig is up and this won’t last. We need to switch to more biking and more public transportation.

    As a motorist, I try to give the cyclists room and give them the benefit of the doubt, but everybody should obey the traffic laws and most importantly, look out for themselves and others. I was in a fog one morning traveling north on South Lamar and had a cyclist smack my rear side panel to let me know he was there. It startled me and my first reaction was to get pissed at the guy, but I realized that I hadn’t been paying enough attention and that he needed to do that to protect himself and to wake me up.

    That being said, I was heading south on Guadalupe the other day near 26th and a cyclist was in the middle of the left lane, backing up traffic for several blocks. I realize there’s not a bike lane until further south there, but I think taking the whole lane is what pisses off motorists, decreasing the guy’s safety instead of increasing it.

  2. triman on May 24th, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

    Thanks Tim. Sadly this is why the debate goes downhill, it’s like tabloid newspapers, we can all site incidents of utter stupidity, or just complete ignorance by either cyclists or motorists. We need to focus or being safer, concentrating while driving and cycling, and realizing that the traffic and no matter how the city does, cycling, won’t get any safer.

    What we all need to do is be aware while using the roads, display courtesy to other users and remember that any vehicle, not properly controlled is a dangerous weapon.

  3. m1ek on May 25th, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    Tim, you’re actually supposed to take the lane if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass (while staying within the lane). Going right down the middle makes this obvious. Although you did say _left_ lane, which implies more that he was preparing for a turn? Again, though, middle of lane is the right place there, too.

  4. lauratex on May 27th, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

    I think it takes someone who drives and bikes regularly to really appreciate what you’re talking about. There are some cyclists who never drive and feel superior about it (I’ve been there). There are many more car drivers who never bike and just don’t get it.

    While I agree that we all need to be safe and pay attention, I also sometimes wonder about the idea that rights = responsibilities. I have a right to bicycle in the street and a right to drive a car in the street. However, I think you are using *more* rights when you drive. First, you are polluting. Second, you are moving around this 2000 lb. + object at 30 mph or more and if you hit anything, you’re going to seriously damage it. So I think that drivers should have more responsibilities than cars. Right now, this is how I justify myself when I only slow down at empty intersections instead of stopping… :-D Not sure if this legal argument would hold up…

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  5. lauratex on May 27th, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    I meant car drivers should have more responsibilities than cyclists…

  6. ttrentham on May 28th, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    I misspoke. It was the right lane, not the left, but I see what you’re saying.

    I’d argue that if you really want to be safe in that situation, you should be on another street like San Antonio or Nueces and not Guadalupe, particularly that section since there’s no bike lanes at all until 24th and you’re contending with parked cars that might open doors, pedestrians and motorists. From 24th down, there’s a lane, in fact, isn’t there a concrete divided 2-way thing?

    Actually, I don’t know why I was on that stretch of Guadalupe myself. It’s a total nightmare, especially when school is in session.

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