Our Northwest

Drivers, bicyclists often at odds on our roads

Wednesday, April 22, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

My work colleague suggested I change the title of our new infographic, "Cars vs. bikes," which highlights results from our latest PEMCO Poll.
     She suggested "Cars and bikes" would be more positive. Yet the poll reveals there's indeed tension between drivers and cyclists who share our roads.
     Although 63% of Northwest drivers say they're comfortable driving near cyclists, 56% say cyclists cause problems when they ride unpredictably – sometimes they ride two abreast, sometimes in the middle of the road, sometimes near the shoulder, and some don't make themselves visible enough after dark.
     One-third of drivers say bicyclists speed or run red lights, causing tension.
     The response that resonates with me is the 22% of drivers who say some cyclists follow a double standard, opting for the rule that benefits them in the moment.
     An example: I'm driving along Eastlake Avenue in Seattle, a two-lane urban road. Ahead of me a slow-moving cyclist obstructs my lane just enough (it's perfectly legal) that I can't pass him. I need to give him at least 3 feet of clearance, but cars are approaching in the other lane. We reach an intersection with a red light. I stop ... but the cyclist looks both ways, then rides on through.
     Frustrating, yes. But cyclists have their own gripes, legitimate ones about distracted and malicious drivers.
     We learned that 58% of cyclists say there's conflict because drivers are inattentive or simply don't know the laws about sharing the road with bikes. For example, Washington law says cyclists can take up an entire lane of traffic, and ride two abreast.
     Another 27% of cyclists blame tensions on malicious drivers who deliberately pass cyclists too closely trying to scare them, or cut them off.
     Washington and Oregon are among the most bike-friendly states in the country, with cyclists increasingly common on urban roads. We all must share those roads safely.
     When competing for space, bicyclists are inherently vulnerable. Drivers need to play nice.

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