As many of you know, I recently moved to Philadelphia, a wonderful American city that’s home to excellent restaurants, and thrilling history, and beautiful architecture, and a wide range of bicyclists who received their training from the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
To help illustrate what I mean, allow me to provide an example based on a recent incident I had with a bicyclist. Here’s what happened: I was turning into traffic on a narrow, busy street, so I had to block the bike lane in order to see what was coming. So I’m sitting there for 10, maybe 15 seconds, waiting for traffic to pass, when a bicyclist rides right up to my door and throws up his hands in disgust, as if I had just accidentally stepped on his cat, and there was now feline intestines all over his living room.
Now, normally, I would take the blame here, because many years of complaints from bicyclists have taught me that you must never enter the bike lane, even if you are a pedestrian crossing with a walk signal. But here’s the deal: I was sitting there for quite a while before he rode up, so it wasn’t like I startled him. He just decided, from half a block away, Hey, there’s a guy blocking the bike lane! I’m going to ride right up to his door and get annoyed! And there’s another crucial wrinkle to this story: it was night time, which means it was dark, and this guy had decided lighting wasn’t necessary for his particular bicycle. So I never even saw him until he was standing next to my door, acting like a large, angry child with elbow pads.
I felt like bringing up these points to the guy, but I’ve discovered that people like this aren’t exactly the quickest bike in the Tour de France, if ya know what I mean. What I mean is, I’ve come to learn that people like this have the brainpower for approximately nine phrases, one of which is “Whaddya,” and four of which are complaints about the Eagles. So I continued on with my day, and now I’m doing society some good by whining about the incident on the Internet.
But I’ve decided I can do more than just complain. In fact, I can create a few helpful tips about sharing the road, which will surely remind us all to be safer and more courteous, whether we’re using pedal power or horsepower™. And so, without further ado, we begin with…
1. Blocking the bike lane. There is nothing bicyclists complain about more than people who block the bike lane. If there had been a bicyclist present when that crazy Navy SEAL team went in to kill Osama bin Laden, he would’ve stopped the whole thing, right then and there, and said: “WAIT! OSAMA! What is your opinion on blocking the bike lane?”
And if Osama had said “You should never block the bike lane!”, then the bicyclist would’ve insisted that the troops stand down, and go home, and he would’ve given Osama a nice pair of headphones that he could listen to while running red lights.
But here’s the deal: in our modern society of delivery trucks and pickups and drop-offs and crowded streets, cars will sometimes block the bike lane. Whenever bicyclists hear this, they become indignant and insist that it’s a horrible travesty, and how would you like it if I blocked your lane? And my response is: bicyclists block my lane all the time, by moving at the speed of tree growth. And you know what I do? I drive past them, providing ample room, and I don’t complain about it, until they re-pass me again while I’m stopped at a red light and I have to repeat the entire process again in the next block.
This is what I like to call sharing the road. Sometimes cars will block bicycles. Sometimes bicycles will block cars. We will all be blocked by people who drive Acuras. But this is the way of the world, and we have no choice but to accept it, like we do with other annoyances, such as grocery store organization, and airport security, and Barbara Streisand.
2. Lighting. When I go out in my car at night, I find it a high priority to turn on my headlights. In fact, I consider it one of my highest priorities, aside from not doing stupid things like driving through parks or going the wrong way down the interstate or operating a Toyota Corolla. But in my experience, many bicyclists don’t view lighting as such an important priority. In fact, what I’ve noticed, after several months here in Philadelphia, is that many cyclists believe lighting is somewhere in the mid-20s when it comes to priorities, right between “what song is on my iPod?” and “do I own a cat?”
So here I would like to say that one of the many important components of getting cars and bicycles to get along is that all of them should have lights, both front and rear. I would especially want to have lights if I were a 200-pound person riding a 40-pound bicycle, and I was sharing the road with giant, fast-moving vehicles that weigh as much as small dwellings. But perhaps that’s just me.
3. Paying attention. I will happily concede one important point to most bicyclists: they pay attention a lot better than most drivers. In fact, I’d say that 95 percent of cyclists are constantly monitoring their surroundings, and aware of nearby vehicles, and looking at pedestrians, and traffic signals, because if they don’t, they might find their face embedded in a sewer grate.
Whereas drivers don’t have the same amount at stake. With drivers, the worst thing that can happen is they may accidentally hit a fire hydrant, and all the local children will come out in bathing suits and floaties in order to take a quick swim down the street. So as a result, car drivers conduct a wide range of activities behind the wheel, including texting, yelling, eating, applying makeup, baking, wondering who created the name “aardvark,” rolling quarters, surfing the web, changing, and giving birth, just to name a few of my personal indulgences.
However, I am willing to make a concession to the bicyclists: I promise to cut out all the distractions if you promise to get lights for your bicycles. Meanwhile, we can both promise to share the road, in the sense that I will continue to block the bike lanes, and you will continue to slow down the traffic lanes, and we will both continue to whine about one another on the Internet.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.