Monday, 19 March 2012

Traffic and why "I Hate Cyclists"

Why do cyclists evoke such strong feelings from some drivers?

It's not that cyclists behave dangerously. On any objective measure, cyclists are far, far less dangerous to other road users than cars. According to one study, In over 90% of the cases of death or serious injury to cyclists investigated in Toronto, the motorist was at fault, not the cyclist. Cyclists kill pedestrians substantially never, and when they do, it makes national news. It's not that cyclists hold the traffic up. Compared to the endless queues caused by other cars, cyclists rarely cause any problems. It's not that cyclists disobey the law more than drivers; other motorists routinely break speed limits, run red lights (motorists tend to do this as the lights are changing to red, rather than going early), and park illegally. Cars, not cyclists are the major cause of death in healthy people in the developed world. Yet the risks posed by cars to their occupants and everyone else are accepted, yet people seriously talk about compelling cyclists to wear helmets, something which would save few, if any lives.

So what is the reason for the extreme hostility cyclists experience? Ultimately it's down to a series of subliminal messages experiences noted by a motorist's hind-brain causing instinctive reactions that young, stupid, low-status men driving shitty cars in particular (as well as the kind of arsehole who thinks buying a BMW is something other than the behaviour of a cunt) are ill-equipped to handle.

First, there is a lack of understanding. Few people cycle. The laws of the road, and indeed the roads themselves are designed by drivers of cars, for drivers of cars. Other car drivers' actions can be understood in context. Cyclists' actions are not so comprehensible: nipping in and out of stationary or slow moving traffic for example, seems a LOT more dangerous to someone sitting in a car than it does or is from the point of view of someone on a bike. Ditto going through a light on red, when it's safe to do so. A motorist understands and condones the "amber gambler", but not the guy on the bike going through the crossroad during the pedestrian phase (obviously, without getting in the way of pedestrians of which there are often none). If more people cycled, more motorists would understand what cyclists are doing and why. Usually they're getting out of the way of several tons of angry steel.

Cyclists flash through motorists vision. Objects, road markings, for example move across a motorists vision at "human" speeds, and they do so by design. The dashed white line on the motorway moves across a driver's retina at the same speed as a human running towards you ten yards away. Other cars move towards you on the other side of the road rather slowly, before almost instantaneously accelerating through your peripheral vision and vanishing. Cars ahead and behind going the same way are almost stationary. Cyclists, pretty much are the only things which move faster than this relative to the driver. When passing a cyclist at speed, the car flashes past at relative speeds of up to 50mph. When a car is in traffic, stationary, cyclists flash past close to the driver at 15-25mph, often crossing the stationary motorists' vision, unexpectedly and from behind, without aural warning. This causes involuntary endocrine reactions in the driver, increasing stress and reinforcing a subliminal message: cyclists are dangerous. This reinforces point one. This is also true of pedestrian's reaction to cyclists.

Cyclists are people, and this is obvious to the subconscious, as well as the conscious brain. Cars, on the other hand depersonalise the person within. Look at the language used when discussing traffic. Often people will talk about the CAR doing x,y or z. Whereas people talk about the CYCLIST doing a,b or c. Cars are impersonal objects. Cyclists are people. When a slow driver holds someone up, it's not subliminally felt as SOMEONE deliberately getting in your way, but as SOMETHING. A cyclist is a person, therefore when inconveniencing a driver, (however mildly) it's taken more personally than when a mere object does so.

Finally, there is a message delivered by the very obviously human cyclist holding you up: He's probably pointing his arse directly at you, perceived by the hind-brain, subliminally not consciously, as an extremely hostile act. Riders of upright bicycles report far fewer hostile interactions than those of racing or mountain bikes where the handlebars are lower than the saddle. Cyclists don't mean to do this. It's just a function of wind resistance!

The motorist is not consciously aware of these subliminal signals, but feels much more hostility towards cyclists as a result of the subconscious interactions and the result is the almost daily threats the cyclist experiences.

People are simply not designed to drive. Our lizard-brains simply can't cope. The road environment and the cars on it have been made forgiving to the inadequacies of people driving cars, but it is something no-one can do successfully. Don't believe me? Ask the insurance industry. Racing drivers, those who ACTUALLY can control a car better than anyone else are not considered a good risk. People tend to compensate for extra safety features in their car or any extra skill, by taking more risks. The risks are most keenly felt by people without a ton and a half of steel wrapped around them.

Ultimately, the feedback loop doesn't work. Every journey completed without incident may be one in which you discombobulated another road user without knowing it, leaving no opportunity to learn from mistakes you never knew you made. Every "close call" noticed, on the other hand results in self-congratulation about an accident nearly avoided. This creates the belief common to all drivers that they are more skillful than they really are.

Sooner or later, cars will drive themselves and the problem will be moot. But until then, if you drive, assume you're an idiot, barely capable of the task you've set yourself and drive accordingly. Drive like you're drunk and there's a police-car behind you. And if you're not a motorist, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Either way, read this: Traffic, why we drive the way we do, and what it says about us. Tom Vanderbilt is not responsible for the theories about cars vs cyclists, I am. These are just the thoughts I had when reading his excellent book and extensions and extrapolations to the central thesis. He is more interested in the theory of traffic congestion, but his book will hopefully make more humble drivers of us all. It is a more fascinating read than it should be.



33 comments:

Suffolk Libertarian said...

As a non cycling (well not since i was a lad) driving type, i enjoy your blogs on cycling, i also largely agree with them, especially how the main issue with cycling is that the road system and laws of the road are wholly biased towards driving, both in how roads are developed and built. i think there is a good argument not just for giving cyclists more space on the highways but also separating them entirely from vehicular traffic (which is what there legally considered as, there considered from the point of the highway code as tiny rubbish cars, rather than there own unique special thing which deserve there own rules regulations and methods for interacting with other highway users).

I think other than separating cycles out so they have there own proper class and rules in respect to the highways, it might also make sense (after formalizing and making said rules for cyclists and drivers) is to make sure people are frequently forced to retake there theory test to remain able to use the roads.

if people want to drive or cycle on the roads, then they should be trained to do so properly and incentivise to treat it as a privilege and serious business that it is.

David Jones said...

Very interesting especially the car v cyclist (object v person) point.

My major problem with drivers is they generally have a very poor appreciation of how fast I am going. "It's a bike, bikes are slow, I must overtake it." The fact that there is no room for them to get ahead and pull in doesn't register (nor the fact that they're going to be overtaken at the next traffic light anyway).

Tom Paine said...

It is every bit as absurd to have to share the carriageway with pedal-cyclists as it would be with pedestrians. I worry that your extreme views on this issue will discredit your often sensible views about other things.

Boy on a bike said...

There's also a class of people who can't stand it when others get in front of them - it drives them mental. If they're stuck in a mile long traffic jam and you whizz past by going up the middle of the lanes, they go berserk at the idea that someone is passing them.

Sadly, some people are just mental.

Jackart said...

Tom Paine. I want proper infrastructure to achieve just that end! Motorists need to accept the car is not the ONLY viable mass transit option, and also accept they're nowhere near as good a driver as they think they are.

Ultimately whether you're a safe driver is more about psychology than skill.

cuffleyburgers said...

Jackart you are mostly right however your case is weakened by your unnecessary ad hom against bmw drivers - the fact is there are plenty of wankers driving cars and although it is commom knowledge that most people in audis and beamers drive like cunts, there are plenty who appreciate well designed and well made cars and many people driving euro boxes who shouldn't be allowed out.

THere are even shock horror some total cunts riding bikes and although I am (genuinely) sure you're not one of them it is idle to ignore that some cyclists do behave in ways which an intelligent person would realise can antagonise car drivers unnecessarily.

Luke said...

Cuffleyburgers, you are quite right in saying that some total cunts ride bikes. But would you rather they were riding 30lb of bike at 10-20mph or driving 1-2 tonnes of car at 30-80mph?

I have not done a detailed analysis, but I strongly suspect that a considerate driver is a greater risk than an arsehole cyclist, purely because the consequences of a small error are so much worse.

Please don't get me wrong - like you I wince at some of the things some cyclists do, but they don't kill people.

James Higham said...

I'm a cyclist. I take your criticisms of cyclists seriously because they're true - I see it all the time. Just because I take note of the traffic and the road laws, doesn't mean some of the others do and when observing this,I'm half hoping Darwin's Law will take effect.

Serenus Zeitblom said...

There's another issue here about the way in which people driving react. Stress while driving tends to trigger the "flight or fight" mechanism in drivers - to which our normal reaction is to make large, aggressive physical gestures; but of course you can't do that in a car which is controlled using very small muscle movements. Hence the stress, the rage, the shouting, the swearing, the desperate need to find an outlet for all that pent-up emotion. It's another example of how humans just aren't designed to drive cars.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"the roads themselves are designed by drivers of cars, for drivers of cars"

True, and not so surprising, really.

After all, you get what you pay for.

Jackart said...

Weekend Yachtsman, or you can argue as I do, that road design has chased any other potential means of transport away, to the detriment of all.

There simply isn't room for everyone to drive everywhere they want to go. If you try and make room, you get Los Angeles or Milton Keynes.

Is that what you want?

If you want an open road for your car, you HAVE to make the cyclist (especially the school run) feel safe.

It's not cyclist vs car. It's car vs car, and the solution is the bicycle for whoever can and wants to.

Anonymous said...

The only time cycles 'worked' was when hardly any one had cars and the bikes did the three-quarter mile run 'on bloc' out of the factory gates to the back to backs just down the road.

Now there are a few selfish people who think they have the right to behave like anarchists 'because it does no harm' and, I suspect, they get a thrill at cutting along the inside, outside, reverse lane, pavement etc. Skateboarders could make exactly the same arguments.

The ONLY way cycling could become a mass transport system would be to go back to the days of the big factory surrounded by small houses and corner shops.

Anonymous said...

Compared to the endless queues caused by other cars, cyclists rarely cause any problems

Not on my commute. This morning was no exception - a queue of about thirty cars travelling at 20mph for two miles behind one guy. It's really quite selfish, and there is no way the cyclist was making the world a greener place.

Patrick

Faz said...

Weekend Yachtsman, "you get what you pay for"? I assume by that you mean roads should be designed around cars and can I also assume that you have arrived at that idea because you think you pay road tax?

SteveL said...

* anyone criticing a cyclist for holding up traffic should note that were they on a bicycle, they would be able to get past them -if they were fit enough. You can't say "its not green" to hold up cars, because its the choice of the drivers to drive. And some of us cycle not because "it is green" it is "we don't want to waste time in a traffic jam"

I think people driving have issues is that congestion does build up frustration, paying lots for fuel builds up resentment.

When you get past a set of traffic lights to see an empty road you think "finally" -then suddenly you see a slow moving cyclist holding you up. You don't think "it's my fault for driving", or "there will be another traffic jam ahead, so be patient", all you think is "this tax dodger has taken away my one opportunity to drive at the speed the limits say I should be able to drive at"

The other issue is that drivers assume bicycles are slow moving because relative to a car at speed they are. In town they aren't -a fact which isn't noticed that well, as the driver doesn't distinguish bike-going-20-mph from bike-going-10-mph. Hence the overtake-emergency-brake or left hook actions -they come from an inability to perceive the speed of the bicycle makes these actions redundant.

Jackart said...

Patrick, you said "a queue of about thirty cars travelling at 20mph for two miles behind one guy"

I simply don't believe you. You MAY have been held up for a couple of minutes in a handful of cars.

But I GUARANTEE you were held up more by other cars. If the roads were congested enough to have 30 vehicles (a queue about 1/4 mile long) then you were in VERY heavy traffic and would have spent many, many minutes at every set of lights.

The reason you think this isn't the case and you blame the cyclist more than the cars who are ACTUALLY holding you up is laid out in some detail in the post, but you lack the self-awareness to realise it and you're simply thick.

Either that, or you're a complete cunt and drive a BMW. Which is it?

Anonymous said...

I simply don't believe you. You MAY have been held up for a couple of minutes in a handful of cars.

No, it's often thirty-odd. I can count them when I see similar queues coming the other way, so I know what a thirty-car queue looks like.


But I GUARANTEE you were held up more by other cars. If the roads were congested enough to have 30 vehicles (a queue about 1/4 mile long) then you were in VERY heavy traffic and would have spent many, many minutes at every set of lights.

There are no lights, or indeed junctions, on that three-mile section of my commute. When there are no cyclists (or sometimes tractors) everyone does sixty throughout.


The reason you think this isn't the case and you blame the cyclist more than the cars who are ACTUALLY holding you up is laid out in some detail in the post, but you lack the self-awareness to realise it and you're simply thick.

As I said, there are no junctions and no-one else can possibly be causing the holdup. I can sometimes see the guy at the head of the queue, at best oblivious to the mounting frustration behind him. Once I get into town and the road widens, it is possible to pass and the problem goes away.


Either that, or you're a complete [expletive deleted] and drive a BMW. Which is it?

No need for that.


Patrick

Jackart said...

Patrick, so you're pissed off that you can't drive as fast as you think you should? Someone is "in your way" and should "get out of your way" for your convenience? Is that what you're arguing?

And yet you (apparently - people who have this complaint usually do...) oppose investment in dedicated cycle infrastructure, that would have cyclists on their own path?

Everyone is allowed one prejudice. Mine is BMWs.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, so you're pissed off that you can't drive as fast as you think you should? Someone is "in your way" and should "get out of your way" for your convenience? Is that what you're arguing?

A cyclist holding up dozens of cars shouldn't *have* to get out of the way, but they *should*. If I was causing that much disruption in pursuit of my recreational activity, I certainly would.


And yet you (apparently - people who have this complaint usually do...) oppose investment in dedicated cycle infrastructure, that would have cyclists on their own path?

In town, that is arguably reasonable... but we can't go around duplicating the entire road network (at no cost to cyclists, natch) when the simple expedient of 'don't be selfish' would work just as well.

Patrick

Jackart said...

I agree, cyclists SHOULD pull over and let cars past. But this isn't always practical.

Rural roads can be shared with cars, but the fast A & B roads which link towns to towns need to have a wide, separated cycle lane built into them.

Cyclist DO pay for the road network. First they are on average wealthier than non-cyclists and pay more taxes. They are also MORE likely to own a car than the general population.

If you get people out of cars, there's more road and parking space for fatties who decide to continue struggling along in their angst-boxes. Everyone's a winner.

Anonymous said...

As a motorcyclist and cyclist, i can say that motorcycles are hated more. When filtering between traffic you get drivers both in your lane and oncoming lane swerve to deliberately block you. The plod are also very anti motorbike, as are pretty much everyone who doesn't own one, including Mums.

My commute on a push bike (35miles round trip) is a summertime rural event and so i suppose i am not exposed to the dangers of city riding.

Unknown said...

I am a commuting cyclist as well as MTB on trails! I disagree with that we should or have to get out the way you are making it sound like cyclists have no right to use the road!

Have you thought about trying out cycling and see how after 5-6 miles how you would feel having to stop to let 2-3 cars past, then find the enthusiasm to get moving again especially of you are going uphill you would have to get off an walk which is worse and provides a greater risk to yourself if you ask me.

On my daily commute I cycle through a small residential area with cars parked on the street in the lane of the oncoming traffic which means cars and cyclists on my side of the road have right of way. However the amount of times I’ve had a driver come at me narrowly missing me and clipping wing mirrors of the parked cars whereas if they stopped and waited that wouldn’t have happened. It leads to cyclists cycling defensively and hostile toward cars, now if a car is coming at me I will cycle in the middle of the lane (only if safe to do so) which means they have to give way or is comes to a standoff and I will stand in the middle of the road until they reverse and give way .

Coming home is downhill and I can easily hit 30mph however with the road having speed humps drivers have to slow down to crawling speed where as I can over take them but the amount of motorists that take offence to this manoeuvre is unbelievable. Whereas I best if it was a car its be ok. I was coming down this hill last night and a driver came along side me and was bonnet to bike but he had to brake sharply for the speed up but then he rapidly accelerated to keep me pinned to the kerb when parked cars we getting closer and closer. The driver was half expecting me to yield, however he saw the speed hump late hit it (hopefully he’s buggered his suspension) and then slowed allowing me to nip in front of him and sit the middle of the lane as he smacked his wing mirror off the van.

This has not the first time of anyone acting like a complete and utter tool when they see a cyclist. If you are a motorist and you are passing me and you are too close you should at least expect a tap on the window followed by a wave or similar or an open handed wallop on your roof to wake you up and alert you to I am there the hit wont dent your precious box but it’ll make one hell of a noise!

Pete

Anonymous said...

I too am a motorcyclist, as well as being a motorist, pedestrian and cyclist. I have just had a run in with an idiot on a bicycle: Approaching a crossroads I came up behind a cyclist and didn't see him make any rear observations or give any signals. As he was in the middle of the road (virtually on the white lines) I assumed that he was going straight across so, as I was turning left and indication such, I drew up along side him on the left side of the carriageway on my motorcycle. I was then treated to "Hello... did you not notice anyone else in the road..." Typical of the self rightious crap I have come to expect from cyclists.

A week ago I was driving a car in York and a cyclist, at a junction, did a rear observation and indicated that he was going to turn right and then began to swing across the road. As he was acually level with my nearside wing at the time he forced me to break hard in order to miss him. The point or making a rear observation is to make sure that it is safe to carry out a manouver. The fact that you have looked, seen a car, ignored it, made a signal and then begun a lane change does not make it safe or the right thing to do.

Cyclists should realise that they MUST obey the highway code or they put all of us in danger, especdially themselves. I have survived 40 years on a motorcycle by driving like everyone else on the road is an idiot who is trying to kill you. Being in the right but dead does not appeal to me.

Get real and don't put yourselves in danger. It doesn't matter if you are "right" you know how everybody else id going to behave, don't antagonise them, keep out of their way and stay safe.

Oh and as for the cyclist nipping through red lights, going the wrong way up one way streets and generally being a danger. You should see the scars on my arm that I got when a bicycle courier knocked me down on the pavement (Regents Street, London).

Anonymous said...

Why I hate cyclists, whether driving, riding my motorcycle or walking.

1) No adherence to the rules of the road. I do not accept that cyclists run red lights when "it's safe to do so". By this same logic motorcycles, cars, lorries, ... should also be allowed to run red lights.

Undertaking is illegal, whether you're in a car, on a motorcycle, driving a bus. Or on a cycle.

2) I have no idea what they're going to do. It's common to see cyclists weaving all over the road or all over the path. Is the cyclist in front of me going to suddenly veer 2' to the left? Is he going to wobble about going up this hill? Or jump up onto the pavement, when I'm walking? If I'm crossing at a red light and there's a cycle approaching, is he actually going to stop for me?

The one thing that really confuses me is the attitude that cyclists have to road safety. For every other vehicle when accidents were deemed to be unnacceptably high the emphasis was introducing regulations and safety procedures to the operators of those vehicles. Compulsory wearing of seat belts. Improved crash protection. Compulsory wearing of protective equipment. Mandated training courses. To drive a car you now need to pass two tests. To ride a motorcycle you need to pass four tests, presumably because you're more vulnerable and need the extra training to avoid being knocked over by larger vehicles on the road. (Though my one "accident" on my motorcycle so far was being rear-ended by a cyclist. Who was in the wrong position on the road. And clearly wasn't aware that you're required to stop before, and not on, a pedestrian crossing.)

And yet the attitude of cyclists is that safety concerns should be addressed by everyone else on the road. There are no calls for additional training to ensure at least a basic level of competence and awareness. And no calls for mandatory wearing of safety equipment. Why do operators of these vehicles expect special treatment?

anonymous said...

I agree that some people do not cycle legally by riding on the pavement and going through red lights where as others do abide by the highway code.

There is a national cycling standard which can be found on the DFT website http://www.dft.gov.uk/topics/sustainable/cycling/national-standard
Anyone can take a cycle lesson as they are openly available throughout the country, many being at a subsidised rate to encourage more people to take part.

I believe this training should be as important to new or returning cyclists as a driving test is to drivers. I would go even further to suggest new drivers should be made to take the cycle training and see the roads from a cyclists perspective.

I have noticed how my experience of using the road varies according to which mode of transport is being used. One is most vulnerable on a bicycle and my priority is being seen and communicating with drivers so they don't do anything to threaten my safety. In a car I switch off somewhat, relax a bit and go with the flow because you don't really have that much to think about in comparison.

On a bike you are always planning ahead at least 100m. You are thinking about everyone elses actions as well as your own, judging to see what people will do next and thinking about being in the right place so they can see you and won't attempt a dangerous manouvre.

In a car you are protected so the need to concentrate on other road users is reduced. If 2 vehicles colide it's not the end of the world. On a bike it could be.

Each driver seems to have there own reasons why they dislike cyclists. I think we all have experienced frustration on the roads but wouldn't it be nice if we could find a way to share the space without hate and anger towards one another. Its got to change for the better otherwise things will only get worse.

Anonymous said...

"One is most vulnerable on a bicycle"

No. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable. Their rights are routinely ignored by cyclists.

Rule 170 is the most prevalent rule ignored by the lyrca lout.

However, I am sure the cyclists will complain about 'metal boz drivers' as an excuse for their law breaking. I for one do not own a car or a polluting bicycle (oh yes, they have to be manufactured you know, unless you carved yours out of a dead oak tree, you are a polluter by proxy).

So: Obey the law. Sooner or later we pedestrians will get more aggressive to match the aggression of the law-breaking cyclists.

Why should I not smash a cyclist off their bike if they are bearing down on me ringing their bell when I have priority on the road as a pedestrian?

Duncan said...

Great article. Very interesting points about people seeing cars as objects and cyclists as people, that's not something I'd considered before.

john said...

They feel special because riding a bike makes you part of the healthy green club.... Bunch of whiny babies.. The roads are meant to carry a wide range of vehicles.. But cyclist are like farm equipment, some can move fast, but the majority are slow and in the way of traffic.
Get over it and get off the road!!

MtCommuter said...

A very good read.
The following link also breaks down the essential of mentality on the roads:
http://airyourview.com/Editorials/Ed001514A00000000.aspx

Anonymous said...

Tired of all the cyclist crap. Honestly be safe stay off the middle of the road, stop jamming traffic, and get on the sidewalk its safer I dont care if you arent supposed to. You losers do plenty you arent supposed to. The road is for drivers of cars going at a reasonable speed if you cant keep up then get the f of the road simple.

James Hopkins said...

It's not cycling I hate but cyclists. I don't drive I walk and there is nobody more obnoxious or arrogant then the typical idiot on his/her bike. They think they a have special moral high grounf over drivers that then bleeds over into a moral highground over everybody on the planet. They treat children, elderly, disabled and every one else the way they treat motorists and have no patience for any one. Wishing cyclists killed is disgusting but cyclists actual daily behaviour is far worse then the violent morbid fantasies of some angry individuals.

Unknown said...

Again speaking as a cyclist there are a few of us that do obey the rules of the road. I stop at read lights hold my place in traffic I don't weave (unless the traffic is completly stopped and I am 3 cars back max to go for the red cycle box at the front). I never undertake if I am passing a car I do it on the outside. There are song good cyclists out there but were all tied to the brush of the bad ones.
When I am on the road I push myself to the limits of my physical ability to try and keep up with traffic and get annoyed with people who pootle along slowly oblivious to the fact they are on the road and I'll have to deal with irate drivers further down the road

Pete

Anonymous said...

As a cyclist I agree with a lot of this as I have experienced discrimination simply because of my choice to ride a bike, however I am also a car enthusiast (believe it or not it is possible to be both) therfore I have also experienced discrimination for the type of car I drive. If you don't want to be classified in a particular way because you are a cyclist then you should afford others the same courtesy otherwise you contradict yourself. No one shpuls be hates bacause of their social class or their choice of transport!

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