Car-head

How our mindset limits bicycling.
This post is 1 in the series: Bicycle Neglect

(This is the first post in a new series.)

In the fall of 2000, in broad daylight, I pedaled straight into the tail of a stationary Jeep Cherokee. The SUV, parked in a cycling lane, complained noisily: its alarm wailed. I dusted off my bike shorts (and ego) and checked the damage. The truck was unscathed, of course. My knee was lightly bruised where it had hit the ground. My two-wheeler—my baby blue Trek roadster, beloved companion for a decade, magic carpet over thousands of urban miles—was totaled, its frame buckled at the headset joint.

Bone-headed move, I told myself. How embarrassing!

I had been slowly climbing a rise on the Dexter Bikeway, Seattle’s main north-to-south commuting route. The sheer familiarity apparently lulled me into inattention. My eyes were on the scenery, not the road. So I barely saw the 1.5-ton obstacle in my path, and my brakes didn’t stop me in time. I felt as foolish as if I had walked into an oversized stop sign. (The Jeep was, in fact, bright red.)

But looking back now, after fourteen car-less months, I see the event through different eyes.

I see my own reaction—blaming myself exclusively—as a symptom of a North American condition: Car-head. Unintentionally and even unknowingly, we see the world as if through a windshield. We evaluate our surroundings as if from the driver’s seat (obstacles to speed? places to park?). We consider “automobile” almost a synonym for “transportation.”  And we consider such thinking utterly normal. This Car-head mindset, this set of auto-oriented assumptions and perspectives,  is so deeply enmeshed with our life experience that we are little aware of it. It’s so universal that we certainly shouldn’t be blamed for holding it. But it’s there and it’s powerful and it has consequences in our actions and, more important, in our communities’ decisions. Bicycle Neglect—a theme I’m going to explore in several posts starting with this one—is one of these consequence.

What am I talking about? I pedaled straight into a truck! I’m an idiot. I should have been watching where I was going. All true, but also all Car-head thinking. What it ignores is the culpability of the owner of that SUV. He, or she, was parked in a bike lane. Parked in a bike lane (like the trucks shown in this photo on Seattle’s Northlake—photo copyright and used by permission of Rebecca Slivka, www.bicyclewatchdog.org)!

Trucks in bike lane 250wIn Cascadia, as across North America, parking in a bike lane seems a minor infraction—discourteous, perhaps, but forgivable. What’s the big deal? Cyclists can just go around.

Such thinking is a symptom of Car-head. If you doubt me, consider the case inverted. Imagine that I had temporarily left my bike in the middle of Interstate 5. Imagine that Mr. Jeep Cherokee, admiring the scenery, had carelessly impaled his undercarriage on my naked front fork, severing control of his brakes. Imagine that Mr. Cherokee had then smashed into a retaining wall with enough force to bend his truck’s frame, rendering it totaled (in the insurance sense of repairs costing more than replacement). Imagine that Mr. Cherokee, cushioned by an air bag, escaped with only a bump on his knee.

Now, would he have felt foolish and blamed himself, as I did? After all, just like me, he could have gone around if he’d just paid attention.

I think not. I think he and the law and most North Americans would have blamed me squarely for totaling his car and endangering his life.

But why? The two cases are similar. True, riding into a parked car on a bike is rarely fatal, while accidents on the freeway sometimes are. But both involve illegally parking a vehicle in plain view in the right of way of a major commuting route. Both involve at least modest risk of severe injury: slamming into a parked car can easily hurt a cyclist. I knew a man who suffered a brain injury from a collision with another cyclist—a far less massive mass than a Jeep. As bad, after striking a parked car, you might simply fall over into the street, still strapped into your toe-clips (as I did), where you could get run over (as I did not).

The point of this unpleasant hypothetical is not to dream up worst-case scenarios. It’s to illustrate that parking in a bike lane ought to trigger at least a tremor of outrage.

The reason it does not is that, at some level, we do not consider bicycles real vehicles, and we do not consider bicycle lanes real roads. How could we, when we’ve been assimilated to the Car-head?

Car-headed as we are in North America, we don’t enforce traffic laws in ways that hold drivers accountable for the risks they impose on cyclists and pedestrians. You can, no doubt, think of examples of this yourself, but I’ll mention two: one extreme, one homespun. In 1999, Charlie Komanoff of the group Right of Way published Killed by Automobile, the first comprehensive analysis of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in New York City. Charlie reviewed four years’ worth of police reports concerning hundreds of deaths. The reports showed that drivers were legally culpable some 74 percent of the time. They also showed that only one-fourth of those motorists were even cited for traffic violation. I repeat, most drivers whose illegal actions killed people didn’t get so much as a ticket.

In Beaverton, Oregon, at least, mindsets appear to be on the same wavelength with New York: Police car in bike lane flickr 280wcheck out this photo of a cruiser parked in a bike lane. (Kudos to Bike-junkie for this shot, posted on flickr.com.)

The presumption in New York and Beaverton, as elsewhere on this continent, seems to be that public roads are for cars, not bikers or pedestrians. You can test this yourself—my homespun example—by stepping up to any street corner in the Northwest. By law, every street corner has a cross walk (unless it’s specifically marked otherwise). The cross walk is there whether it’s painted on the asphalt or not. And any pedestrian standing in or at the entry to such a crosswalk has the first right to proceed (unless the intersection is regulated by a traffic light, in which case pedestrians must wait for the signal). As a pedestrian, all you should have to do to cross any street in Cascadia is go to the corner and stand at the curb. To a driver, the sight of you there should be, legally, the same as a red light. Drivers should halt immediately and wait until you’re on the opposite curb. If they don’t, any police officer who witnesses the act should write them a fine.

Instead, stopping for pedestrians is considered courteous, polite—not obligatory, not something to do or face punishment. Consequently, to cross many Cascadian streets is to run a gauntlet, and tickets for not stopping at crosswalks are rare.

Right around now, you may be thinking that I have strayed far from my story about bending my bike by hitting a Jeep Cherokee. I haven’t. I’m talking about the Car-head: the belief that roads are actually for drivers, not walkers or cyclists. The lack of crosswalk enforcement—and the absence of outrage over that lack—is a manifestation of the same condition that prevents outrage over parking in bike lanes.

In Germany and the Netherlands, countries that take bicycles seriously (and where big shares of trips are taken on two wh
eels), the failure to stop for pedestrians waiting to use crosswalks is a serious offense—one for which tickets are routinely issued.

In fact, in northern Europe, legislators have actually outlawed Car-head—or, at least, the behavior it inspires. They’ve turned walkers and bikers into sacred cows, at least in traffic regulations. They’ve deprogrammed Car-head by assigning greater responsibility for collisions to drivers than to walkers and cyclists. If you’re driving in Germany, for example, and you fail to anticipate a bone-headed move by a cyclist, you will likely still be fined for recklessness. bike lane on car flickr 200wIn the Netherlands and Belgium, if you drive into a biker or walker, your insurance will pay the damages, no matter who was at fault, as documented here by Rutgers professor John Pucher and his colleague (pdf). (In fact, your only legal defense is to prove that the human-powered traveler deliberately caused the crash.) In these countries, bikes actually have priority over cars.

(Kind of like this whimsical photo by sfbike posted on flickr.)

If I’d slammed into a Jeep parked in a Dutch bike lane, Herr SUV (or his insurer) would have bought me my current bike: a navy blue touring beast that’s less racy than its predecessor but handles better loaded. (It also has superb, responsive brakes.) But Cascadia is no Holland, not yet. Bicycle Neglect remains the rule, though Car-head may be receding, as I’ll write about next time.

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Comments

  1. Charlie says:

    Can’t wait to read more about this series. I loved the car-less experiment (as a matter of fact, your family’s experiences have informed much of my thinking about where and how I want to live).One thought as it gets started (written as an avid biker/walker/bus rider): We do live in a car-head society to be sure and at first blush, I agree that that should change. BUT, as important as it is to change the thinking around here away from car-centric, it is equally important that bike riders take responsibility for our actions. When on the roadways of this city, we are vehicles and as such should ride while obeying the same laws. Who among us, stops for a pedestrian at a crosswalk when we’re on our bikes?All I am saying Alan, is that I hope that idealism doesn’t take over this series and that you don’t let bike riders off the hook in the name of ending car-head thinking. We all need to be responsible users of the streets and sometimes, that means giving the right of way to a car. They are, for now anyway, a fact of life.

  2. Alan Durning says:

    Well said, Charlie.No doubt: there’s a lot of reckless and irresponsible bicycling out there. I believe in enforcing traffic laws as written: on bikes, cars, and pedestrians.And I pledge to always stop for pedestrians when I’m on my bike (or driving). I did so this morning and the guy waiting at the crosswalk was so surprised that he looked around to see if there was some other reason for my stopping.

  3. Kristin Kolb says:

    I just “traded in” my Subaru (well, it was totaled) for a snazzy new bike. I feel like I’ve gotten a new prescription for my glasses. On my first outing, I biked from Montlake down Lake Washington Boulevard and over to my hood in Columbia City. It was rush hour. Despite this circuit being one of the more cycle-friendly of the city, I felt like I was dodging large metal bullets the entire way home. Granted, I need to build up my confidence again after my car accident—and years off a bike seat. But I still couldn’t help remembering by good ol days of cycling, back in college. In Oberlin, Ohio, bikes far outnumbered cars. Perhaps I’m nostalgic, but it really was such a breeze back then. I can now see why cycling is intimidating for some folks. Additionally, the parents at my daughter’s preschool are shocked, shocked, that we are carless. The Burley trailer behind the bike makes jaws drop. Still, after Week 1 of being bike-ful, I am less stressed, more energized and more aware of my neighborhood than ever before. So we’re going to keep the experiment going. Thanks for the inspiration, Alan.

  4. Patrick says:

    I had a similar experience a few years back. On my bike commmute to work, I ran into a bunch of 2x4s sticking out the back of a pickup truck and flipped over my bike. The bike lane ran next to the parking lot of a building supply company and the parking spaces were perpendicular to the bike lane. The truck fit but the wood protruding out the back didn’t. I remember feeling like an idiot and was reluctant to place any blame on the truck owner. Your perspective will help people handle future incidents with more confidence. Despite the frequent recklessness of some cyclists, the intrusiveness of the car culture outweighs any behavior of cyclists to date. The car, and its supporting infrastructure, just dulls the senses. Even though I spend so little time in the car anymore, I find that when I’m behind the wheel I lose the awareness of my surroundings that I have on bike or on foot. You should have plenty to write about.

  5. Steve says:

    Excellent commentary, Alan. I await your next piece suggesting that Car-head may be receding. I’m not seeing it yet in this corner of Cascadia.Yesterday, the Oregon State Senate passed a bill amending the basic rule of “stop and stay stopped” for a someone in a crosswalk to require pedestrians to signal their intent to cross a street. Intent is expressed by “raising a hand and arm toward oncoming traffic.” The bill’s sponsor suggests that the gesture will improve communication. The Oregonian newspaper reported that “motorists accustomed to keeping both eyes on the road might soon have to sneak a peek at the curb.” My sense is that this legislation reflects what polite NW drivers already do when they don’t run you down—the friendly wave and smile that lets the pedestrian/bicyclist know that important, busy people haven’t been inconvenienced into actually yielding the right of way. Who could oppose having pedestrians give a friendly wave to start the exchange? Waves and smiles all around.I certainly advocate that pedestrians and cyclists be mindful when around cars; it’s a matter of self-preservation. But a law like this, no matter how well-intentioned, really misses the mark and exposes how deeply entrenched Car-head is.

  6. Alan Durning says:

    Steve,Has this creeping canonization of Car-head passed the state house too?And what if you’re unable to raise a hand and wave? Say, because you’re holding hands with two toddlers? Or because you’re holding two bags of groceries and the ground is too wet to put them down? Or because you’re disabled?My wife witnessed a horrifying incident the other day. A man with cerebral palsy, traveling alone, was crossing a crosswalk in his motorized wheelchair. A driver slammed into him and sent both him and his chair flying across the pavement. He was scraped, bruised, and cut, but did not appear to have broken any bones or endured any other severe injuries. Amy waited with him for the aid car, trying to communicate with him through the horrible wall of muscular disobedience that CP erects, trying to locate a friend or family member, trying to understand his symptoms.Would this man—Tim—have been considered at fault under the Oregon Senate’s new standard, because he can’t raise an arm and wave at drivers?

  7. Steve says:

    There is no House action on SB 573, passed 4/19/07.I found that the bill would add a second type of traffic offense to the relatively straight-forward “stop and remain stopped” provision of existing law.Current Oregon law says a driver must stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian (1) in the travel lane, (2) in the adjacent lane, (3) in a lane into which a driver is turning.The proposal would also make it a penalty if the driver does not stop “when the pedestrian is waiting on the curb or shoulder of the highway at a crosswalk and raising a hand and arm toward oncoming traffic.”It would not, thankfully, appear to assign fault to the man in your example. Which begs the question: was the driver that struck Tim cited? If so, was it for a traffic infraction like failure to yield or for something more in line with the pain inflicted?

  8. ethan says:

    This is a similar point I made a couple of weeks ago in reference to Seattle’s new bicycle plan. I love it but if you do not enforce the drivers encroaching on the bike lanes and cyclists then what is the point? If only every driver in the city could get out and ride a bike for just one day each year in the streets life in Seattle would vastly changed.

  9. Elly says:

    Portland’s new ped law isn’t as bad as all that—the existing “Stop and Stay Stopped” law technically requires the pedestrian to actually step into the street in order to signal their intention to cross. If they don’t step into the street, a driver won’t be cited for not stopping for them. So the new law simply adds one more option—the hand signal. Not that either law drastically changes the way people cross the street—my sense is that it will primarily make police enforcement actions more effective, and therefore help improve the way drivers behave around pedestrians. Not perfect, but anything that helps people cross the street is a good thing in my opinion.

  10. Elly says:

    By the way, for more coverage of this bill, check out this article.I’m looking forward to more entries in your series!

  11. Rich says:

    I loved this post, having ranted to my wife too many times about fighting the car-head attitude on the street. Walking the few blocks from our house to Washington Park in Eugene while carrying my 4mos. son, standing at the corner with clear intent of crossing, cars occupied by smiling mom’s and their babes in the back would wave enthusiastically as they zoomed by. I think this indicates a lack of education rather than any disrespect to pedestrians. These moms must not have even know the law, right?

  12. alexae1367 says:

    I liked this post too. A bunch of cars parked in the bike lane in front of my house the other day. It made me mad, but at least when a couple came back and I said hey that’s a bike lane they actually apologized and moved. That was surprising, but about this comment just before mine, yes I ride a bike and didn’t know this law about pausing at intersections for pedestrians w/o a x walk. Now I know. I think though that a fundamental problem with our legal system is that many people don’t know many laws, or have anything at all to do with their inception. Really to have any democracy at all it would all have to be reviewed…the system, and many laws (especially the ones that let corporations make too much $!) would have to be reviewed. Laws should be up for a vote in the newspaper so everyone can see them, not off somewhere else. Who has time to find out about and influence these things? Not poor people who never get to go to school and make low wages for the rest of their lives, or people that do go and can’t find anything they’d really do or can get hired for. Sigh.

  13. Alan Durning says:

    Elly,Thanks for clarifying the Oregon bill, and for the link to the interesting BikePortland blog discussion.

  14. Charlie says:

    So I put this idea to a very unscientific test this weekend as I walked around both Captiol Hill and Wedgwood in Seattle. I’ll note that I always tried to cross safely by doing so at crosswalks (both painted and not) and by looking both ways and only crossing if it seemed like making the cars stop would be safe.I was actually impressed with how many people did stop for me when I simply stepped out into the street and began crossing without making contact with individual drivers There were fewer people willing to stop on arterials like 35th Ave NE and not a single one even slowed on 23rd Ave. E at E Pine or on Madison in the same area, but on the smaller arterials and side streets, I got almost 100 percent stoppage with narry a horn honk or an irratated look (near as I could tell). I even had one bike rider slow down for me which ended up confusing us both because my instinct is to let a bike rider have the right of way since I want it when I am riding (it takes more energy to start up pedaling again than it does to start walking or driving).Anyway, very unscientific results but they made me happy for the weekend at least. Now though, out into Monday afternoon traffic. Wish me luck!

  15. dan bertolet says:

    At the risk of ruffling a few feathers, it seems to me that Charlie’s comment at the top of this thread smells a little of car-head. Invariably in these debates, someone always has to chime in about all the irresponsible cyclists out there and what a big problem it is, etc etc. I say, “car-head!” A few points: 1) As best as I can tell, the reality is that bikes have essentially zero impact on the efficiency and safety of traffic flow in a city like Seattle. (If someone out there has data that show otherwise, please share it.) All the hand wringing over something as inconsequential as bikes is car-head, plain and simple. 2) I’m on the downtown city streets biking every day and I honestly don’t see that many incidences of reckless cyclists. Most of us are just trying to stay alive out there. Yes, there are a few crazy bikers out there. Just like there are crazy pedestrians, or crazy accountants. But the car-head myth preaches that this is a city full of lunatic bike messenger wannabees looking for grandmothers to run down. 3) Yes, cars and bikes are both vehicles—both roll on wheels—but that’s where the similarity ends. Why do we so willingly accept this idea that cars and bikes have to follow the same set of rules when they are so drastically different? (Car-head, perhaps?) To me, it’s kind of like saying that the same gun control laws should apply to both AK-47s and squirt guns. Now, to preclude a torrent of comments about how we need a single set of rules to provide predictability on the streets, etc, I’d like to point out that we are now discovering that in dense urban settings, unpredictability (if not chaos) on the streets may be safer. 4.) Is it really “equally important for cyclists to take responsibility for our actions”? Given that cyclists’ actions have about a bazillionth the impact on people and the planet that cars do, well, I dunno, maybe not so much. I find it strange that so many cyclists dwell on this. Maybe it’s just me, but I get the sense that there could be a little bit of car-head somewhere in the back of their minds. Bikers and pedestrians alike should not have the burden of earning the car drivers’ respect. In a healthy society, people don’t go around threatening others with deadly machines. Period.5.) Car-head: Thanks Alan, I love the meme. Tricky business, that. I often get incensed when I see cars downtown running yellows, but then I get in a car and find myself inclined to do the same thing. Seems we’re up against something pretty fundamental to human nature. I think that what it comes down to is humans did not evolve with the capacity to safely deal with powerful machines. We’re inconsistent and illogical. We forget, we daydream. We get intoxicated with the power of machines, and forget that we’re human.

  16. Alan Durning says:

    Go, Dan, go!

  17. Charlie says:

    Dan,I’m not a car head and my comments don’t come from being so. I am a regular bike rider and pedestrian and a sometimes driver. I know that we all share the streets and that, in fact, bikes can and do cause damage and injury. (Ever been hit by a moving bike?) We may be against the concept of cars and bikes being treated as the same thing on city streets, but the fact of the matter is that, legally, they are. That needs to change, but until it does, we have a set of rules that should be followed. Just as Alan is asking—maybe even demanding—in his original post that drivers who park in the bike lane and such are punished according to the law and not given a pass by cops or bikers, we should be requiring ourselves and fellow riders to also obey the law. Why do we, in your mind, get a pass? Because we’re human powered? Because we don’t emit greenhouse gases? That’s not the way our society works and simply breaking the law because we don’t agree with it is not an effective form of protest. There are ways to commit civil disobedience and it can be an effective tool, but your desire for riders to take all the liberties they want is not civil. It’s just disobedient. I think, if we want the respect of drivers, we have to deserve it and being respected on the road, whether in a car or a bike, means following applicable laws until they are changed.You are right that “Bikers and pedestrians alike should not have the burden of earning the car drivers’ respect.” But c’mon, the fact of the matter is that we do have to earn that respect. We are not going to just get it because we, by definition, deserve it or even by simply asking for it. Gaining that respect is my main concern because with it, drivers will finally stop doing things that endanger my life. I can’t think of a better way to earn their respect than to do what they expect us to do (ie: obey the laws as written until they change). Heck, maybe even doing so is an effective form of protest since we know that it’s not always in the best interest of traffic to follow every law, no?I’m all for civil disobedience and will be happy to join you at Critical Mass this week if you want. But does rolling through every stop sign you come to make a point, or get you home quicker?We live in a society and should act as responsible members of it. That’s all I am saying. Is that car headed?

  18. Dan says:

    Until cars become about 5000 lbs lighter and drivers become smarter, less distracted, less likely to talk on the phone, less aggressive, less agitated, and less aggressive, I’ll wear bright yellow, act like I own the road, act extremely confident, assume every car will crush me, not blow stop signs, wave thank you often, tell cars what I’m doing, and act like I deserve respect and earned the tiny slice of the road that some a-hole driving a 2-ton+ steel weapon deigns to give the bike that delayed them 2 whole seconds. Oh, look: Dan S’ hot button got pushed again. Let me also say that Seattle was WAAAAY better to ride in than Sacto. I had as many conflicts in Seattle in 4+ years as I had in a typical month in Sacramento. Danny, I’ll be in WA in mid-July and I’ll buy you a drink as apology for disagreeing…

  19. Dan says:

    Did I emphasize drivers becoming less aggressive?

  20. MichelleV.P. says:

    Uh, yes Dano, I think you probably did ;-)Here’s a thought on preventing any potential “bike-head” pile-ups: When stopping for pedestrians(PDF), it might be a good idea to “announce” your intention to stop, by using the proper hand signal. And, here’s a great website for preventing car-head collisions, too.

  21. dan bertolet says:

    Getting a little off topic here, but Charlie, I have to ask: Have you ever jaywalked? Smoked pot? Walked through a Seattle Park after 11:30pm? Perhaps you are a saint (like Alan!) and never ever do things like that, but I doubt it. When laws are stupid, people break them. Here’s what I do on my bike that’s illegal: split lanes of stopped traffic, roll through stop signs without stopping completely, and run red lights after stopping when no one is coming on the cross street. Golly Beaver! I do it because I believe it causes no harm, gets me home quicker, and does, in fact, reduce my risk in some cases. It has nothing to do with protest. I just don’t buy the argument that “respect” from drivers is going to make me any safer as a cyclist. Most people already have respect for human life and would rather avoid mangling a biker with their car. What really matters is awareness. Like the person this morning who took a right turn across the Pine St. bike lane right in front of me without using a turn signal. I believe that driver was simply unaware. Respect has nothing to do with it. If I’m wrong, and this driver was messing with me intentionally because maybe he/she saw me roll through a stop sign, well, I say that driver is a sociopath should not be allowed to drive a car. Q: Why are we willing to accept that we should have to earn the respect of sociopaths? A: Car-head.Hey there DanS. Go with the yellow: it raises awareness. Maybe over that drink you can teach me how to look more confident. I hope you don’t tell me I have to start wearing those silly tights and clingy nylon shirts covered with logos.

  22. Rich says:

    All the comments here reveal this is an emotionally charged issue, I feel as strongly about vehicular cycling as many. I admit I love bike commuting and get caught up in all the details and can occasionally go on anti-car rants like those above. But is bike-head that much better than car-head? The concept in “The Car and the City” is access to goods and services by proximity not travel(whether by car or bike). Proximity does seem to be the most sustainable goal though I wonder if we really want it? My experience is that people have a love/hate relationship with their commutes but would actually miss them if their needs were met by proximity. Traffic, directions, road conditions, these topics, like the weather, make almost universal small-talk conversations.

  23. Charlie says:

    Hey Dan,You’re right, I’ve broken the law and done all the things you mention above. I’m not an angel and I’m not perfect on my bike either. I also roll through stop signs and the like…. The examples in my post above were in the context of trying to change the attitude of drivers toward bikers and the work needed to shift the region away from car-headed thinking. So in fact you make a good point. Real life is very different from this idyllic Web chatter about changing car-headed thinking…BUTIf we’re going to make an impact and level the playing field, we should not be syaing in the context of this discussion that bike riders should allow themselves to do what they want because as users of the streets, we have responsibilities to live up to. Saying anything else is at cross purposes to what I have seen as the problem between bike riders and drivers: namely, drivers think we’re pompous and full of ourselves which creates resentment.As far as your comments about earning respect making us safer, you brought up the fac that that we shouldn’t need to earn respect and implied that we should just get it. Maybe I misunderstood you and took an implication where there was none but I, in fact, do think that gaining drivers’ respect will help us.Remember the dust up last year between King County Deputies and a couple of Critical Mass riders in Seattle where the Deputies physically assaulted the riders? I witnessed the whole event and acted as the riders’ press coordinator. During that time, I heard tons of vitriol coming from the general public toward bike riders. Most of it was based in a lack of respect toward us because of a perception that we think we’re better than them.We *may* think we’re better than them because we’re not a 2 ton mass of metal powered by an internal combustion engine. But when has acting like you’re better than someone gotten you anywhere?Riders, IMHO, need the respect of drivers to increase our safety on the streets. I think, in terms of this discussion and effort to change car-headed thinking, part of getting that is taking responsibility for our actions as we demand drivers take responsibility for theirs.

  24. Dan says:

    Rereading my comment, I find it frustrating that people couldn’t read my mind from my words, or figure out my intent from things I left out. Well, that’s how it is on the road—people don’t always tell us what they are going to do (if they in fact know themselves). My point was (and is) that if I don’t make myself clear, convincing, and predictable, I have less of a chance in a space shared (well, not shared, maybe occupied or besieged) by 5000# vehicles that will crush me. And some vehicles are driven by people who resent the fact that I delayed them by 2 seconds from reaching that red light. Therefore, I act like I have every right to be on the road (I AM traffic), and I make myself visible and obey all the rules, as I expect cars to obey the rules too. I’m ding-dang sure I’m going to sue them if they break them and hit me, so I expect them to do the same—and no way I’m going to be to blame for scratching their vehicle with my helmet.That’s about all I said. Ranted. Inveighed.

  25. dan bertolet says:

    A few comments on Charlie’s latest: Exactly who is it that is claiming bikers should be able to do whatever they want on the streets and have no responsibility for their actions? Nobody, that’s who, but it sure makes a good car-head straw man argument. As I wrote before, I do believe it’s more important for car drivers to take responsibility for their actions, because their actions have far more potential to harm others. But that doesn’t mean I support bicycle anarchy (e.g. Critical Mass!). And so now on to the next big, big problem with cyclists: their holier-than-thou attitude makes drivers feel resentful. Well, shux. No doubt there are some overly righteous cyclists out there, but in my experience, most are pretty low-key about it all. I can’t help thinking that the pompous cyclist problem is just another car-head myth, and that resentful car drivers are doing what we might call “projecting.” Sorry, but I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to appease irrational resentment. And this leads me back to what seems to be the underlying assumption in all this: that if drivers feel resentful toward bikers, then they are justified to drive in a way that puts bikers at risk. But that’s like claiming that if I was annoyed by a vegetarian at Madison Market blathering away about how morally superior he is, then I would be justified in holding a loaded gun to his head. Of course, if I did that, my gun would be taken away and I’d be in big trouble. Car-head is the reason why we don’t treat reckless car drivers the same way.If I might preach to the choir for a moment, the undeniable fact is that bikers are doing car drivers a favor when they ride instead of drive. This is not car bashing, just truth telling. But instead of thanks, bikers get resentment and vitriol. I refuse to accept that cyclists should bear the burden of curing this completely fugged attitude. If every single bike rider obeyed every single law, it wouldn’t change a thing. Because the problem is car-head.

  26. Chris Santos says:

    Having grown up in Europe, I rode my bike everywhere. I teach at a Seattle suburban “walking” school, and many kids get driven the mile or two by their parents. If we changed our mindset and city-planning, then maybe so many kids (and adults) wouldn’t be overweight. Cars lead to less exercise. Also, cyclists and drivers are both responsible for their actions on the road. Period. It’s called personal and collective resposibility.

  27. Jonathan Shakes says:

    Although the law in Washington gives pedestrians right-of-way at crosswalks, it’s a different story when people walk along the road. According to RCW 46.61.250, “Where sidewalks are not provided any pedestrian walking or otherwise moving along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk or move only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the opposite direction and upon meeting an oncoming vehicle shall move clear of the roadway.” Car-head: it’s the law.

  28. Alan Durning says:

    Jonathan Shakes,Great catch. It’s right there in the RCW.

  29. Sierra says:

    Car-head. Indeed. Yesterday my company was celebrating milestones which included everybody listing their acquisitions of new cars! I have been carless for more than three years now using Flexcar, bus and walking. I recently started commuting by bike and find it so exciting not to mention the fact that my contribution to our environmental and political crisis is going down, down, down as days pass.I raised my hand after my counterpart in the design section announced his new Beamer and said, Hey I just got a new bike! To which my boss replied, sneering slightly, that doesn’t count. Seriously.Yesterday, the mayor’s office announced a new City initiative to support the expectation that by 2010 Seattle will be 20 percent immigrants or foreign born. I currently work in as office full of upwardly mobile immigrants in Seattle. How can the sustainable movement reach out to them? They see all this junk as the PRIZE.Riding home last night, the gap in values between myself and my coworkers was on my mind. It’s not just in China that people expect to pollute as much as they want in their rise to the top. It’s here too.

  30. Alan Durning says:

    A small addendum:Watch a great little video about crosswalk law enforcement in Portland on this fun short.

  31. payton says:

    A little fight over enforcement of bike-crash laws (namely, right/left hook and dooring) here in Chicago brought to mind a good example of car-head: a friend’s wife opened her car door one day, only to have it blown away by a passing dump truck. Now, no one would argue who should pay for that smashed door. On the other hand, I once hit a car door and wrecked a fork; the driver first asserted that damage was my fault and only changed her tune after her insurer set her straight.One cannot understate how much more dangerous cars are than bicycles, as makes sense for a vehicle with 200X the weight and 500X the horsepower. Indeed, cars kill more Americans each year than guns; beds kill more Americans each year than bicycles. That danger differential is, in fact, why we have traffic laws in the first place. The stop sign was invented only in 1915—and in Detroit, no less. The entire 1890s bicycle craze had passed by that point, and for decades urban streets had been happily and safely shared by pedestrians, cyclists, horses, and whatnot. Traffic regulations only became necessary once Model As began choking the streets, since cars’ size and speed makes them nearly incapable of civilly sharing the road.

  32. online casinos says:

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  33. Ellen says:

    Want to see that crosswalk work like a stop sign for pedestrians? Go to North Conway Village NH – it’s fascinating.

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