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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


A touchy coexistance

I’ve often noted the strained relationship that motor vehicles and bicycles seem to experience and demonstrate on our roadways.  I’ve also written that I have little hope for a harmonious coexistence between the two.

My skepticism rises from several factors, but I’m essentially hopeless for bliss due to the prevailing attitudes of many of the drivers and riders.  Besides those stubborn states of minds, there is also friction borne of one entity being big and the other small; one being fast and one slow; one being “mighty” and the other vulnerable.

Sadly, when cars began to rule the roads (about 15 years after bicycles became the best alternatives to horses), they essentially displaced bicycles.  I have a turn-of-the-century map that shows a network of bicycle paths and trails throughout our country specifically for the two-wheeled conveyances.  When cars got popular, the bicycle was dropped like a hot potato, and those paths became roads for cars.

In retrospect, if those paths had been left to bicycles, and totally new roads were instead created for cars, conflict would likely have been averted.  But instead, to get anywhere, bikes must now contend with cars and trucks on shared roadways — a situation that causes plenty of problems and restricts many people from even considering bicycles as viable transportation.

Certain communities are actually constructing routes dedicated to bicycle use only.  Not surprisingly, where they exist, those projects have given huge rise to bicycle use.

A recent study by Pemco insurance solidified my fear that there will never be a future where autos and bicycles share the same roads compatibly.

The “bottom line” of Pemco’s polling showed what I’ve always suspected — most drivers gripe about law-breaking bikers, and cyclists worry most about distracted and/or malicious drivers.  That’s certainly not a universal reality, but perception often dictates events more than reality.  The poll showed that the main source of tension for bicyclists are drivers who don’t pay attention to their surroundings, and for drivers, it’s cyclists who dismiss traffic laws that apply to cars and bicycles alike.

As I mentioned, it’s not universal, but prominent enough to be problematic.  According to the poll, though 63 percent of Northwest drivers say they’re comfortable driving alongside cyclists, 56 percent say that cyclists who ride unpredictably cause the biggest problem for drivers on the road.  Again, right or wrong, that’s the perception.

For cyclists, the poll determined 58 percent of them to believe that drivers who don’t pay attention and those who are simply unaware of road-sharing rules pose the biggest threat to those on bikes.

Of course, cyclists are also concerned with drivers who may have more malicious intent, but fewer name it as the biggest problem with drivers.  27 percent of those polled say that deliberate actions from drivers, such as passing too closely or cutting cyclists off, are the primary cause of tensions on the road.

My recent column regarding the advent of spring attempted to remind everyone that commuters of all kinds, namely pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, cars and trucks, emerge in greater numbers at this time of the year.

Regardless of personal perception, it’s the responsibility of those representing all of these forms of locomotion to share the roadways safely.  Each type of transportation has its own unique qualities and limitations.  Accommodating those separate needs when encounters occur is a must, if rage, misperception and mayhem are to be avoided.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at