back in the early and mid 90s i lived in madison, wi, and worked here (selling, not wrenching, so don’t come askin’ me about tuneups), and bob mionske was a local cycling hero. he’d come into the shop for stuff or bike talk, and i was always impressed that he seemed so down-to-earth, so unassuming for one of the nation’s top domestic racers. former us national champion, two-time olympian, and all-around kickass pro in the 80s and early 90s, bob has gained even more renown in his second career as a cycling advocate and attorney. he writes a weekly column on velonews.com that covers the often violent and frequently hostile intersection of cycling and the law. his archives are worth checking out, if only to get your bile up.
this week he’s got an interesting and sobering column (h/t cincinnati bicycle commuters) that effectively contrasts two different municipal government responses (portland, or & london, england) to fatal truck-cyclist accidents. bottom line: even a progressive american cycling city like portland seeks to correct the behavior of cyclists rather than motorists. i think this is fascinating, because by all accounts portland is committed to being a flagship cycling city; and they’re making an earnest attempt to address a real problem on the roads and make them safer for cyclists. but the preference for cars in this culture is so deeply rooted that their approach points to making cyclists aware of what it’s like for truckers, and not vice-versa.
look, most cyclists also drive. we get frustrated at the actions of other drivers (and yes, cyclists), we see the roads, if not from the perspective of a truck, then from the perspective of an enclosed four-wheeled vehicle with lots of power (relative to a human-powered vehicle), and we’re aware of things like the blind spot and turning radius. but few drivers bike, and even fewer bike on roads. if anyone needs to ride a mile in the other guys’ shoes, it’s drivers.
or perhaps that’s too harsh, too confrontational, too rooted in those close calls through o’bryonville where a driver thought he could just squeeze through, not recognizing that squeezing through put his rearview mirror an inch from my shoulder. perhaps what i mean is this: wanting drivers to understand what it’s like is all well and good, but until there’s a broader cultural acceptance of cyclists on the road — through improved resources, funding, legal backing, and simple physical road space dedicated to safe passage — drivers won’t care to understand because in their eyes, we don’t belong there.