What Drivers Don’t Understand About Cyclists

Recently, the “cars parking in bike lanes” debate was rekindled in my city, stoked by a piece by Rochester’s WXXI Public Radio that thoroughly addressed the rampant issue of drivers disrespecting the rights of cyclists.

The story was picked up by another news affiliate that, frankly, has a more “general” audience. Of course, I made the age-old mistake of reading the social media comments in response to the story. And while I was used to the ignorant, uninformed and at times outright aggressive slander against cyclists, there was one that seemed to pop up several times that surprised me… the call for bikes to be registered and cyclists to be insured.

Just in case ignorance, lack of legal awareness, rage and victim blaming weren’t enough… now people are actually calling for bikes to pay the same fees as cars.

Normally, I try to take a middle ground on issues like these. I try to realize that changing minds is a slow process. But this… well, this I just have to say might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s talk about registration. In this country, we generally register things like guns and cars, tools that can protect and move us respectfully, but when misused can cause others tremendous harm and death in the blink of an eye. A shooter with a gun can kill dozens in a crowded room. Intentionally or not, even a compact car can be piloted onto a sidewalk, into another vehicle, a home… the potential for injury and loss of life inflicted by these machines can be catastrophic. I emphasize the words “others” and “inflicted” in the previous sentence because these machines don’t just have the ability to harm or kill the user, their misuse can be cause mass amounts of injury and death to others.

Realistically, even at top speeds of 20-25mph (though most bike between 10-12mph) the ability of a cyclist to cause mass injury or death is, in comparison, incredibly slim. Sure, a cyclists could run into a car, but the result would likely be a dented quarter panel and a dead cyclist. The driver of the 2000-4000 pound car will most likely be unscathed by the 18-25 pound bike.

Even if a bike rider wanted to plow into a crowd, the result would be minuscule compared to a car traveling at the same speed. Furthermore, a car could continue moving through a crowd, while a cyclist would eventually fall.

But what about when cyclists do break the law? First of all, many studies show that drivers break the law far more than cyclists. And once again, since cyclists don’t weigh 2000+ pounds, reach high speeds and take up 90 square feet of space, the societal impact of an infraction is far less. In other words, the potential damage that a bike rider may cause if he or she runs a red light pales in comparison to that of an SUV.

OK, enough with the morbidity, let’s talk about infrastructure impact. Generally in this country, we add fees and taxes to goods and services that are A) luxury items and B) cost a great deal of money to accommodate and maintain. And yes, the automobile is a luxury item… just like smartphones, it’s simply one that we as a nation have almost deemed as a necessity. Food, water, shelter… these are true necessities. A car is not… you can survive without a car, not so much the other three.

Now let’s get to “B.” For cars to move like they do today, we have invested an unfathomable amount of taxpayer money into building highway and road infrastructure. In 2014, the U.S. spent $165 billion on highways and roads alone.

Why so much you ask? Because, very simply, cars are very heavy and extremely inefficient. Seventy-six percent of all commutes in the United States are made alone, converting a single passenger into a 1-2 ton rolling boulder. It is literally the least efficient and most costly form of mobility. This is especially true with regard to impact on roads and highways. Our roads and bridges must be built to accommodate our massive and growing vehicles that are typically occupied by one person. Because cars can cause immense damage, we must have amenities like traffic lights to ensure safety. We must construct massive amounts of public parking to accommodate cars.

Furthermore, drivers only pay 51% of what it actually costs to maintain the roads they drive on. And yet, this deficit will only increase as more SUVs take the road, causing more damage to our already crumbling infrastructure that would take trillions of dollars to just to bring back to par.

Sigh. OK, bikes. Bikes, as opposed to cars, are the most efficient mode of transportation. They have almost no infrastructure impact. Imagine a country where, instead of spending trillions of dollars on roads and bridges, we could simply build smaller, FAR less costly bike paths. No traffic signals, and each commuter might take up 10 square feet instead of 50-100.

Then there’s the difference with regard to environmental impact. Cars are the largest CO2 polluter in the country. Bikes are a zero emissions vehicle. The infrastructure we build to accommodate cars seriously infringes upon nature, where bikes, which take up far less space, don’t need such infrastructure.

Want more? Here’s the one I use all the time. When I commute by bike, my impact on the road is 100-200 times less than if I were to drive. But sadly, I pay the same taxes as a driver. You know what I tell drivers? I subsidize you, not the other way around. I pay taxes so you can drive your insanely large vehicle while I ride my low impact, extremely efficient bike. Think about that.

But of course, when you bring this well-researched information to the average driver, he or she will inevitably get defensive and say one of the following.

  • Well if the liberals didn’t take all our money/spend all our money, we’d be able to pay for infrastructure upkeep.
  • I already pay a gas tax that you’re not paying, so I am paying for the roads I drive on. (Psst… we have one of the lowest gas taxes in the world, and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what roads cost!)
  • Cyclists always break the law, they need equal accountability! (Psst… drivers break the law more, and the potential for harm is also much higher)

I could go on forever. I’ve heard it all. Frankly, I’m tired of it. When people start believing that cyclists need to register their vehicles like cars, we need to take the next step in advocacy, which currently is mostly about safety, and talk about why bike riding for transportation is encouraged. Part of the safety of cyclists is establishing legitimacy, and it is my belief that that’s where we are lagging behind.

Take the information here and change it today. We can do it, because we have to.