We need a cease fire in the war between drivers and cyclists


Cylists and drivers may never be best friends, but both sides could try being consistently cordial. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

My colleague Courtland Milloy published a column Tuesday night that puts D.C. cyclists in the worst light.

Cyclists are “nasty.” They have “nerve.” They ride on sidewalks and are “lucky that someone hasn’t put a broomstick through the spokes of their wheels.” Bikers “go the wrong way in a bike lane.” When asked to obey the rules, “a biker just might spit on your car. Kick the door. Hit the side mirrors. Bang on the hood.”

Just how bad are cyclists? “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

Wow.

The column reads like a call to arms and car horns. It is a relentless effort to troll the biking community. Comments are pouring in, blogs are linking to him. He gets an A+ for being a provocative columnist.

But as someone who regularly bikes the city’s streets, and occasionally drives, it’s obvious we don’t need lighter fluid poured on this fire. How about discussing a way for drivers and cyclists to coexist?

The truth is this: No matter the mode of transportation, there are good citizens and bad citizens. Hopping on a bike or getting behind the wheel of a car doesn’t automatically make you a jerk. I’ve seen terrible behavior from motorists and cyclists alike. I’ve also seen great behavior from both sides.

Finding a way to have a civil dialogue would actually be a remarkable innovation. The angst, or “War of The Roses,” runs deep as Ashley Halsey pointed out:

When I write about drunk driving (cause of 10,322 road deaths in 2012), or speeding (9,320 deaths) or distracted driving (3,328 deaths) — a total of 23,070 fatalities caused by driver error — the stories get little or no reader response. Rarely a peep, if that, from anyone.

But virtually any story about people who ride bicycles gets an almost immediate flood of responses like this one last week: “I have NEVER seen a bicycle stop at a red light or obey any traffic law of any kind.”

I’ve written in the past about the merits of bicycles. They don’t pollute. They are affordable and help keep their riders in good shape. When you add in how efficiently they can move us from point A to B in comparison to other forms of transit, it’s obvious to me that cities should encourage cycling.

But today, I don’t really care about that. I’m just asking for a fair, civil dialogue from everyone who shares our roadways. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, we’re stuck with each other. So let’s make it work. Some excellent guidance came from commenter mikecapitolhill, “It all boils down to DONT BE A JERK. No matter what your form of transport is. Why is that so difficult in DC??”

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | July 9