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Can Cyclists and Drivers Share the Road?

Op-Heads: a virtual chat on the issues that matter

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Click above to watch a clip of Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Aaron Manders (SAR’07,’09) discussing bike safety. Click here to watch the full version.

Since the city of Boston installed a mile-long bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue this summer, more and more people are taking to BU’s streets on two wheels. But increased bicycle traffic has led to more accidents on and near the BU campus — several involving students. We asked bicycle commuters Catherine Caldwell-Harris, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of psychology, and Aaron Manders (SAR’07,’09) whether cyclists and motorists can safely share the road.

Got an issue to debate? E-mail today@bu.edu with “Op-Heads” in the subject line.

Nathaniel Boyle can be reached at nboyle@bu.edu. Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

26 Comments

26 Comments on Can Cyclists and Drivers Share the Road?

  • Patrick Michaelan on 10.20.2008 at 7:31 am

    Interesting diversity of opinion.

    I just listened to the clip and I have to admit I am somewhere in the middle of the debate. It is difficult to have such a conversation after recently getting off your bike (after a run through the city) without experiencing some frustration with motorists. I’m sure the same can be said for motorists.

    In the end it’s always been a question of empathy and understanding for me. I began biking (seriously) about a year ago when living in Miami, FL. At first I was acting like a rebel on two wheels, overwhelmed with my new-found “freedom.” I came to realize rather quickly that I was “competing” with already stressed motorists, during rush hour commutes. The empathy for me flowed almost immediately towards the “plight of bikers” simply because of the danger they faced.

    Over time I have metered my feelings, but I must admit that I still see the stressed-out motorist as someone who is stuck in such a position for the forseeable future. I simply do not want to add to their stress levels, and thus the only real solution is a city-wide system of bike lanes (as in Philadelphia). Also, in Philly, there is now a relatively entrenched bike culture, which most drivers have come to live with (and respect in some cases). City streets will continue to be congested (and will probably increase in congestion in the forseeable future) and this should be looked at with great care by city planners and motorists alike.

    The solutions in my opinion are two-fold: bikers must learn to take their duties while on the road seriously (we are not “rebels of the road”), while motorists MUST come to terms with the fact that their already stressed commutes are a continuing, and often worsening, trend and the only real avenue for change is to embrace a public transportation (and to a lesser degree, because of commuting distances) and cycling culture. The latter solution will not be easy but it will have to be followed to some degree if motorists truly care about the quality of thier lives — getting places “quickly” is not a quality of life factor, but getting around with more ease and comfort is.

  • Hans on 10.20.2008 at 8:28 am

    Can Cyclists and Drivers Share the Road?

    They’d better learn to. Some bicyclists are courteous and considerate. Many of those who are not, ride on sidewalks and treat pedestrians as obstacles. Many ride fast and recklessly, concerned more about their “right” to be somewhere fast than about the rights of pedestrians to not be injured or killed. Of those who do ride in the street, some go through red lights and pedestrian-filled cross walks, or don’t use hand signals. (Yes, I know, pedestrians and motorists have their faults too – we all need to do better.)

    Last week I saw a man fall off his bike in front of the G.S.U. He was riding across the brick plaza, swerving around people, and lost his balance, nearly missing someone as he fell. Having had many near misses with dopes on bicycles, I must admit that I smiled a little. To bikers: ride in bike lanes and in the streets where you belong, and follow the rules of the road. If you must be in pedestrian areas, get off and walk your bike. Remember that that pedestrian up ahead whom you intend to pass quickly from behind at a distance of 6 inches could unknowingly step into your path. Your possible fear of riding in the street with traffic does not justify your endangering those who walk.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 8:52 am

    can't stand cyclists!!!!!!

    In the 3 years I’ve been driving, I’ve had many close encounters with cyclists, every time because they decided to ride right in the middle of the road where I should be driving. If you want to stay safe as a cyclist, don’t ride where the cars should be!!! Stay in your little bicycle lane. And stop thinking you guys are special cases and that traffic lights and signs don’t apply to you! I keep thinking about this one time I was making a left from Arlington onto Beacon St.. as I made the left this young bicyclist zoning out on her headphones totally cut me off right in front of me so i slammed my brakes and swerved to not hit her and honked my horn reallyyy loud twice. While stopped at the next light, another unrelated cyclist rode up to me and completely bitched me out about honking my horn at the girl!! Are you serious?????? Get off your high horses and realize that you’re riding around in a stupid 50lb piece of scrap metal and I’m driving in a 2000-lb CAR. If you don’t respect the car and drive with EXTREME caution, then there will always be accidents on the road.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 9:19 am

    Stopping on a bike is painful on a red light? Motorists don’t understand? You hear that sound behind my left ear when I’m driving? That’s money, exploding. It’s painful to waste gas too, but it’s more painful the cyclist to dive in front of me when I’m making a right turn on green.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 9:29 am

    Perhaps just having these bike lanes may not be enough. I remember seeing guard rails in china to prevent bicyclists from crossing over to the car lane and underground tunnels that allow pedestrians to cross the street. Perhaps a similar system might help with this problem.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 10:17 am

    Bikers need to take the T...

    It is completely unfair to compare motorcycles to bicycles, as Mr. Manders does in his argument above. When taking Drivers’ Ed. here in MA, we are taught to also “look twice” for motorcycles as where there is one, there is usually another. In addition, since they have motors, motorcycles and street bikes are able to dart quickly between lanes and “looking twice” helps to prevent an accident between cars and motorcycles. In addition to the large visual cues to tell us drivers that motorcycles are around (MUCH larger than a thin person on a thin bike), they also have loud exhausts which are used as a defensive mechanism to also show drivers where they are on the road.

    To all bikers – if you are so terribly worried about your carbon footprint, please just take the T AND if you are looking to fulfill your cardio requirement for the day, please just join a gym like the rest of us.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 10:18 am

    bike v car

    You both made wonderful points, but I also think that the bad bikers and the angry drivers might be MORE (not completely, sadly) the exception than the rule. I, like Catherine, have been riding in Boston for a long time. I also don’t stop at every light and there are certain points in my route coming home from work, that I’m on the sidewalk for about 30 feet. When I approach a light, I look and analyze and don’t take stupid chances. When on the sidewalk, I bike ridiculously slolwy, make eye contact, tell them you’re coming by. I’ve found that most of the people who get angry are 1) startled and 2) maybe a bit cranky by nature! If you smile and communicate, even apologize for scaring them, it can help. In the end, we need to be super vigilant, courteous and thoughtful to both motorists and pedestrians. Maybe they’re just jealous that we’re having so much fun! And maybe I’ve just been lucky, but in the 25 or so years I’ve been riding in Boston traffic, I’ve never been hit or doored and I tend to think it’s because I’m more careful. Those of you who insist on riding really fast in the city and not communicating verbally and making eye contact with drivers, you’re likely to get hurt. If you ride w/ earphones on, you’re really taking your life in your hands. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to ride a bike every day, don’t screw it up, eh?

  • Brian on 10.20.2008 at 10:20 am

    Red Lights - Can Cyclists and Drivers Share the Road?

    As a cyclist, every day to work, you both missed one issue issue of the red lights, sure there is the momentum issue but there is also a safety issue. When you go through the light you are out of sync with the cars and by yourself, this reduces the chances for the dreaded right cross and all sorts of other car mistakes. I run reds because I feel safer doing so, no law changes will be able to change that, only road improvements…

    Thanks for the great discussion.

    Brian

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 10:28 am

    Courtesy, Please!

    Cyclists are not solely to blame. There are several bad drivers out there as well, and unthoughtful pedestrians, too. I express frustration at all three groups equally. If everyone – cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists – would focus on following the rules of the road, everyone would have an easier, more relaxed commute. Cutting someone off, racing through a red light, speeding down Comm Ave, swerving around pedestrians on the sidewalk, walking in front of a driver who has a green light…none of these things will save you more than a few seconds of travel time. Why take the risk of hurting yourself or, worse yet, others? And, please quit swearing at each other. I doubt your mother would like to know that your last words were, “F-You.” Courtesy, please! On a related note, how can the city of Boston require that cyclists ride on the road without also requiring them to wear helmets. Bizarre, no?!

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 10:30 am

    Re: can't stand cyclists!!!!!!

    Hmm, your 2000 lb car that guzzles gas imported from “countries that don’t like us very much”, clogs our roads, pollutes the air, and makes all the noise pollution one can possible make.

    I can’t stand cars, for the same reasons you suggest, cyclists are allowed and encourages to take the lane especially when they feel unsafe, and guess what drivers that honk make you feel unsafe and more likely to take the lane. Have a read through http://www.cityofboston.gov/bikes/ which is the city’s official bike position, laws, an suggestions.

    Another fantastic reason to cycle is that anger you display just goes away as you enjoy the breeze in your hair and riding past all the traffic (which is also allowed by law) making the whole commute a joy instead of a chore, that is until someone honks at you…

  • Don--carless for 3 years on 10.20.2008 at 10:44 am

    Hostile car drivers

    The first comment represents complete ignorance. Cyclists have full legal right to the whole road. We should ride to the right IF it’s safe to do so. We should claim the whole lane when it would be unsafe for a car to pass us.

    As Aaron says, we sometimes must take the lane because the road surface is dangerous. Cars don’t feel the impact of potholes, glass, and other debris which can catapult us from our bikes, puncture our tires, or put us in the path of car doors and people turning out from side streets.

  • Jack Gutbrod on 10.20.2008 at 11:39 am

    Bikes vs Cars

    I am insulted by the majority of comments here. This weekend I was doored by a pick up truck while travleing from West Campus to South Campus. There is no bike lane in West Campus. I was to the right of the lane where I should have been. I was not wearing headphones. I was wearing a helmet. I was not traveling excessively fast because there was another cyclist in front of me that limited my speed. I still was involved in an accident because a careless motorist with his 2000lb pick up truck swung open his door ALL OF THE WAY on Commonwealth avenue.

    At the end of the day a cyclist has MUCH more to lose than an automobile because of careless and reckless behavior because they are more vulnerable.

    To all the motorists who complain at bikers realize that it is ridiculous for you to complain abouty your personal safety from inside of your essentially ARMORED vehicle.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 11:57 am

    “If you want to stay safe as a cyclist, don’t ride where the cars should be!!! Stay in your little bicycle lane.”

    As long as drivers think they own the roads, they’ll never be able to share. Cars turn people into jerks, it’s like magic. It’s something about the totally dehumanizing effect of the road, but it’s really terrifyingly easy to get road rage. And in exchange for this road rage, there’s more congestion, there’s more pollution, there’s more noise, there’s more anger, there’s more death. 44% of all accidental deaths in this country involve a car – and that doesn’t even include incidents of vehicular homicide as a result of road rage. Think about all the sacrifices we’ve made just so that we can get where we’re going more “quickly” and “comfortably”.

    And on the other side of the coin you have bicycles, which are quiet, clean, small, safe, and actually make people happy when they ride them. Think of the resources that are devoted to cars as opposed to bikes, and at every level of society. How many gas stations versus how many bike shops? How many roads just for cars versus how many roads just for bikes? How many lobbyists for motorists versus lobbyists for cyclists?

    Cars are great for special occasions and emergencies, but I think we can all agree that their overuse is to the detriment of society. The real question, then, is what is overuse of cars? Think about how cars have transformed the way you think and the way you behave and the way you live, and then answer that question truthfully.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 12:59 pm

    As both a driver and bike commuter in Boston, I try to understand both sides. I, agree, that bikers can do foolish and senseless things that could cost them big (and they shouldn’t). But much more often I feel that drivers are just incredibly annoyed and unjustly impatient. Motorists seem simply angered that they have to share the road with cyclists, and that we may hold them up for even a few seconds. Please be patient with us; I don’t like holding up anyone’s commute, either! In the case where drivers are actually upset about bikers’ going through red lights, I don’t believe that their emotions stem from the “lawbreaking” I think it comes from their jealousy that they can’t do the same thing! Honestly, if a pedestrian can safely cross the road when the “Stop” signal is up, I think it’s fine for a biker to do the same. As cyclists, we just all have to make sure that we stay safe and ONLY do it when no one is coming.
    One other issue brought up on the tape, is that I am glad everyone motorists are so “stressed” about our safety. I just ask, again, that they please be patient and remember that they can certainly do more damage to our bodies than we can to them. Although unlikely, I am always concerned that I may someday get hurt at the hands of a driver.
    Lastly, in response to the person who said bikers should ride the T and go to the gym – get a life. Or at least think intelligently. My energy is much more sustainable than the fuel used by the T. And, in the winter, when I do ride the T, I don’t exactly enjoy watching full trains pass by, or getting smushed in with the million other people trying to use our metro system. Thanks for the suggestion, though.

  • Bikes at BU - Student Club on 10.20.2008 at 3:22 pm

    Great comments, it’s good to generate this discussion. Bikes, Cars, and Pedestrians need to know their rights and responsibilities, and we all need to be as safe as we can be to minimize the danger. And we all agree, it’s dangerous out there (even deadly). What will go a long way to help is education and tolerance, on all sides.

    We started a new student organization at BU to address these issues (and promote smart, safe, fun bike culture). Please feel free to keep the discussion going by joining our club, BU Bikes. bikes@bu.edu , or look us up on the Facebook.

    It’s going to be a long battle to shift the mentality of our culture, but it will undoubtedly have to happen. We must all know how to share the road.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 3:45 pm

    Bikers need to obey the LAWS. Going through a red light in a car is equally illegal as on a bike. You can disagree, but it is a LAW. If you want the same rights to the road as a motorist, then you must follow the same rules. No double standards. Stop at red lights, stop signs, and cross-walks.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 6:00 pm

    The main problem

    Stay out of the road unless you can go the speed limit. I have no problem with you running red lights as long as you don’t put yourself in front of my car. I am one of the rare drivers in Boston who actually uses turn signals, so if my right blinker is on riding along the right side of my car will get you killed. I think the main problem is the lack of education for bikers. Just because anyone can buy a bike does not mean you a equipped to ride it in the city. This isn’t a country lane for you to take a leisurely ride, this is a city with people getting from point A to B in a timely manner. You are surrounded by things that could kill you in a heart beat so ride accordingly, you do not have the right of way just because you can fit your bike in there. Lastly, please if you are riding at night make sure your huffy has some reflectors at minimum, get a white helmet light and a blinking red on to go on your back/messenger bag. The drivers of this city don’t want to hit you, but you aren’t making it easy. (To all you good bikers out there I have no problems with you, it is just like the bad drivers that give everyone a bad name, and there are a lot in this city, it is the bad bikers giving you guys a bad name). And to all you “cool” kids riding your fixed geared bikes with no brakes and no helmets, well I have no pity for you.

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 7:00 pm

    Make sure u know what u're doin

    Car vs. Bike? car will always win. So it’s bikers jobs to watch out for themselves. Take the precautions they need to take. To us bikers..cars are just another one of the millions of objects in our way. Sure we break the laws..but cars break the planet. Believe me if there were bike exclusive lanes..we’d take em. The same goes for pedestrians too. We dont yell at people for j walking. We make judgments for ourselves. I agree accidents are bad..but usually accidents occur because somebody was being a moron. So make sure you’re not a moron if u decide to hop on a bike in boston…i guess?

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 8:43 pm

    MA drivers need to use blinkers for other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Predictable Cyclist on 10.21.2008 at 12:17 am

    Prof Caldwell-Harris: WEAK MUSCLE = YOU CAN BREAK THE LAW?

    As a law abiding cyclist who commutes everyday on the road, I’m VERY disappointed by Professor Caldwell-Harris’ remarks: She implies that it is physically hard for a cyclist to lose his/her momentum, and thus the behavior of running through red light is justifiable. Sorry if this sound harsh, but THE WEAKNESS OF ONE’S MUSCLE OR GEAR-MANAGING TECHNIQUE DOESN’T JUSTIFY ONE TO BREAK THE LAW.

    As a law abiding cyclist, I found myself being respect all the time by the local motorist (and was first quite surprise for that). In fact, in the last 4000 miles of bike commute, my ONLY accident was caused by a law-disobeying cyclist who rear-ended me when attempting to squeeze pass me on the right.
    By breaking the law constantly, YOU are making yourself a second class citizen on the roads.

    I sincerely hope that Professor Caldwell-Harris can take the initiative to encourage motorist to share the road by obeying the law, instead of giving biased justification of law-breaking unpredictable behaviors.

  • Anonymous on 10.21.2008 at 11:43 am

    Three years ago I moved from leisure biker to bike commuter after taking the course Biking 101 offered by MASSBIKE. In that course I learned to stay to the right of the road, obey traffic signs, and use hand signals. I currently bike about 50% of the time. When I drive I am aware of how drivers generally know the rules of the road and follow them. In the MASSBIKE course it was pointed out that most bikers are still biking with the knowledge they had as 8 year olds! People who use their bikes to commute need to invest in lights (front and back), helmets (for sure), bike bells to alert people that you are near them, and need to use hand signals and stop weaving in and out of traffic. As a biker, I get really irritated when I see irresponsible bike behavior!

  • Anonymous on 10.21.2008 at 1:04 pm

    bikers can't have it both ways

    totally agree with the last dude.. can i say my car’s got a broken brake so I can rush the reds? what kind of logic is that? bikers can’t have it both ways, demanding respect from the drivers like they are real vehicles, and then switch into a pedestrian with big wheels at intersections demanding full right of way. I see you rush a red, and i’ll honk at you all i want as if you are just another jaywalking pedestrian!

  • lourey on 10.22.2008 at 9:04 pm

    Bike lanes

    First, it is prohibited for me, a biker, to ride on the sidewalk. Since it is physically impossible under the best conditions for me to pedal 45 mph, I am afraid that I will be in the road even though I can’t go the speed limit. It’s a LIMIT, cars, not a minimum.
    Next, I don’t like the comments about how bike lanes solve everything. They are not wide enough for bikes to pass each other, and they are close enough to the curb that we run the risk of being doored. Worst part is, though, that during high-traffic times, left turns from the bike lane (or getting into the left lane) impossible. Especially since, given the lane, drivers expect you to never stray from it!

  • Anonymous on 10.25.2008 at 12:34 pm

    Bike lane on Comm Ave Mistaken as Right Turn Lane

    This garbage so-called bicycle lane on Comm Ave doesn’t even have a single image of a bike painted on it. How do the motorist know that it is a bicycle lane??

    A Scenario Today: A SUV motorist mistaken the Bicycle Lane at Outbound Storrow Drive Entrance as a right turning lane.
    The motorist drove his van into the 5ft wide bicycle lane and started honking at a cyclist who was waiting for the red light.
    Motorist (M): “Move over onto the sidewalk!”
    Cyclist pointed to the arrow on the ground: this is a bicycle lane.
    M: Bicycle should be on the sidewalk! Move over, I need to make a right turn!
    C: This is a bike lane!
    Motorist started Honking excessively for 5 second, and started rolling his vehicle toward the stopped cyclist.

    Please, City of Boston, PLEASE, just some white paint and a bike-outline-mold can easily solve this problem!

  • Prof Caldwell-Harris on 10.26.2008 at 12:13 pm

    The privilege of getting to bike to work

    Much had to be deleted from my chat with Aaron. We both touched on the joys of riding: the sheer beauty of the scenery in Boston, autumn more than ever — you don’t have to hike out to the country side, its right there on the side streets, people’s beautiful gardens and of course the amazing New England trees.

    Can it be as glorious by car?

  • LADouglas on 11.12.2008 at 6:10 am

    Can Cyclists and Drivers Share the Road?

    First the person who wrote “The main problem”, has no clue. Most people are not commuting to work on a huffy. My bike cost about half of what a small car cost an more then the value of the average car on the road. Two if your on a bike and in the bike lane you have the right-of-way of that LANE. CA drivers have gone to jail for hitting bikers in the bike lane. I had a friend who was hit by someone turning right. Not badly hurt, him, the bike was total. The driver lost his driving rights on the base and had to pay for the bike. I have bike to work in many cities, east coast, west coast, gulfcoast and I have bike in more than 5 countries not counting Canada and Mexico. The U.S. is the only country I have seen that the drivers are so angry about bikers on the road. I have been hit five times, twice by angry drivers and one was in reverse. The last time it almost killed me. Hit and run and the police did file a report, just said that maybe bikes should not be in the road ( I was on a ten foot shoulder). I have stopped commuting to work on my bike, I am tired, after 30 years, of being hassled. I believe that cars and bikers can and do share the road. But there are idiots armed with a ton and half of steel that can swing the vote. but until the law starts treating bikers equaly and more motorist are charged, we will never gain the respect from that 1% that can flatten a biker. I have never read where a motorist was killed by a biker.

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