To the editor:
In the past month, two of my colleagues were knocked off their bicycles by cars here on Bainbridge Island.
In both cases the riders were not injured, nor were their bikes damaged. In both cases, witnesses reported that the bicyclists were following the rules of the road and were clearly visible.
Why are these incidents happening? As I was drafting this letter, yet a third incident occurred with a driver scaring a rider, and even provided offensive hand gestures. I don’t get it. Why are these incidents happening, and are they growing in number?
Let me claim right up front that not all car drivers are jerks, and not all bicycle riders are courteous. Nor the other way around. We’re all people who often have other things on our minds.
As someone who commutes 12 miles a day — all “on Island”— on a bike, driving a car or riding a Kitsap Transit bus, I have some perspective when I say nearly all motorists, cyclists and transit users are pretty accommodating of people using different forms of transportation. Thankfully, we don’t hear of bike-car incidents as much as we do the more common car-car collisions.
So what can we do to co-exist and make those signs that say “Bainbridge Shares the Road” actually be truthful?
If one is inclined to do some looking, there are dozens of sites on the web that explain how to ride defensively and legally. They explain how drivers miss seeing bicyclists. One of my favorite sites is at http://bit.ly/bicivility (It refers to a Florida law at one point, but it’s a minor point.) I’d encourage everyone to take a look at some of these sites to try to get the other person’s perspective. One site goes to far as to suggest that if you want to be a better driver, ride a bike! But that’s not realistic.
So what can we do?
First, we can acknowledge that we all have a stake in this. Looking to our commonalities helps solidify this notion. Our obvious shared interest is that we all love Bainbridge. We love this place because of the people and its proximity to both urban and out-of-doors activities. We should all be invested in building a culture of civility that extends to the ways we move around town.
Second, we can change our language. Instead of labeling cyclists or drivers, let’s talk about people – people on foot, people on bikes and people in cars. The reality is that almost everyone drives a car, many of us ride a bike, and most of us walk a bit every day. Descriptors that put us in separate camps don’t help us address the real issues. Let us not use language that creates the assumption that we have nothing in common - it’s the opposite that is most true.
Third, we can create positive peer pressure for safety and civility by working together to do the simple things that matter. Here’s what I suggest:
You can own it. Own your behavior in your car and on your bike and demonstrate the courtesies and safe biking and driving habits you want to see.
You can do what your mom taught you. Smile. Say hello. Be friendly. Try not to judge based on your first impression and be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.
You can shift away from “us vs. them” thinking. If you rode a bike this past year, then you too, are a member of the bike community. If you drove a car then you can call yourself a motorist. Does any part of your week involve walking? You get the picture.
You can keep it safe and simple. Bike and drive safely, and ask others to also. Don’t lecture or antagonize. If the conversation isn’t going well, say “Have a great day!” and move on.
You can change your story. You know that one story you always tell when biking and driving comes up in conversation? The one about the person who did you wrong? It’s time to replace it with some observations you have about the people you see doing Bainbridge proud every day.