Frances Bula header image 2

A plea for a cyclist-driver entente

October 1st, 2008 · 9 Comments

I know I’m just asking to be flamed by posting this but I’m going to go ahead anyway and ask if it’s possible for the cyclists in town to not treat car drivers as though they are evil incarnate.

I’m a nice person (except when I’m tired and overworked, but we won’t get into that). I like the idea of more people cycling in this city. I try to watch out for cyclists when I’m driving, letting them go first at the roundabouts, giving them lots of room, trying to be careful about opening my car door, not roaring past them on a narrow street. Many of my friends ride a lot; some have been in terrible accidents, which has made me aware of how vulnerable they are.

But it seems as though about once every two weeks, some cyclist yells at me for my presumed sins. I didn’t see them coming at 40 kilometres towards the intersection and I started moving ahead. I didn’t check before opening my car door, for the first time in weeks, because I came home exhausted and was just focused on getting into the house.  I was on my cellphone while driving. (Oh, please, not the lethal injection!!)

The strange thing about it is, they yell at me even though they are doing just as many dumb things as I am.

One couple who screamed at me hysterically for not giving way to them in an intersection didn’t seem to be aware that, since they were coming from my left, they actually didn’t have the right of way. They’re right. I wasn’t paying attention to them. That’s because I was, in fact, focusing on the car that was coming into the intersection on my right.

I live on a bike route that’s at the bottom of a small slope, so we get a lot of bikes going past at an incredible speed. Not only do they go really fast (I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I am going to find my beloved cat’s mangled body on the street someday) but a surprisingly high number of them go that speed at night, without lights. Occasionally, they are also on cellphones. When I almost got hit by a man one night, because I was crossing the street in front of my house and didn’t hear him coming along in the dark, he yelled at ME because I suggested that he get some lights.

If there is going to be more cyclist commuting in this city, I hope that cyclists can get past the idea that the mere fact of being on a bicycle means that they are virtuous and don’t have to live by normal traffic rules. It would also be great if they could adjust to the idea that no driver is perfect all the time and that it’s not a bad idea to take some precautions — watch the road ahead and give a honk or a wide berth if you see someone pulling into a parking place on a residential street. Oh, and some lights would be nice too.

And I promise to go even slower and to try to rig up some gizmo in my car that will sound a buzzer when I start to open the car door to remind me to check behind. It’s a deal

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  • Sungsu

    As a cyclist, I never ride in the “door zone” unless I’m going slowly enough that I can see and respond to a driver that might open a door.

    As for your driving with a cell phone, if you are getting yelled at, you’re probably doing things wrong that you don’t even notice.

  • annonymous

    I hate to say this, but more enforcement of the law is needed. I have cycled in many countries and although you see cyclists in other cities without lights or helmets (except in Europe for the helmets but they have separate lanes in many cities), I have never seen as many bike without as in Vancouver. On the other hand, I bike here and I have never had people PURPOSELY drive their cars really close to me before, only in Vancouver!

  • Greg Watson

    Well, Frances, I suppose you have a valid point. Sure you do. A lot of riders do indeed carry the same kind of me-first-and-only arrogance that the old fresh air nazis did.

    But even so, your own cell phone while driving admission quite rightly weakens your argument more than I suspect you are willing to comprehend. Especially when only a few paragraphs later you accuse a rider of doing the same thing. Narrative flow notwithstanding: Tsk, tsk.

    Busy people with important things to do, living nifty trendy lifestyles, driving cool stuff, hangin’ with groovy-trendy friends, just do not understand the issue of why using a phone while driving (or riding) is such a plum-dumb idea. But you know, self concern does persist. Even in the best of us.

  • Being both a car driver and a bike rider I would have to say that normally things are fine on the road.

    However, here’s a few things that stand out to me:

    (1) Bike lanes. At UBC it never fails to amaze me when I have to avoid a bus or a car coming up behind me in the bike lane. Or, in front of the new Olympic Ice Rink the hockey moms and dads (with and without lipstick) who park in the bike lane and then -if they notice us biking by- tell us in a variety of expressive manners that it is the bikes who would move, not the vehicles.

    (2) Bike helmets -here I must confess to the occasional sin of not wearing same, nonetheless, I just don’t understand the hairdo biker (i.e. the person, normally female- who rides in a lackadaisical fashion through the streets helmet securely on handlebars . . .

    (3) bike lights – this should be a must. I do’t know how many times that I have been practically knocked off my own bike by another biker riding without lights!

    (4) the speeding car that comes up behind a biker, guns the engine and then speeds past so close as one could touch the car.

    So, there’s a few of my thoughts. I would add that most of the committed bike commuters seem to follow a good sense of the rules of the road. As do most of the regular car commuters. It’s the occasional drivers/bikers, or the ones who have a heightened sense of self-importance that seem to cause most of the problems.

  • I live and ride and drive in East Vancouver, where cycling is now the hippest thing to do. Often without lights or helmets, as that wouldn’t go with the outfits. I can’t help but cringe when I see someone without a helmet streaking down the street, for two reasons: 1) I hope they don’t get doored or clipped, leading to a horrific head injury, and 2) Why should our healthcare system bear the burden of their stupid choice?

  • TM


    You have opened up a very interesting debate. As a cyclist, car driver and pedestrian – often all in one day – I can tell you that when I’m driving the car, I find bikes and walkers annoying, when I’m cycling, cars and peds piss me off and when I’m a pedestrian, NO ONE stops for me and I’m annoyed.

    It seems as though people – myself included, although I am working on it – suffer from me the “me first, the law and others second syndrome” in this city. Laws are only as good as the people following them and the authorities enforcing them, but the responsibility for most civil behaviour falls on the individual alone.

    Could we not all slow down a little, smile a little more and throw up the finger a little less? I know it sounds pollyanna-ish, but that’s really what’s needed – an understanding that we’re all in a rush, we all have important things to do and we all need to be a little more compassionate to each other.


  • Bill Lee

    It’s 1) crack the door open 2) look behind for bike shape 3) open door.
    Most doors have a reflectance patch on them which will show.
    You’ve got a blind spot when you look otherwise. Being close
    to the door as you turn your head lessens it. (and the single-syllable
    (always the important words are mono-syllabic) “Bike!” to the
    passenger to remind them to look too)
    It is the responsibility also of the cyclist to look out. So both
    of you see each other as you open the door fully.

    The city needs to make sure that every ‘fixie’ with no brakes
    is taken off the street forthwith. They should be banned from
    being sold in the city.

    Helmets and gloves (ask emergency physicians about road gravel and
    hand wounds and how many finger have to be cut off through infection
    after a bike crash) should be compulsory. Not a fine, but a fee
    refundable on buying a $50 helmet and $10 leather palmed gloves.

    Lights, fore and aft, must be on at night, or the police can
    stop bike, put it in their trunk and drive the cyclist home.

    A bell is still compulsory in the city and could be used to
    warn Frances crossing the street. There is also supposed to be
    a 6 inch (15 cm ) strip on white or reflective material on the
    rear fender. But then so many people ride without fenders.

    Licensing of bikes was stopped in the 1960s and never worked
    to recover bikes.

    Will the February 2010 Olympics and the closure of most streets
    to cars make bikes essential in this city?
    Have you read Callenbach’s “Ecotopia”?

  • Otis Krayola

    Sorry, Bill Lee. Another solution has to be thought out for the morons riding at night without lights. A free ride home, with the bike safely in the trunk, would be a huge waste of police time and would reward irresponsible behaviour. How about, the bike goes with the cops (to be sold at auction) and you can hoof it home?

  • Entente may be a little over-ambitious, but perhaps some sort of detente might be possible. But I doubt it.

    It’s not just a problem of cyclists vs. motorists. It’s Vancouverites vs. Vancouverites, whether they’re driving, cycling, pushing prams, using electric wheelchairs, carrying enormous umbrellas, or just plain moving by foot. The sense entitlement most locals seem to have borders on the psychotic.

    I’m a cyclist who has ridden extensively in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, and New York, and Vancouver finishes fourth in that list for tolerable cycling climates, and I’m not talking about the weather.

    Vancouverites, whatever their conveyances or personal behaviours, simply haven’t been able to develop reasonable social behaviours in this age in which ‘authorities’ have decided that a modicum of law enforcement is too much trouble or too expensive to bother with. Until they start growing up, or until the police start moderating their behaviours, get used to rage.