Cars and bicycles shouldn’t compete
I was driving along an open stretch of Pacific Coast Highway the other day, at or just under the posted speed limit of 50 mph, and every hundred yards or so I was passing groups of two or three or a dozen bicyclists pedaling along in the bike lane. •••
Published May 30, 2007 by the OC Register
By Gordon Dillow
I was driving along an open stretch of Pacific Coast Highway the other day, at or just under the posted speed limit of 50 mph, and every hundred yards or so I was passing groups of two or three or a dozen bicyclists pedaling along in the bike lane. And that’s when it occurred to me:
I don’t want to share the road. More specifically, I don’t want to share a high-speed road with bicycle riders – not because it’s that big of a problem for me, but because it’s too dangerous for them.
As you may know, “Share the Road” is the slogan for the campaign to make car drivers cooperate with bike riders. The idea is to encourage motorists to be more aware of bicyclists and treat them safely and courteously.
That’s certainly a laudable goal. And perhaps cars and bikes can safely share the roads in residential or other areas where the speed limits are 30 or 35 mph.
But on roads like sections of Pacific Coast Highway, where speed limits range up to 55 mph, it seems like utter madness to have 3,000- or 4,000-pound cars going 55 mph hurtle past 25-pound bikes going 15 mph – with nothing more substantial between them than a thin white stripe delineating the shoulder or the “bike lane.” It’s like allowing baby strollers on the freeway.
Yes, I know we’ve spent millions of dollars creating bike lanes – as opposed to separate, no-cars-allowed bike “paths” and “trails” – along our streets and highways. I also realize that in this day and age there are few things more politically incorrect than to suggest that cars be given preference over bicycles. After all, in the popular view, motor vehicles are pollution-spewing, gas-guzzling (and gasoline tax-paying) monsters, while bikes are benign, environmentally friendly little munchkins.
But the problem is that when monsters mix with munchkins, the munchkins are inevitably going to get stepped on – too often with tragic results.
Consider the numbers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2005 there were 115 “pedalcyclists” – that’s the NHTSA’s word – killed in traffic crashes in California, nine of them in Orange County. True, bicycle fatalities were only about 3 percent of the total 4,300 traffic-related fatalities in the state, but if you factor in such things as “fatalities per miles traveled,” it’s pretty clear that statistically it’s more dangerous to ride a bike on the roads than to drive a car.
And whose fault is that?
Stats on that are hard to come by. But I asked two veteran Orange County traffic cops that question, and both agreed that, based on their experiences, half or more of car vs. bike collisions are caused by the bicyclists. They veer into traffic lanes, they travel the wrong way on streets, they blow through stoplights – in short, they don’t safely share the road.
Obviously, a lot of motorists do boneheaded things, too. They veer into bike lanes, cut across them into parking lots, don’t keep their eyes open for bicyclists and so on.
But the point is that regardless of who is at fault in a car vs. bike collision, it’s the bicyclist who’s going to suffer, physically at least. Once again, no 25-pound bike is ever going to “win” in a collision with a 4,000-pound car – and yet we persist in trying to mix heavy, high-speed motor vehicles with light, low-speed bikes on high-volume, relatively high-speed roads.
Well, some people would argue that we’d actually be better off if we all slowed down to a bicyclist’s pace of 15 mph or so – and who knows, maybe they’re right. But in the real world, fast-moving cars and slow-moving bikes simply don’t mix. Under those conditions, the only real solution is to physically separate them as much as possible with barriers or dedicated bike paths.
Now, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from bicyclists who will explain to me – in a civil manner, I hope – just how wrong I am on this one. If so, I’ll try to fairly present their point of view in a future column.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to try to safely “share the road” with bicyclists, and I would encourage other motorists to do the same.
But I still can’t figure out why any bicyclist would be crazy enough to want to share the road with us.
Contact the writer: CONTACT THE WRITER 714-796-7953 or GLDillow@aol.com