I have been riding my bike in Portland (irregularly) for the past fifteen years or so, and have watched the city become truly multi-use. It used to be that bike commuting was, for most bikers, a seasonal activity. Now the number of bikers fluctuates only marginally with the weather, although sunny days do tend to produce greater concentrations that the dismal, soggy days of January. For cyclists, this is great--it means we are enough of a presence that we are generally in the minds of drivers. It has its downside though, as we saw last year with collisions and incidents of rage.
So on the occasion of this nice run of weather and its concomitant bicycle bloom, I thought it might be a good time to offer some rules of the road. See what you think.
1. That guy in the car/truck/SUV is not evil.
It is not unusual for even the most mellow cyclist to slide into a haughty pique when she sees a Nissan Armada cluelessly crowding her toward the parked Expedition. When you're out there with only a pair of jeans and a cotton hoodie between you and the Armada (and its belching exhaust), you tend to feel a little self-righteous. Maybe you feel that way even toward the odd Prius. But except for the extremely rare resident of Buckman, we all drive or are driven part of the time, too. That's the beauty of mixed-use; we can ride our bikes to work, and take the car to the grocery store. We don't magically become evil just because we fire up the four-wheeler. Thus we can cut the drivers a break.
2. Cars and trucks are much larger than bikes, and will tend to win physical encounters.
No matter how chaotically you may feel a biker is riding, she does not deserve to be ground up on any of the hard surfaces around her. Which is what will happen if you nudge her with your bumper. It is sometimes easy to relate to a cyclist as an equal on the road, but they're not. Car drivers need to drive with special caution, and bicycle riders need to recognize that drivers, aware of their vulnerability, are being deferential.
3. That guy on the bike isn't evil.
Bikes are apparently a hassle to some drivers--I've seen the looks some drivers have given me, and they certainly looked like they thought I was a hassle, anyway. But while we may move more slowly than cars, we're not actually trying to get in anyone's way. Bikers are good folk. They're out in the fresh air doing their lungs and your lungs a favor. Yes, some are uncool. Find me any population where that's not true.
4. Rage tends to worsen our lives, not improve them.
I have been swerved at by cars, raged at by other bikers, been given the finger and the horn. Over the course of time, I have found that life is uniformly better for me and the other person if I don't respond in kind. I have come to believe that the guy screaming at me from his car was probably mad before I did whatever I did to make him scream. In any case, my screaming back has yet to settle anyone down, including me.
5. Do unto other drivers as you would have them do unto you.
The inverse of rule four has also served me well--when I acknowledge and defer to other drivers, car or bicycle, things seem to go well. So many of our encounters on the roads fall outside the norms of State law--it's just two people negotiating a situation. It doesn't actually kill you to let a bicyclist have the right of way, particularly if it's pouring rain, and may even make her happy. Sometimes you just don't see a bicyclist, and it's not neglect or malice that causes you to get too close to them. If you're the bicyclist, and you see a driver give you the "sorry!" look, it doesn't hurt to smile back--no doubt you'll do it at some point to another cyclist. And so on.
I don't imagine this list is exhaustive, but it's not a bad start.