Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cyclists, don't hate me because I drive

To the young woman in the pink helmet on Sunday night:

First of all, I want to apologize. I was in the wrong. I slowed down to make a right turn and forgot to look both ways. You were coming along on your bike and, though you were still quite far away from me, you yelled loudly to make sure I knew you were there. I heard you and I don't know if you noticed but I tried to placate you with a guilty smile. I'm assuming by the look of disgust on your face and the way you shook your head at me that it didn't work. I know what you were thinking - that I'm just another environmental-hating, self-important motorist who doesn't want to share the road. We were the only two people on that stretch of the road so I bore the full brunt of what I assume is your accumulated anger at motorists who don't see you.

On this particular evening, I was on my way to a client event. Not wanting to be away from my kids on a Sunday, I left home a little later than I should have and I was beginning to worry about being late. I was in a somewhat deserted part of town that I'm not familiar with and I was trying to navigate a series of one-way streets and when you saw me, I was a bit confused from having taken a wrong turn. It's no excuse of course for not seeing you but I offer it by way of explanation.

But, while I slipped up this time, I want you to know I'm a very careful driver. I respect the fact that I share the road with other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, all of whom are trying to get somewhere in a hurry. I always try to give cyclists a very wide berth and I often slow down or stop to let them pass. I'm constantly checking my sideview mirrors to see if one of you is approaching and if you are, I'll often just wait for you to pass because I can't judge how fast you're going. I really do try to share the road in a respectful way but sometimes I veer a little too far over to the right (perhaps I'm being squeezed by a motorist to my left) and you let me know by hurling profanities, shaking your fist at me or slamming it on the side of the car. I don't even get mad when you come out of nowhere, plough through red lights or weave in front of me, inches away from my engine because you don't want to sit in the traffic jam we're all experiencing.

Using a downtown Toronto road is a daily feat of skill, finesse and courage. There's so much to focus on at once - traffic jams, construction, street cars, parked cars, taxis stopping to pick up or let off passengers, doors opening and closing without warning, honking horns, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks, people crossing on yellow or red lights, pedestrians who are too busy texting to watch for oncoming traffic, not to mention an ever-changing and ever-increasing series of one-way streets, no left turns and lanes that are northbound one day and southbound the next.

I was just wondering if maybe, given everything we all have to deal with, we could approach it in a less hostile manner. Just asking.


  1. Hi Louise,

    It's funny you should post this today because I saw an altercation between a car and bike on my way back to the office from lunch. As I tried to cross the street, I encountered a biker cycling alongside a woman driving in a convertible. The biker was yelling at her for using her cellphone because it was illegal. The fact that the exchange was taking place while they were moving was reminiscent of the recent Michael Bryant situation and made me nervous.

    As both a biker and a driver, I sympathize with the plight of each party. As rude as cyclists are, they are the 'water balloons' and drivers are the 'pins'. I don't think the collective, accumulated anger of all cyclists should be unleashed on any normal driver, but my empathy diminishes whenever I see someone driving while talking on a cellphone.

    These are heated times right now in Toronto between cyclists and drivers. I think we would all do better with ‘a call for class’. That said, drivers needn’t take it too personally if they get flipped the occasional bird from a defensive cyclist. It’s bound to happen.

  2. Thanks Jess. A very balanced approach. Unfortunately I see these altercations every day and I'm distressed by the amount of rage I see. In my experience it's usually the cyclists who are screaming and the motorists who are trying to get away from them. But, we could all show more grace and help each other get where we're going safely.

    And I'll try not to cry next time a cyclist swears at me :)

  3. One more thing. Just as I have very little sympathy for drivers using cellphones, I have the same disdain for bikers who ride on ridiculous arteries. Two primary examples of this are University Avenue and Queen Street. University is an eight-lane swervy, winding road. Whenever I'm in a car and I see a bike on that road, I think they must have a death wish. The same thing goes for Queen Street at rush hour. The street is too narrow to comfortably accommodate bikes along the right lane. I used to take the Queen streetcar every day to work and I’ve seen countless accidents where bikers got hurt. Eglinton east of Yonge? Forget about it! Bikers need to be strategic about which streets they ride on and accept risks when taking main arteries. It’s a two-way street.