Tuesday, December 28

I See Traffic

Traffic has been quiet this past week. With schools being out for the holidays and apparently many people off work my rides have been relatively quiet. It's been very nice.

My normal route takes me past two elementary schools in addition to an office park. When school is in full swing traffic is absolutely crazy within a mile of the schools. I am heartened to see quite a few kids walking, riding and scootering to school in both places, but the SUV/minivan traffic is still pretty ridiculous.

The roads away from the school have been quiet too. People this past week seem to have been giving me more room and there seems to have been fewer cars overall, especially in the mornings. Except for one day last week the roads have been mostly devoid of cyclists as well.

Next month my schedule changes and I'll be riding deeper into rush hour both coming and going. At least I'll have the option of taking a longer route to work.

Traffic bugs me these days. It seems to me that as I've gotten older that the behavior of motorists on the roads has irritated me more. The obvious explanation is that I'm more aware of traffic and of how motorists act towards me as a cyclist. But I don’t think I was necessarily riding around in a cloud when I was 19 years old. I made the conscious decision to ride on roads that wouldn't have been the first pick for the casual cyclist. I'll admit I am definitely more engaged in the roadway environment now as opposed to 15 to 20 years ago. But I think there's more to it.

My second theory is that motorists' perception of me has changed as I've aged. I've always appeared younger than my actual age, so I believe that through my twenties most people probably perceived me as a kid or at the most a teenager and they reacted with less hostility toward me because they assumed I a) didn't know any better, b) had idiot parents for letting me ride my bike in traffic c) was mildly retarded, d) didn't know any better, etc. so they left me alone. It's normal (or at least it used to be) to see a kid or even a teenager riding a bike.

These days I don't sport the scrawny geeky kid look anymore and I think I get a lot of flack from motorists because I am obviously an adult (full-sized) now. The hostile attitudes are born out of the attitudes of a) you SHOULD know better, b) you’re an idiot for riding instead of driving, c) you’re eff-ing retarded, d) get out of my way if you know what's good for you. Where I grew up it's most definitely NOT normal for an adult to ride a bike, unless he (or she, though to be fair its usually the guys) have lost their license to drive a car. No one can fathom why a grown man would ride a bike when there are plenty of perfectly good cars out there.

This makes people uncomfortable. I'm really not sure why it makes them uncomfortable, but for whatever reason it DOES and it often causes them act in a less than respectable manner.

The third theory really doesn’t explain it, but I think it contributes to the overall issue of car vs. bicycle traffic. I think that in the past 20 years there are just more people on the roads. I think we have increased the number of drivers who are alone in the car, thereby increasing the proportion of cars in relation to the population and I believe there are just a whole lot more people on the roads. Its more common for families to have a car for each person of driving age in the household than it was when I was a teenager.

And of course the last contributing factor is location. My proximity to a larger number of people has changed my perception of traffic. When I was 15 we lived in rural southwestern Ohio. There really was very little traffic when I rode my bike around there. These days those big empty fields are filled up with McHouses. I'm sure if I lived on that same street today I would notice a marked difference in the intensity of the traffic. And while there seems to be a lot of traffic where I lived in Kentucky, the numbers are minimal compared to the sheer volume of moving humanity in the Denver metro area. The cars never stop rolling. Part of my problem might be the continuous onslaught compared to the ebb and flow of my previous haunts.

I know a lot of it is my perception, but I also believe a motorist's perception of the cyclist they approach has a lot to do with how they overtake them. I wonder if there are any published studies on this topic?

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