What can be done to prevent the ugly clashes between bicyclists and motorists? Three recent road rage episodes in Portland have seen harsh words escalate to abuse, property damage and violence.
A driver chases down a cyclist, forces him onto the hood of his car and recklessly drives away – all because the cyclist yelled at him for speeding. A cyclist runs a stoplight and then beats up the driver who called him on it – with his bike. A car passenger yells at a cyclist to wear a helmet. The cyclist retaliates by keying the car. A fight ensues and the passenger is arrested for braining the cyclist with his bike lock.
The twist? In two of these cases the combatants in cars were also bicycle advocates.
Alcohol was a factor in two of the incidents. However the violence it unleashed mirrors the anger we see every day on the streets.
What is fueling the anger? And what can be done to solve the problem?
Drivers say they are incensed by a certain group of cyclists, who routinely ignore stoplights and other road signals. They ride slowly in the center of the road on shared streets, holding up traffic, and hit vehicles when annoyed at some perceived driving error. A few cyclists have been heard to say they avoid using designated bike boulevards, on principle, because they have the right to use any street they want. What's more, when a driver sees the same cyclist running red lights week after week, they can't even report it, since bikes have no identifying license plate.
Besides, cars pay for the roads through driving license fees and gas taxes. Cyclists are simply freeloading.
Cyclists say some drivers use their vehicles like bully pulpits. They don't stop at stop signs – or they do a rolling stop. They don't signal. They drive as if bikes don't exist, forcing them off the road.
On streets with bike lanes, the worst drivers start to turn without looking for the bike that may be passing on their right. Cyclists say their blood pressure rises when drivers honk and yell at them, when they are simply following the rules.
Besides, cars are filthy pollution machines that are eating up precious oil resources. For the sake of our children's future we all should be cycling, not driving.
The self-righteous attitudes ignore reality. Like it or not, almost everyone needs to drive sometimes. Our economy, our food supply, our jobs depend upon it. Let's not forget that a driver may have a hidden disability such as Multiple Sclerosis.
Equally, bikes are here to stay as an important and growing form of transportation. Encouraging cycling makes sense for economic and health reasons as well as to help reduce pollution and congestion, and to support America's goal of energy independence.
Anyone taking or renewing a drivers' license should take a test on how to share the road with cyclists
Many of these problems will likely disappear as sharing the road becomes a way of life for all of us.
Yet, here at The Skanner, we believe lawmakers should consider some changes to help this transition along.
Drivers must be educated on bike safety. For this reason we suggest that anyone taking or renewing a drivers license should take a test on how to share the road with cyclists.
Bikes that use major routes in the city should be licensed. There must be a way to identify dangerous cyclists who persistently violate traffic laws. A licensing system for adult bikes would solve the problem and help to meet the costs of policing traffic.
Portland would not be the only city considering licensing bikes. In Detroit, police recently announced their decision to resume enforcement of a 1964 regulation on bicycle licenses. From Aug. 4, police officers will be ticketing unlicensed bicycles – for a $55 fine. Other cities that require licenses for bikes include: Davis, Calif., $8 for three years and Madison, Wis., $10 for four years, and Milwaukie, Wis., free.
We'd also like to see more dedicated bikeways, but how can we pay for them? Portland should consider building high-speed bikeways that allow cyclists to get around town as fast as they want. The catch would be how to pay for them. We believe cyclists would be prepared to pay either through a fee for use system or through a realistic bicycle license fee.
What Do You Think?
For comaparison see these other websites:
Seattle debate: www.urbanvelo.org/seattle-debates-bicycle-license/