Cyclists vs. Drivers – A Tired Rhetoric

One of the reasons I started this blog was to turn down the volume on the Us. vs. Them rhetoric that dominates the conversation between cyclists and drivers and to a lesser degree, cyclists and pedestrians.

The mood can be downright nasty out there and I have also been guilty, at times, of acting out of anger when cut off or endangered by a driver. Most of the time it’s because people are distracted or unaware of the width of their vehicle – not because they’re trying to harm or scare me. Yet, my first reaction is often quickly red-hot and a desire to convey this to the source of the infraction.

As you can see in this video, the frustration works in the other direction.

Video source: HOOFandCYCLE, YouTube, Sept. 25, 2010.

Some of the most unfortunate quotes from this video:

It’s no secret. Cyclists are a pain in the ass to motorists.

There’s this huge animosity between the motorists and the cyclists…and it’s never going to go away.

I heard an interesting idea in the video – to widen the sidewalks, divide them down the middle and give half to cyclists. Having lived in Europe, I’ve seen all manners of bike lanes – separated on the road, integrated into a wide sidewalk, down the middle of a large boulevard, painted lines on the road – and would welcome any intervention that would make cyclists safer (another example: installing side guards on trucks).

Separated bike lanes were officially opened on Sherbourne Street two weeks ago and I applaud this development. I’ve had the chance to bike up and down Sherbourne since they were installed and except for motorists who use it as a wide shoulder to park for a bit, or the pedestrians standing in it at bus stops, it feels decidedly safer. Not only because it’s separated but also because it’s coloured and marked in an obvious way. A driver would expect a cyclist to be there.

In fact, I think this is the biggest difference I’ve noted between cycling in Germany or Holland and Canada. Drivers expect cyclists to be on the road over there. They don’t yet here.

As a cyclist in Toronto, I constantly feel the need to assert myself on the road – to take up space, to make my presence known, to “own” my portion of the road. I recognize that fear of being hurt is part of the reason why I get angry quickly at close calls. The consequences are bigger for me.

Yet, I know that I’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So, my challenge is to remain calm, discuss with the driver when the opportunity presents itself, give people the benefit of the doubt and expect that my trip may not always be smooth.

On a larger level, leadership at City Council is vital on this issue and as I wrote about in a post on Ride Your Bike to Work Day in Toronto in May, there are some city councillors who are moving the discussion forward in a solution-focused way.

I don’t agree with then-Councillor, now-Mayor Ford’s assertion that the animosity between motorists and cyclists will never go away. I can’t agree because I want to share the road and have seen with my own eyes that it can be another way.

Author’s note: This post was updated on July 7 to include the source of the video embedded in the post.


    1. Toxic is right! We all have an opportunity, and responsibility, to be kinder to each other on the road. No one has the right to use their vehicle as a weapon!

  1. Fantastic post. I agree that we are behind much of the world in the motorist vs cyclist issue. I also agree that it doesn’t have to be this way and that motorists (myself included) need to be socialized to expect cyclists on the road. One of the biggest roadblocks (no pun intended) I see is the cars parked along the right lanes of so many Toronto streets. It blocks areas where cyclists should have the freedom to ride and slows down traffic for motorists immensely. The result is that everyone is frustrated and we take it out on one another. I look forward to more of your thoughts on the subject!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I agree that parking that slows down the flow of traffic and forces cyclists into motorists’ paths is dangerous and frustrating. Stay tuned … you’ve sparked an idea for educating drivers and cyclists on the most common infractions that I may try out!

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