Driving psychology: For the Manhattan motorist in a rush, the worst thing to be stuck behind is a bicycle. Along certain narrow corridors like lower Broadway that lack bike lanes, it's not uncommon for cyclists to ride in the center of a lane, to better preserve their own safety and avoid getting "doored." This can be frustrating for the motorist behind, who feels they could make the next light if only this slow bicycle wasn't in the way.
As a result you will often see motorists veer around them, creating a potentially dangerous situation. I have been both the motorist and the cyclist in this scenario, and it's the latter situation that is the more eye-opening.
However, driving behind a two-wheeled vehicle with only a slightly bulkier form, the motorcycle, provides motorists with no urge to pass. Motorcycles are faster than cars so even if you could overtake one, there's no reason to. In over 20 years of driving in the city I don't think I've been prevented from reaching a light by a motorcycle even once.
Which makes me wonder: If bicycles were as fast as cars, at least in practical city-traffic terms, and if drivers realized this, would they be less tempted to overtake them? Outside magazine recently tested out a $7,000 e-bike for a month, using it for daily commutes, and here's the excerpt from their review that sparked this thought:
Where I live, west of downtown [in Austin, Texas], there are no bike lanes or shoulders, but there are plenty of drivers who insist that the car is king. I ride and train on my pedal-powered racing bike a lot, and sometimes drivers come around me when there's little room to spare.
My e-bike changes the game. On one steep stretch of Westlake Drive, the charged machine has me traveling, with only a slight amount of pedaling, at 21 miles per hour uphill—or three times as fast as I'd go on a regular bike. My joy is genuine, and my speed is just fast enough that the woman driving the Suburban behind me decides to follow rather than attempt a pass. As I approach the intersection…I'm in the middle of the lane.
What's alluring about this is that the motorist naturally gave the bicycle the same amount of respect as a car. I don't mean respect in the corny gee-I-feel-good-about-myself kind of way, I mean respect in terms of practical behavior. It suggests an alternate future where cars and bicycles might experience something like equality on the roads.
Of course, cyclists being overtaken is not the only reason for accidents, and proponents of the "speed kills" philosophy could argue that faster bikes might lead to more accidents and less survivable collisions. More studies with more details need to be conducted; for example, in 2014 New York City media outlet WNYC reported that cyclist deaths in the city had doubled over the course of a year, but the accident reports are inconsistent in providing context about each case. As an example, some reports are as specific as "Anna Maria Moström was riding a bicycle on Main Street when she was struck by a bus making a left turn," but many only say "This death was reported in the Police Department's Motor Vehicle Collision dataset but we are missing information describing the incident." Without consistently detailed data, it's nearly impossible to figure out what misperceptions and errors led to the accidents, and whom was at fault.
Urban cyclists among you: In the absence of a bike lane, do you ride in the center of a car lane? In what specific situations do you feel you're most at risk of being struck? And do you think e-bikes, with their greater speed, would improve bike/car road-sharing, or be offset by a greater amount of non-survivable collisions?
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