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How Much Do Bicyclists Really Slow Down Drivers?

530050555_e1bd487327_m.jpgWhat’s really slowing these cars down? Probably not bikes. Photo by richardmasoner via Flickr.

What is it about bicycles that drives some motorists so crazy?

Anyone who’s ever ridden a bike more than a handful of times in this country has experienced it. The honking, the rude remarks, the vehicles speeding past with drivers shouting “get out of my way.”

There’s no doubt that drivers sometimes have to slow down because there’s a cyclist in the road ahead of them. But Streetsblog Network member M-Bike.org wants to put the inconvenience in perspective:

Throughout the Detroit suburbs, cyclists can expect to hear the occasional verbal assault from motorists. The typical theme is “you don’t belong on the road” or “you’re in my way.”…But are motorists really that concerned about being occasionally slowed due sharing the road with cyclists? How much time do Metro Detroit motorists “lose” to cyclists on the roads?

Rather than attempt to answer that question, it’s perhaps more important to step back and judge all the issues that delay motorists.

How much time do motorists lose to:

  • Road construction
  • Stop lights and stop signs
  • Speed limits
  • Rush hour traffic
  • School buses loading and unloading children
  • At-grade train crossings
  • Inclement weather
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Slow downs due to vehicle crashes
  • Other cars on the road

Motorists’ time lost to bicyclists is certainly minor compared with most of these. So are these same motorists yelling at school buses and emergency vehicles to get off the road?…

And speaking of travel delays, this past week an apparently careless driver caused a horrific tanker explosion on I-75 which caused over a $1 million in damage and has left the expressway closed for days. This portion of I-75 carries 160,000 vehicles per day and the closure is causing many minutes of delay per vehicle.

This single crash has likely caused more motorist delay than all the cyclists in Metro Detroit combined — ever.

Of course, some people don’t let school buses slow them down. But M-Bike definitely has a point.

This post reminded me of something I recently said to a friend who, like me, uses a bike for transportation in New York: Why is it that drivers in this city, who frequently tout the “personal freedom” and speed of their chosen transportation mode, are the angriest, most impatient people on the streets? I sometimes think that drivers hate on bicyclists so much because, consciously or subconsciously, they envy the freedom that being a bicyclist represents. And lest there’s any confusion, I say that from the perspective of someone who has spent many (too many) hours behind the wheel of a car.

Of course, cars can slow you down when you’re on a bike, too. When that happens to me, I try to be philosophical about it and not succumb to the anger that is too often rampant on asphalt.

Your thoughts?

Other good posts from around the network: Seattle Transit Blog has a postmortem on the first day of the city’s new Link light-rail system. The Dirt reports on a new article from The Economist that says perhaps high-polluting people, rather than high-polluting nations, should be the focus of carbon-reduction efforts. And for those of you who wondered if chic cyclists wear helmets, they do, at least some of the time. Just ask Let’s Go Ride a Bike (scroll down for the proof).