Want to be a better driver? Ride a bike!

<em>This post has been updated as noted below.</em>

Cyclists and drivers don’t get along. That’s readers’ opinion, not mine, judging by many of the comments responding to our posts on bikes and cars. To them, motorists and cyclists have it out for one another.

Let me be clear: They don’t.

I say this as someone who commutes between downtown L.A. and the west San Gabriel Valley on a bike, driving a car or riding a bus. So I have some perspective when I say nearly all motorists, cyclists and transit users are pretty accommodating of people using different forms of transportation. Thankfully, we don’t hear of bike-car incidents as much as we do the more common car-car collisions. If we did, people like me would be scared off our Trek saddles and into our vehicle bucket seats.


FULL COVERAGE: Sharing the road in L.A.

But in reading those comments, this much became clear: Many motorists simply don’t understand cyclists. They’re more likely to view driving and cycling as mutually exclusive. In contrast, bike riders have to accept the fact that our streets don’t belong only to them; their safety depends on it.

The two comments here (both reproduced with original capitalization and grammar) exemplify those divergent views. Speaking up for car drivers, one motorist wrote in response to this post:

“Last night I get behind a bicyclist in the Left Turn lane. We proceed to make our left turn and the bicyclist remains in the lane going slower than the speed limit. There is plenty of room to the right for the guy to ride but, these bicyclist want to push the issue that they have the right to use the roads too. However, the Rules of the Road says that slow traffic should move to the right. WAKE UP CYCLISTS you have a duty to follow the rules of the road.”

And in the cyclists’ corner:

“Everyone and that means all motorists, motorcyclists, and bicyclists needs to obey the traffic laws. However, let’s face it, a lot of people who drive automobiles in Los Angeles feel that they are the only ones entitled to use the roads and don’t want to share, which is contrary to the traffic and vehicle codes. The argument that bicyclists don’t pay any taxes to support the roads is myopic at best. The vast majority of bicycle riders own cars and/or motorcycles and, as a result, pay plenty of taxes in registration and fuel fees. We all need to get along in order to go along our merry ways.”

Where to begin?

The first comment assumes that the offending cyclist was wrong to take up a full lane and prevent the faster car traffic from motoring on its obstruction-free way. In a broad sense, the commenter has a point: California law requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable. But it’s also clear that a cyclist can take up an entire lane if he or she feels the need to do so. The lane-hogging cyclist here might have had a number of reasons to think the safest option was to ride several feet from the right (where, I’ll have you know, road hazards tend to lurk).


The second comment speaks to my point about the false sense of mutual exclusivity and hints at what I think is the root of the problem: There’s an experience gap. To close that gap, perhaps impatient motorists would do well to get on a bike once in a while and experience firsthand the road conditions that might make a cyclist not want to move to the right after making a left turn.

Going even further, riding a bike just might make you a better driver. How? Pedaling on streets with cars whizzing by gives you a sense of how vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians are. You understand -- and in some cases, experience -- how a minor lapse in attention behind the wheel can have catastrophic consequences for people who aren’t in cars. It makes you respect just how much the safety of everyone else on the sidewalks and in the streets depends on the good judgment and patience of motorists. In fact, you might come to understand that maybe the slower cyclist taking the full lane has a more noble reason for doing so than to spite your motoring ways.

So as someone who’s become far more patient behind the wheel since taking up cycling in L.A., my advice to motorists is this: If you want to be a better driver, ride a bike.

[Updated on Oct. 11 at 7:53 a.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled pedaling as peddling. Thanks to our readers for catching the error.]


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This post is part of an ongoing conversation to explore how the city’s cyclists, drivers and pedestrians share and compete for road space, and to consider policy choices that keep people safe and traffic flowing. For more: and #roadshareLA.