Living Car-Free in LA #4: A Little Perspective

California, Living Car-Free
Jessie Holzer

by Jessie Holzer, Planner

Almost every time I ride my bike I find myself getting frustrated by actions that motorists take, such as passing closely or telling me to ride on the sidewalk. I don’t believe that most drivers are exemplifying this behavior to be malicious or because they hate bicyclists. I think instead that the majority of drivers in Los Angeles do not bike regularly and thus simply do not understand the impacts of their actions.

If I could take every driver on a bike ride to allow them to feel what it is like to be a bicyclist for a day, there are a couple things I would like to point out that I think are tough to understand from behind the wheel:

Honking is loud. Many drivers in Los Angeles use their horns to communicate with others. That’s what they are there for after all, right? Well, I notice many drivers also using their horns to communicate with bicyclists, which sounds completely different without the protection offered by a car. When a driver honks at me it is so loud that it startles me, I swerve, and I momentarily lose control of my bicycle. If drivers knew what this felt like, I don’t think they would honk at bicyclists as often as they do.

Uneven pavement is terrifying. Los Angeles is infamous for its potholes and less than perfect pavement quality. Because I am constantly dodging hazards in the roadway to avoid crashing I ride several feet away from the curb and give myself room to negotiate around them. Many drivers find this irritating because they can’t pass me without changing lanes. I think that if drivers knew the greater impact of hitting these items on a bicycle as compared to a car they would find sharing the roadway to be less of a chore.

Sidewalks are obstacle courses. Drivers often tell me I should ride on the sidewalk. However, between navigating through herds of pedestrians traveling at much slower speeds, negotiating around street furniture and utility boxes, and entering the territory of turning vehicles when crossing the street, sidewalks arguably offer more opportunities for conflicts than riding in the street. I often feel safer riding with traffic in the roadway than I do on the sidewalk and I think if given the chance to compare the two experiences, drivers would be more understanding of my decision to avoid sidewalks.

I am not that other bicyclist. I have a unique perspective of where, when, and how I ride, and this changes depending on the situation. On high-speed roadways I ride faster, but fast to me is slow to other riders. On freshly paved streets I hold my turn signal for a long time, while on uneven pavement I prefer to keep my hands near my brakes. I catch motorists falling into the trap of generalizing bicyclists and assuming we all should act in the same way. I would like motorists to realize that my abilities and comfort levels are different from other bicyclists, just like their abilities and comfort levels as drivers vary.

Read the rest of the “Living Car-Free in LA” series:
#1 Community
#2 Riding in Style
#3 Making the Choice
#5 Impacting Relationships
#6 Social events

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