Why the %*# is that Cyclist in the Bus Lane?

Today’s ABQ by Cycle post isn’t about a place where  you can ride your bike to, but where you can ride your bike, namely bus lanes. Let me go back to last week and give you a little information about two events that lead me to this discovery.

I was riding the bus home earlier this week and overheard part of the bus driver’s conversation with another passenger.  He stated that., ” Bicyclists want to be able to ride on the road, but none of them know the rules of the road.” The passenger agreed with him and the driver went on to give an example as proof that all cyclist do not in fact know the rules of the road.  The incident occurred a few days earlier. I was on the bus that day too and saw the event he was mentioning to the passenger.  A girl was riding her bike along Central Ave. in the bus lane, wore a helmet, and had earphones in her ears. When the bus got close enough to her the driver began to honk his horn because she was in the bus lane.  Shortly after, the girl signaled that she was turning right and turned right.

There are a few facts that are important to this situation.  First the above statement given by the driver implies that all cyclists do not know the rules of the road. While it is true that not all cyclists know all rules of the road, many cyclists do know most of the rules. Secondly, just because a cyclist does not know one rule does not mean that they do not know others. In the example above the girl was violating one law, the wearing of headphones. Albuquerque law requires cyclists riding on the road to follow the same rules that motor vehicle drivers must adhere to. Motor vehicle drivers are not allowed to wear headphones to listen to music while driving, which means neither are cyclists. Third, I have witnessed other events where cyclists were using the bus lane and the drivers of those buses either slowed down to the speed of the cyclist or passed them when it was safe to do so. This particular drivers reaction was rather unique from other observations I have made in similar situations.

You might be thinking, “What about the fact that she was riding her bike in the bus lane?”

This area is a bit of a grey area. Cars are not permitted to use the bus lane, so theoretically bikes should not either.  There is no dedicated bike lane on Central and traffic is a bit crazy in the University area, which is where this event occurred. As far as I know, there is no law expressly forbidding bike cycle riding in bus lanes (I made a call to the ABQ police department this morning and according to the officer I spoke to it is legal for cyclist to use the bus lane when a dedicated bike lane is not present). However, even if was illegal, the cyclist was not violating any laws because she was preparing to make a right turn. It is permissible to enter a bus lane when the intention is to make a right turn. Therefore, the cyclist would still be within her right to occupy the bus lane to make a right turn.

So what lead to this bus driver reacting the way he did?

In 2010, the Victorian State government of Australia conducted a study to understand the relationship between cyclists and motorists. Interestingly, the researchers found that the relationship was not as tense as they expected it to be, based on the “language used in the media.”[1] The study found that in general, cyclists and motorists do not harbor negative feelings towards each other, but the media’s exaggerated portrayal of this relationship is negative to make a story more interesting.[2]

The survey also found that the rate of tension for automobile drivers is no higher for interactions with cyclists than it is with other automobile drivers. Drivers that are typically calm drivers when other cars are present are likely to remain calm when cyclists are present. Drivers that easily become aggressive with cyclists are just as likely to become aggressive with other automobile drivers.[3] When tensions arise, they tend to manifest in the following three themes: impatience, fear and fright, and level of expectations (table 1).

Table 1 Themes of Tension Between Drivers and Cyclists

Theme

Trigger

Impatience Congestion General anger and aggression Anger and aggression on roads
Fear and Fright General fear while driving Level of risks people are willing to take Sudden unexpected situation
Level of Expectation Events Infrastructure People types
                                                                             Source: Sinclair Knight Merz     
 

The researchers interviewed cyclists and drivers, asking them to record what they felt while driving during their daily commutes. The researchers found that expectations directly fueled driver’s tension levels when encountering cyclists. The United Kingdom conducted a similar survey in 2008 and came up with similar data. Drivers’ tension levels were lower in situations “where they were expecting to meet cyclists than in situations where cyclists were infrequently encountered,” and those cyclists’ tension levels were higher when they encountered a surprise with infrastructure changes such as a bike lane suddenly ending.[4] Expectation is a major contributor to negative and positive interactions between cyclists and motorists. When cyclists are not behaving in a “legal, safe and most importantly predictable behavior,” then automobile drivers do not know what to expect from cyclists.63  This can lead to anxiety and or aggression from the automobile drivers when having to deal with cyclists driving on the same roads as automobiles. One can also argue that when motorists are not driving in a legal, safe and predictable way, this can lead to similar levels of anxiety and aggression for cyclist.

Ultimately, the bus driver gave a bad example to prove his point based on assumptions and generalization and quite possibly fear triggered from a sudden unexpected situation. Cyclists are not immune to making similar statements based on assumptions and generalizations. For example, an uncle, who rides his bike to work tells you that all car drivers hate cyclists; you might assume that everyone who drivers a car hates cyclist. Or, if a bus driver says that all cyclists don’t know the rules of the road, you might start to think that all cyclists don’t know the rules of the road. The uncle and the bus drivers are authorities in these situations because they have personal experiences with interactions between automobile drivers and cyclists. However, the statements that they are making are not grounded in facts, but emotion.

The last point I would like to make is that the driver’s statement implies cyclists violate traffic laws because they are ignorant of the laws. Presumably everyone on the road has a driver’s license (or should have one), do they all follow all the traffic laws all the time? I would say no they do not and sometimes these licensed drivers break these laws without even realizing it. Should I, as a cyclist, think that automobile drivers should know all of the rules of the road if they want to have the same rights to the road as I have? No. I cannot expect automobile drivers to have any more knowledge of the road than I do and neither should the bus driver and the passenger he was talking to. I forgot to mention that the driver and the passenger were violating a rule of the road by having an unnecessary conversation while the driver was operation said vehicle.

until tomorrow


[2] Ibid, pp. 37-38.

[3] Ibid, pp. 10-15.

[4] Ibid, p. vii.

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