Ever heard the one about 95 percent of the lawyers giving all the rest of them a bad name? Well, sometimes, it seems like the same is true for bicyclists.
I’ve been riding a bicycle around Montana for 40 years and along the way I’ve had way too many conflicts with motorists. One point that bolts out of virtually every “conversation” is a deep-set anger for bicyclists because of past observations of bonehead, dangerous, discourteous behavior – or worse, that especially maddening ‘tude (i.e. right of entitlement) a few cyclists seem to have.
This editorial is not an indictment of all bicyclists. A lot of us ride responsibly, but too many bicyclists do not. And clearly, this is one major reason why life isn’t friendlier and safer for us on our roadways.
I’m currently active in a new statewide nonprofit organization called Bike Walk Montana. Our new group is trying to “carry the water” for all bicyclists in the state. Current projects include trying to pass legislation to improve and update Montana’s bicycling laws, educate motorists on how to safely pass bicyclists, build more bicycling infrastructure like bikeways and bicycle lanes, promote bicycling tourism, and partner with the Montana Department of Transportation on many fronts such as improving rumble strip policy, adding bicycle lanes to urban highways, re-painting dangerous intersections, adding larger shoulders to highways, improving bicyclist and motorist safety education programs and other issues.
Bike Walk Montana also has the goal of improving bicyclist behavior. And the negative attitude many motorists harbor toward bicyclists creates a persistent and aggravating obstacle that we must fight through to make progress on any of our goals. In most cases, this hostility stems from observing bad behavior by bicyclists. Some motorists also display bad behavior, of course, like talking on cell phones while driving, driving under the influence or without seat belts, not signaling, making erratic moves or blowing through red lights. We see this all the time, but for some reason, bad motorist behavior seems more culturally acceptable than bad bicyclist behavior, which seems to cling forever to a motorist’s psyche.
Regardless of whether or not this disparity is fair, we bicyclists – all of us – must work hard to overcome it.
When I’m out on the road, I view myself as an ambassador for all bicyclists. I try to follow all the rules of the road and avoid doing anything that might increase motorist animosity toward bicyclists. I drive – not ride – my bicycle much in the same way I drive my pickup truck, being equally mindful of traffic laws and being courteous to other drivers.
Montana law classifies bicycles as vehicles and gives bicyclists a legal right to use our public roadways, but with that right comes responsibility to ride safely and courteously and obey traffic laws. If we want to safely and peacefully share our roads, we must do our part.
Bill Schneider is a retired publisher living in Helena, vice-chair of the Bike Walk Montana board of directors and a member of the Helena Bicycle Club and Flathead Cycling.
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