Bike vs. driver: Are we getting better at this?

This is Bike Walk Week in Minnesota, a celebration of the bicycle culture in our midst, and highlighted — at least for me — by the Bike Walk to Work Day on Thursday, when the high temperature will only reach 65 and we’ll all be wearing parkas.

While I still read the occasional online “flame” from some of my bike-riding friends about some assault on sensibility, I’m not hearing as much bike vs. driver debate as I did just a few years ago. Are we getting better at getting along? Or are we just tired of the same old same old?

The Twin Cities, of course, isn’t New York, but this video showing how pedestrians, bikes, and cars interact suggests there’s still a lot of learning to be done nationwide.

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

A few years ago, I made my first Bike to Work Day ride. I vowed to try to ride to work once a week then. I’ve ridden in one day since then.

  • @asandford

    We need to get even better at this. Everyone has to obey the rules all the time. Motorists need to use their signals so we all know what everyone is doing. And if cyclists want to use the road, they need to use the road the way the other vehicles do. Don’t race down the sidewalk and shoot across, oh say, the entrance to the supermarket parking lot where I’m not expecting you to be. At least I could see the slower-moving pedestrians! Thanks for sharing the video.

  • Casey

    Actually, I was almost hit while biking to work this morning. I was at a 4-way stop and it was my turn to go (yes, I stop at stop signs and stop lights, just like the cars). As I was crossing the intersection, a car on my right was making a rolling stop (read: not at all) of a right turn into my lane. Also, the woman at the wheel was texting. Luckily, her window was down and I shouted “Stop! You have to stop! You’re going to hit me!” as I also stopped. She slammed on the breaks before hitting me. She said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t see you!”

    Some of us do follow traffic rules. Please pay attention to us.

  • I work from home but bike around town at least a few times a week in the summer for errands, coffee, Twins games, etc. I mostly ride in Northeast, the Northside, downtown and the U of M area.

    In my experience, it seems the vast majority of drivers in Minneapolis are respectful and considerate of bikers. The angry, rude, reckless ones are few and far between. A few per season, maybe.

    One thing I encounter pretty regularly is drivers who think bicyclists always have the right of way at a four-way stop (as opposed to just taking turns in the order you arrive, like cars do.) I wind up in a lot of “you go–no, you go” stand-offs at intersections.

  • Dan Gjelten

    I run a lot all over town – along trails, streets and sidewalks. There is a lot of interaction between bikers and runners out there and it isn’t always real happy. I’ve experienced dozens of near collisions with bikers riding way too fast on shared trails. I’ve been cursed by bikers for being on “their” trail. I now ALWAYS avoid the bikes to the best of my ability. But, let’s face it, they can theoretically ride in the street, which is not a good option for me.

    I mean, I think we can get along – we are both interested in the outdoors and fitness, but there needs to be a bit more give and take. And someone going 20 mph on a bike really should respect the pedestrians in their path.

  • Chris N.

    If the hollering has died down, I doubt it’s because either group as a whole is getting better at knowing the rules of the road.

    My wife and I go walking on the Saint Paul side of the river road all the time. Whenever we do, we are always reminded how many cyclists are bad at giving a verbal heads-up when they’re passing pedestrians on the mixed-use sections of the path. Maybe one in 20 will give us an “On your left!” and of those, a number don’t say it loud enough or with enough lead time. I’m not sure whether it’s because they don’t know to or don’t care to.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think biking is great and I love the increased support for bikers in the Twin Cities. I still think many bikers really need to refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road.

  • Bob Collins

    I always try to say “on your left” as loud as I think I need to, but I admit to being a little sheepish about it b/c it sounds like a Minnesota way to say “look out,” which I guess it is.

    I’d try a bell but they really need to make one that doesn’t sound so…. you know. Something like Big Ben.

    So I very often cough as I get within earshot of a pedestrian, or change gears — something to get them to turn around an notice I’m behind them.

    Have I been in Minnesota too long?

  • Ken Paulman

    I completely agree that cyclists need to do a better job obeying the law. Of all the acts of stupidity depicted in the video, it’s the ones committed by the cyclists that are by far the most brazen.

    That said, I can attest that rigorous adherence to traffic laws provides little protection from being harassed or threatened by drivers.

    Just last week, a driver threatened to kill me for being in his way (rather than simply change lanes and pass) as I was minding my own business riding home from work. I get this sort of thing a few times a year, and don’t usually get the police involved when it happens, but did this time (a witness across the street also was alarmed enough to call the police).

    The officer who responded was exemplary, and as I chatted with him more, he said he’d love to bike more, but is afraid to ride on the road.

    When a person who gets shot at for a living is afraid to legally ride a bicycle on a city street, I’d say it’s a sign that we’ve still got some work to do.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Chris N.

    //Have I been in Minnesota too long?

    Ha, yeah, maybe so.

    The reason I like a good, hearty “On your left” is because it gives you an indication of the biker’s intent. “On your right” is fine too, so long as I know which way to move to get out of your way.

    A bell, cough, etc. may alert pedestrians that you’re coming, but then you could run into the “which way” dance where both people are trying to figure out what direction to move in.

    Alternately, especially if a bell doesn’t have the oomph you want, you could figure out how to strap the engine from your RV-7A onto that bike. Then people would hear you coming from miles away, and you wouldn’t have any trouble clearing a path.

  • Susan WB

    There are bikers who will claim that the drivers are not looking out for them – and they’re right, some of them aren’t. There are plenty of distracted drivers – that woman on the cell phone could just as easily have hit another car or someone on foot. And then there are drivers like me who will shout at the bikers who casually fly through 2-way stop signs in my neighborhood without even a glance at on-coming traffic. Or the pedestrians who walk out from between 2 parked cars in the middle of the street right in front of me (jaywalking).

    But if there’s anything I see in that video, it’s that all groups are equally bad at following the rules! The drivers, the bikers, and the pedestrians are ALL at various times completely disregarding the rules of the road. It’s no wonder we have so many accidents. Any one individual may follow the rules, but as a class, each is at fault.

    If there’s less vitriol, it’s probably because we’ve just shifted it to other things – like ranting at people who text and drive.

  • andy


    I’m totally with you on the gear-shifting to make noise front. I’ll only “go verbal” if slower bikers are taking up the whole path. Bells seem to be more popular. I may get one soon.

    As far as dealing with walkers, many don’t hear the clicks/bells/throat-clearings due to the i-pod they’re listening to. Although I also see bikers w/the ear-buds in – I see that as an unsafe practice personally.

  • E A

    As a daily bike commuter in Chicago, I see it all… we all have a lot of learning to do. Cyclists need to obey the rules — especially at our many 6-corner intersections — and motorists need to pay attention. Period.

    This morning a motorist nearly turned left into me. Did he not see me? Did he think I was just traveling that slowly? Was he in that big of a hurry?

    If we all just pay attention and slow down enough to see our surroundings, I think we’ll be better off. Next week is Chicago’s Bike to Work Week.

  • I bike home from work as often as the weather allows it (I take my bike to work on the bus in the morning, it’s very convenient). I think people are just sick of it all. I see stupid drivers and stupid bikers. The stupid drivers bother me in that they can potentially kill me, the stupid bikers bother me because their actions enrage drivers and put me at risk.

    Personally, I’m quite sick of bikers running stop lights. It’s bad enough to run a stop sign in a residential neighborhood, but to blatantly run a stop light just tells drivers, “Hey, I’m better than you and I don’t need to obey the laws!” As a biker who always stops, it infuriates me.

  • andy

    Here is my car-driving rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with two types of vehicles that we all have to share the roads with;

    I give tractor-trailers all the room and respect in the world, because they can kill me.

    I give bicycles the same treatment, because I can kill them.

  • Tyler

    The real problem is that we live in a culture of no consequence and too much entitlement. Cars are far more deadly than bikes and drivers need to have that… driven into them when they learn to drive. Driving a car is probably the most complicated thing an average person will ever do. If they knew there were more severe consequences, or if they were just better educated about how much of a responsibility and how deadly cars are, they would maybe be more attentive and thoughtful on the road. Some european countries have laws where it is always the drivers fault no matter what because they have the greater responsibility.

  • With great power comes great responsibility, eh Tyler? This might be the most civil cycling discussion I’ve ever seen on the web. Congrats, Bob!

    I got side-swiped by a driver Monday morning who then went on to run a red light, nearly hitting a BLIND WOMAN walking across the street. That was ridiculous, but also a very isolated incident.

    I choose to avoid busy roads as much as possible on my bike, and as a result have much fewer close calls than I used to. I was doored on Park Ave almost ten years ago and… well, you could say it has informed my riding style ever since.

  • bsimon

    I think everyone needs to lighten up a little bit & learn to be a little more tolerant. I say that as a driver who gets mad at slow bikers in the street; as a biker who gets mad at runners on the bike paths, and as a runner who gets mad at slow walkers using the whole path/sidewalk.

    Yes, its true: not all bikers follow the rules of the road. Guess what: not all cars follow the rules of the road & not all pedestrians follow the rules of the paths (like the sign by Calhoun that says “If you don’t have wheels beneath you, you’re on the wrong path”). As I biker, I’m often passed by cars who give me less than the statutorily required three feet. How many drivers even know that’s the law?

    Its pretty easy to get self-righteous about our own behavior, while criticizing others; I know I certainly do.

  • John McConaghay

    Hey Bob,

    Check out the oh-so-manly selection of bicycle

    bells at Uptown’s Calhoun Cycle:

    The Crane Suzu Brass is the my favorite.

  • tboom

    I think cars and bikes are getting along better, but it’s not due to our attitudes. We’re getting along because bikes are finally being considered in traffic design.

    A decade or two ago bikes had to survive on streets designed for cars. Cities like Mpls. and St. Paul have done an excellent job adding bicycles to their traffic design. Suburbs that once scoffed at the idea of bike traffic are now converting four lane streets to three lanes with shoulders, providing a safe haven for bike traffic.

    A big thank you to metro area traffic engineers. (No, I’m not an engineer).

  • Bonnie

    obviously need more discussion on this topic! I would love to commute on two wheels occasionally the five or six miles I have to traverse through the saintly city…but I’m way too afraid of the traffic.