I had gotten to thinking about issues of interacting with other traffic on the roads and how those interactions are determined, and how we react and interact in those situations, and it got me thinking about something I really appreciate about Portland.
Riding around inner Portland, for the most part, I feel comfortable and welcome on the roads. I usually don’t feel like I need to assert my right to be on the roads, I don’t feel like I need to prove that I should be allowed to be there, and I generally don’t feel threatened by other people on the roads. To that, I’ll say thank you people of Portland, for being kind to your fellow citizens.
Here’s why I think this is important, beyond the simple obvious. It seems that most negative interactions between people on bicycle and people in cars are a result of either the person on the bicycle feeling threatened, or the person in the car feeling that the cyclist is impeding them unnecessarily just to make a point.
Obviously both of these are subjective, and either could perceive something that wasn’t intended by the other, but I think it’s important to have this in mind while driving or riding.
What I was thinking with regard to why improving these relations is important, is that those two conditions form kind of a cycle – for example: person riding bicycle feels unnecessarily threatened by person(s) in automobile(s), so starts making moves to assert their right to the full lane when it’s not necessary or impedes traffic, person(s) in automobile(s) get irked at person on bicycle, start behaving more aggressively towards them and others on bicycles, person on bicycle continues to feel threatened, etc…
Thinking about interacting in traffic in Portland, usually when I feel it’s safer or makes more sense with regard to traffic flow for me to take the full lane, I don’t feel like I usually have to force my way in, like I’m unwelcome or intimidated back to the side of the road, as long as my being there seems reasonable. Because of this, I generally don’t feel the need to prove that I have a right to be there, and I’m perfectly willing to let cars move by me if my speed is much slower than the flow of traffic, and they usually do so safely and I don’t feel in danger.
Obviously, this requires participation on both sides of the coin, and I think that has developed in Portland as more people have been out on bicycles more often. I’m an advocate of separated cycling facilities to help reduce these kinds of issues as much as possible, but even in the Netherlands, people on bicycles still interact with people in cars, and so you never can completely get rid of this issue. Education can help, and simply having more people using different modes of transportation can help, as people will get used to being on the road together, and I think each person deciding to interact in a way which promotes politeness and mutual respect rather than polarization will make a difference.
If you have any other thoughts or opinions on this kind of thing, feel free to post them in comments. Cheers all, and happy riding!