Whitney Heavner

I’ve come to realize that when I’m out on my bike, I’m not the most popular girl in town. It’s only on my bike, for instance, that I get honked at while being cut off.

With experiences like these, it’s no wonder that male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by three to one. According to one University of Washington survey, the most cited reason women give for opting out of cycling is fear of distracted drivers.

A few years ago, I faced my own fear of distracted driving when I decided it was time to shelve my aging vehicle for a used road bike. Around then, I rode in my first Bay Area Bike to Work Day. For me, the reward that day was more enduring than the smoothie I savored in Millbrae. Bike to Work Day boosted my confidence in my own riding ability and reassured me that riding on the roads isn’t as dangerous as I had imagined.

Unlike a distracted driver. I now notice things I would otherwise miss, like the smell of the Bay when the wind blows from the East. Or the tents that pop up and reproduce in hidden corners only to be broken down all at once. Or the amount of rage wasted on getting from intersection A to intersection B a fraction of a second faster.

I understand the contempt for cyclists, though. I’m a driver sometimes too. I get stressed when I’m stuck behind someone slower than I. I get a burst of cortisol every time I barely miss a green light. But bike commuting has given me the hyper focus and 360-degree vision of someone constantly on the lookout for danger.

So when I see a cyclist on the road, I appreciate that she is saving me a parking spot when I get to my destination. I understand that I take up six times the space she does. Whatever decision she makes on her bike, she has calculated how to maximize her own safety as well as mine. If she swings wide, there’s a pothole ahead. If she catches my eye when she pulls up beside me, she wants to make sure she has my attention.

She’s an easy target.

She’s a fragile life.

Take care of her.

She loves this city.

With a Perspective, this is Whitney Heavner.

Whitney Heavner is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco.

Biking and Distracted Drivers 20 April,2017Amanda Font
  • City Resident

    Well said. Thank you!

  • Bonnie

    I too am a cyclist and really appreciate what you’ve said and how you’ve said it. There will only be more people — more drivers, more walkers, more cyclists — using the roads of our Bay Area. The sooner we learn to “share” with patience and compassion, the better. Ride on!

  • Brian

    I, too, am a cyclist. I’ve cycled for over thirty years. And I, too fear distracted drivers. Ms. Heavner describes well some of those fears. An auto is close to two tons of deadly weapon, and an accident can occur too quickly, too recklessly, even without malice. By voluntarily reducing the number of times I ride, I have involuntarily reduced the quality of my life. Thirty years ago, fewer cars hogged the roads. Thirty years ago, no drivers had iPhones. Thirty years ago, I rode with less fear. Thirty years ago – as now – I was a male. This affects men as well.

  • Rob Gage

    I ride to work as well, in Whitney’s home town of Morganton NC. Less traffic, but more (?) rednecks. I second what she says about the cyclist making the city a better place for everyone. I remain puzzled why more people do not understand that.

  • Long

    I always pay extra attention to cyclists when I drive because many of them don’t respect traffic rules or follow simple safety concepts.

    Often I see cyclists ride so fast downhill. If they don’t care their own lives, there is not much others can do about it.

  • Curious

    It would be nice if:

    Cyclists did not ride on the sidewalk;

    Cyclists did not ride against the traffic;

    Cyclists did not use pedestrian crossings;

    Cyclists stopped at stop streets;

    Cyclists did not ride 3 abreast.

  • zzz

    I started driving for work a few years ago, for the 20 years before that I rode only a bike. What I noticed the most when I started driving is how bike riders in the city assume that I see them even when I drive the company truck, they seem to think squeezing through on the right is OK when I’m making a right hand turn, sometimes they ride up on the sidewalk and race through the crosswalk. It’s a testament to truck drivers in this town more bike riders are not crushed.

    On one side of the bike lane is lanes for traffic and on the other is parking, when I’m parking they have their ridiculous tantrums, I can’t make it from the traffic lane into the parking spot using magic to by pass the bike lane. Yes I know, your middle finger means one less bike.

    Riding a bike I don’t see drivers acting this idiotic in general.

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