I just finished reading a short article over at The Atlantic Cities about driver-cyclist relations between the Netherlands and the U.S. The stance of the author can be summed up in this short excerpt:
This emphasis on early education in the rules of the road doesn’t simply result in well-mannered and safe bike riders who use the excellent cycling infrastructure on Dutch streets responsibly. It also means that everyone in the society understands what it is to be a cyclist. All the people driving cars have had experience on bikes. They can look at cyclists and think, “That could be me.”
While I agree that bicyle safety education is important, I do wonder how well the education “sticks” is relative to the entire society. The Dutch ride their bicycles far more often than Americans, leading me to believe that since most Americans go on to drive a car later in life, and bike for “leisure” purposes rather than as a means of getting from A to B, they simply forget this information. Most Americans forget what it’s like to be a cyclist, whereas most Dutch people know exactly how it feels to be a cyclist.
I can recall a time when I was riding a bike north on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It was a busy Saturday, and there is no bicycle path of any sort on the street itself. I needed to turn left to go to Walgreens to buy a drink. I got into the far left lane to turn when a car with a man and a woman began honking their horn excessively. I had in no way cut this couple off, but they seemed displeased by my occupation of the lane. The woman began screaming “bike lane!” while I motioned that I was turning left. As I said, there is no bike lane on Michigan Avenue, nor is it possible to ride on the sidewalk due to the heavy pedestrian traffic.
Judging by their out-of-state license plates, I am thinking they did not know that traffic speeds on Michigan Avenue are relatively low nonetheless, and a cyclist could probably win a race from 1200 S Michigan to Lake Shore Drive against an automobile.
Even if Americans made a better effort to teach their children about cycling safety, I do not believe that it would actually have a lasting effect. Many children go on to obtain their driver’s license and forget what it is like to be a cyclist. Until Americans shift to a more bicycle-friendly society, the majority will still always have the mind of a driver.