How Much Do Bicyclists Really Slow Down Drivers?

530050555_e1bd487327_m.jpgWhat’s really slowing these cars down? Probably not bikes. Photo by richardmasoner via Flickr.

What is it about bicycles that drives some motorists so crazy?

Anyone who’s ever ridden a bike more than a handful of times in this country has experienced it. The honking, the rude remarks, the vehicles speeding past with drivers shouting "get out of my way."

There’s no doubt that drivers sometimes have to slow down because there’s a cyclist in the road ahead of them. But Streetsblog Network member M-Bike.org wants to put the inconvenience in perspective:

Throughout the Detroit suburbs, cyclists can expect to hear the occasional verbal assault from motorists. The typical theme is "you don’t belong on the road" or "you’re in my way."…But are motorists really that concerned about being occasionally slowed due sharing the road with cyclists? How much time do Metro Detroit motorists "lose" to cyclists on the roads?

Rather than attempt to answer that question, it’s perhaps more important to step back and judge all the issues that delay motorists.

How much time do motorists lose to:

  • Road construction
  • Stop lights and stop signs
  • Speed limits
  • Rush hour traffic
  • School buses loading and unloading children
  • At-grade train crossings
  • Inclement weather
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Slow downs due to vehicle crashes
  • Other cars on the road

Motorists’ time lost to bicyclists is certainly minor compared with most of these. So are these same motorists yelling at school buses and emergency vehicles to get off the road?…

And speaking of travel delays, this past week an apparently careless driver
caused a horrific tanker explosion on I-75 which caused over a $1 million in damage and has left the expressway closed for days. This portion of I-75 carries 160,000 vehicles per day and the closure is causing many minutes of delay per vehicle.

This single crash has likely caused more motorist delay than all the cyclists in Metro Detroit combined — ever.

Of course, some people don’t let school buses slow them down. But M-Bike definitely has a point.

This post reminded me of something I recently said to a friend who, like me, uses a bike for transportation in New York: Why is it that drivers in this city, who frequently tout the "personal freedom" and speed of their chosen transportation mode, are the angriest, most impatient people on the streets? I sometimes think that drivers hate on bicyclists so much because, consciously or subconsciously, they envy the freedom that being a bicyclist represents. And lest there’s any confusion, I say that from the perspective of someone who has spent many (too many) hours behind the wheel of a car.

Of course, cars can slow you down when you’re on a bike, too. When that happens to me, I try to be philosophical about it and not succumb to the anger that is too often rampant on asphalt.

Your thoughts?

Other good posts from around the network: Seattle Transit Blog has a postmortem on the first day of the city’s new Link light-rail system. The Dirt reports on a new article from The Economist that says perhaps high-polluting people, rather than high-polluting nations, should be the focus of carbon-reduction efforts. And for those of you who wondered if chic cyclists wear helmets, they do, at least some of the time. Just ask Let’s Go Ride a Bike (scroll down for the proof).

  • gecko

    #49 Kaja, Thanks for the advice.

  • Thank /you/ for having the fortitute to recognize when you’re doing it wrong, and talk about it in public. It’s the first and hardest step to learning to do it right! I hope you’re taking “menace” as casually as I meant it. 🙂

  • gecko

    #52 Kaja,

    Actually, I was kidding. You just didn’t get it and you didn’t get the prior post either.

    Regarding my driving mentioned, at the time as I remember it, I did slow down before doing anything dangerous — what scared me was how close it was before I realized what was happening which had been affected by thinking about something else which is never totally preventable — and the point of the post was that the nature of driving cars is dangerous; transportation systems based on cars are structurally violent; cars are way overpowered with not anywhere near enough controls to prevent tragedies caused by simple human error. And, there are certain psychological aspects of driving that increase the danger: The excessive power corrupts; speed acts as a natural stimulant skewing judgment.

    And, regarding my driving cars, again, probably the most dangerous part is that I hardly ever do it, so that when I have to . . . .

    Enough said.

  • gecko

    Then again, the safest part of my driving is that I hardly ever do it.

  • Chicago paper boy

    A bike riding in the right half of his or her lane can be safely, quickly and more easily passed by an over-taking car. At a stop light the bike can even temporarily share their lane with a car (sharing is nice!). Its safer for everyone to ride to the right to let cars get around you more quickly and safely.

  • Bikers are the worst on the planet. I power walk almost every day through
    3 neighborhoods and I tell you I take my life in my hands. They are absolutely disgusting. They obey no traffic laws. You think you have the light but they go speeding through with no regard for anyone. They go down
    a one way street THE WRONG WAY. At night, you can’t even see them. No lights
    or decals on their bikes. Right now they have a memorial on Queens Blvd. in Woodside for a fallen biker who sped through a green light and was killed. How about the poor driver, who had the light, and killed this moran. I absolutely hate them and have no pity for any of them that are hit by motorists. In Central Park, try and cross the roads when you have the light.
    They go right through the lights into the people who are trying to cross. How they don’t hit them is beyond me. And if they do hit someone, they just
    get up, brush themselves off, and go on their merry way. Fuck ’em.

  • Anonymous Person

    The comparison to other things that slow motorists down isn’t fair. Traffic lights aren’t moving in front of you.. and road work eventually gets passed up. A school bus driver doesn’t use words like “entitlement” or say things like “We have more of a right on this road than you” or “We came first!”. You are 1% of the cars on the road.. try to consider us. A cyclist can slow me down up to 10mph.. It’s horrible especially on neighborhood roads where it’s difficult to pass them. If you honk, it’s considered rude so you just don’t.. I know many of these people have video cameras on their helmets so I try to be as patient as possible to avoid being on Youtube, but that doesn’t mean I like it.. But back to the comparisons.. you can drive by road work.. after the stop light, you’re back to going the speed limit. A cyclist will keep on riding if they’re going your way, and you have no choice but to go as fast as they are capable of. I try to avoid politics and cyclists since they all get the same kind of passion and reaction.. if I do discuss it, it’s anonymous as I am now.. But I just wanted to say this. I’ve never been late to work or anything.. it’s just an inconvenience that could be avoided. I’m not saying cyclists should get off the road.. But sometimes they should think about the cars behind them going slower because of them and give us room to pass if we can’t. Waiting for an opportunity to pass is infuriating, and rarely (but still annoying) even if I pass safely the cyclist still yells out my license plate.. Most of them thank me so that’s good.

    Also, IT’S A BICYCLE. Stop the passionate discussions and insults. It’s infuriating. This is why I don’t get into politics. I didn’t realize this was a controversial issue until I googled it. Just stop. Stop shaming people, stop insulting, stop the entitlement talk and saying “Speed limits are a privilege” because a majority of people do not believe that.

  • Anonymous Person

    I would like to add, it’s interesting how cyclists want drivers to be considerate but aren’t themselves considerate. They completely forgot what it’s like to drive on the road.. what it was like to get your license and no longer being forced to use the sidewalk.. to get to your destination fast. They give these self righteous talks but it’s infuriating. I just want.. to drive 45mph if the speed limit sign says “45mph”. I don’t want to go 10mph.. I don’t even like overtaking vehicles sometimes.. It’s risky depending where you go and you have to make sure you do it right. Bicycles are smaller too and sometimes they are completely covered by your blind spot, so it’s extra difficult.

  • Anonymous

    There are no violins tiny enough to accompany this comment.

    Certainly, when I’m in my taking my legally allowed place on the road and some human horror behind me is honking so they can beat me to the stop light–all while riding dangerously close to my rear tire, ready to kill me to save absolutely no time at all–I will think of this comment. And I will be amazed that anyone would understand basic decency so poorly that they’d be able to write it.

  • Morris Zapp

    It’s okay. Sometimes I cut out letters from the magazines and glue them together to make words too.

  • Joe R.

    It works both ways. I find cars often slow me down on my bike. That includes when they’re slowing to make turns in front of me, when they cut me off, when they double park and force me to wait until traffic clears to go around them, when there’s a platoon of cars starting out at a red light which takes forever to get moving because they’re all jockeying for position, and especially when you have morons who drive half a block at 10 mph, come nearly to a stop, then go another half a block at 10 mph, doing this for several blocks until they finally figure out exactly what they want to do (are these people on drugs, lost, or just plain stupid?). Seriously, most drivers are so incompetent if you have more than three of them in close proximity nobody can figure out what to do, and a traffic jam results. I ride late nights purposely to avoid all the motor vehicle stupidity which makes cycling slow, unpleasant, and dangerous.

    As far as bicycles slowing cars down, that’s what one idiot thought as he was getting ready to pass me on a street where there really wasn’t room to safely do so. I purposely sped up to about 30 mph, and then watched as his headlights faded into the background. Apparently, he didn’t feel comfortable going as fast as me on this road. I made the next light, he didn’t. He was left eating my tire dust. End of story.

    I also don’t think the issue here is just wanting to drive the speed limit, either. Based on my observations, far too many drivers have a pathological need to get in front of cyclists no matter the speed limit or the cyclist’s speed. Case in point-one day I was descending a nice hill with a tail wind at 50 mph in a 30 mph zone. 20 over the limit, and there was a steady stream of cars going in the other lane just to pass me. I never see cars trying to pass other cars when those cars are doing 50 in a 30 zone. Never.

  • Anonymous Person

    I would love to have been behind you.. I wouldn’t pass you.. but most cyclists I’ve been behind of slowed me down to about 10mph or 20mph when I should’ve been going 30 or more. 20mph in a 25mph zresidential one, no big deal.. It’s not the cyclists fault I guess.. Going up a hill on a bike isn’t the same on a car.. and it’s not always easy to go fast on a bike..

  • Anonymous Person

    I wasn’t even trying to insult anyone. What the fuck is wrong with you? I was just trying to give my perspective. This is why normal people cannot enter discussions like these. I just don’t have what it takes to put up with people completely ignoring what I say and insulting me.

  • Anonymous Person

    “But sometimes they should think about the cars behind them going slower because of them and give us room to pass if we can’t. ”

    What the fuck is wrong with you? You are so mean and insulting. This is my last comment on this website, I only came here to comment on this article.. But oh my God. I just wanted to give my perspective. I guess expecting people to yield is such a horrible thing. I’ll be sure to take the freeway whenever I can. You’ve won.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, since you’re anonymous, I have a question. Feel free not to answer, but I am really curious. How do you score on the SSS?

    I have a pretty extensive background in social psychology and your comment and its framing intrigues me.

  • Anonymous

    I was trying to make a wee point, forgotten in your comment: I am not a bike. I am a human being on a bike. And your need for speed, which in the city does you almost no good at all, threatens my life. End of story.

  • Joe R.

    When I’m going uphill I typically try to move as far right as I safely can so people can go around me. I’m a pretty fast cyclist, but hills still slow me down. On a 3% grade I’m down to about 14-15 mph. A 6% or 7% grade will slow me to about 10 mph. Normal cruising speed on level roads is 18 to 23 mph but I can usually sprint up to 30 mph or so in short bursts.

  • Morris Zapp

    Here’s what’s wrong:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/category/special-features/carnage/

    You can maybe see why on this forum your complaints about others not clearing a path for “normal people” would come off as trivial and, yes, a tad insulting.

  • yessah3

    Self righteous much. I find most bikers to be OK, but the ones that really upset me are the ones that ride side by side. Come on, single file please. Because your conversation is more important than the traffic backed up behind you of folks trying to get home or to work. Clear indication of dbag behavior. Also, the beginning cyclists are all over the road. I find the fat guy in the spandex to be a good indication of what to watch out for. Maybe get a little better at riding before attempting or tempting fate with cars in a 50mph zone.

  • dporpentine

    Notice the difference between the terms of my comment and yours: you’re obsessed with inconvenience, I’m worrying about my life.

    That you can’t spot that is an indication that your license should be removed immediately.

  • Mike Wilson

    The same thing happened to me. I was cruising down a hill at about 35 miles an hour in a 25 mule an hour zone and the car behind me decides he jusy HAS to be in front of me. . He went into the lane for oncoming traffic and reached the stop sign at the exact same time i did but blocking the traffic coming the other way.. wtf was that?

  • Mike Wilson

    Thank you! I feel like some people think bikes have gas pedals -_-

  • Mike Wilson

    Just to give you a different perspective. . I was trying to be considerate of cars like you said and was riding next to parked cars and someone swung their car door open. I rammed into his door and fell into traffic. Thankfully the car that coming wasnt too close or going to fast or else i would have been killed no doubt. I did break my collarbone and had some pretty deep gashes. Sometimes its a lot safer to take the lane. When i do take the lane i find that cars are only slowed down for as long as it takes cars in the other lane to let them in and then they are able to speed up and catch up to he rest of traffic.

  • Mike Wilson

    Yep. Thats exactly how i feel when people say that bikers slow them down when they take the lane. I almost died trying to be considerate and no, never agon will i risk my safety to saves cars the 30 seconds it takes them to merge into the next lane, pass me, switch back and then speed back up. 30 seconds of waiting or my life.. which one seems trival?

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