Can’t we all just get along?

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Road RageLast week I had another “adverse interaction” with a motorist. These seem to be happening with increasing frequency.

It started with the traffic circle at Blenheim St. and 8th Ave. I was heading east along the Off-Broadway bike route (aka 8th Ave.) and two vehicles were heading north along Blenheim St. It was dark, but not raining. I was lit up with my reflective riding gear and 5 blinking LED lights: a bright headlight, one in the spokes of my front wheel, a bright omnidirectional on my seat post, and one hanging from each pannier.

In short, the only way you won’t see me at night is by not looking in my direction.

The first vehicle to enter the traffic-circle — a car — did so just before I entered the circle. This is how the circle should work. Yield to traffic already in the circle and if you enter at the same time, yield to the right. The second vehicle was a business pickup truck with ladders on it — perhaps a landscaping, maintenance, or construction vehicle. It was following a car-length or so behind the first north-bound vehicle.

The truck slammed its brakes roughly a few feet away from my rear tire, and I lived to tell the tale. That pesky rule about yielding to traffic already in the traffic circle was completely disregarded. No harm, no foul, right?

Except, it didn’t end there. The driver, clearly ignorant of the rules concerning how to navigate a traffic circle, proceeded to roll down his window and yell profanities at me. Then he turned on to the bike route and followed along behind me, a foot or two behind, gunning his engine, and continuing to yell profanities as we continued down the road.

Yes, it was as fun as it sounds. He eventually tired of it and turned north on Bayswater St. — 3 blocks after he started harassing me.

In Vancouver I often get the feeling that there’s a constant war between pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Pedestrians hate vehicles and cyclists. Motorists hate pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists hate pedestrians and motorists. Of course, few people are exclusive to one of these groups, but the rage seems to follow. And truly seems to be rage. Vitriolic, primal rage.

Ever read the comments on mainstream media’s cycling stories’ websites? The same anonymity that fuels those comments seems to drive behaviour out on the streets too. Except, on the streets, the stakes are higher. What’s the distance between harassing a cyclist because of a perceived slight to knocking them down or flat-out running them over?

We often talk about the barriers to having more cyclists riding on our city streets: the behaviour of everyone on the streets is one that I don’t see how we’re going to easily improve.

What’s your take? Is this just a big-city attitude problem, or is there something special about Vancouver?

Last modified: February 1, 2012

10 Responses to " Can’t we all just get along? "

  1. Soundy says:

    As with everything, it’s the proverbial few rotten apples… those of us who’ve had to drive downtown especially, see with far too much regularity the pedestrians and cyclists who completely disregard the rules of the road, thus causing more headaches for already-chaotic traffic (which in fairness, is rife with its own bad apples). “Activist” groups like Critical Mass don’t do anything to help foster any sort of good will between drivers and cyclists, either.

    Unfortunately, some people just let this get to them, to the point that… I don’t know, maybe when they DO see a cyclist actually obeying the law, as in Anthony’s case, they get confused and don’t know how to respond?

    Of course, in this case, it may be that the truck driver doesn’t fully comprehend the rules of the road either. I see it out here in the ‘burbs regularly: when traffic circles and roundabouts started popping up a few years ago, drivers seemed confused; they’d never had any training on how to deal with them, other than a one-page mention in the ICBC “training manual” that nobody paid any attention to because we’d never had roundabouts before.

  2. christine says:

    I think that Soundy has a point. The big issue here is the roundabout. Vancouver seems to have these in a few random places and no one knows how to use them. I’ve driven in Paris and London and believe me, I know how to use a roundabout and I’ve never seen anyone here know what the hell they are doing.

    I think that Vancouver is still at the stage of horse and buggy. The city isn’t busy yet, there is no traffic and people haven’t learned how to drive properly. Until we get twice as many cars and 4 times as many cyclists and pedestrians, I don’t think that we’ll get there. So… most likely not this century.

    Finally, I do feel sorry for you, Anthony, that sounds like a horrific incident, but that truck driver needs to help — psychiatric help. Holy crap, who behaves that way? He shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

  3. Stephen Rees says:

    You wrote “The same anonymity that fuels those comments seems to drive behaviour out on the streets too.”

    The vehicle driver who harassed you is not anonymous. The vehicle is registered and has a license plate and can therefore be traced. He committed more than one offence. Why didn’t you take his number?

  4. Ruth says:

    It’s true that very few people in Vancouver know how to navigate a roundabout correctly.

    Here’s a story to restore your faith though. I was cycling as hard as I could heading west uphill on 10th towards Oak, trying to catch the lights. A pedestrian was waiting to cross at a zebra crossing. I slowed down ready to stop; she waved me on; I shouted thank you; and her face lit up with a huge smile.

    There – how are the cockles of your heart feeling now? – and I even made the lights 🙂

    The problem is that the bad stories are more dramatic, and we remember them more clearly and share them more frequently. I bet something good happens on most rides too.

  5. Wayne says:

    It took me a few months living in Vancouver to find out what the deal was with those roundabouts. I’d asked a couple of locals who all gave different opinions about rights of way, so the upshot is I approach them cautiously, and assume that other drivers don’t understand them.

    As far as the tailing and harassing was concerned, I think I would have slowed to a crawl, composed myself, and stopped (in the road) near another road user – if someone else was around, as a witness – and actually tried to engage the truck driver in conversation (as opposed to a slanging match), safe in the knowledge of a clear conscience. He might not have been so gung-ho as he was when behind the wheel. Would have also given me a chance to note the licence plate…

    And to answer the general question: there’s nothing special about Vancouver. Except that it’s generally easier to cycle here than in other cities I’ve lived in (London, even Frankfurt)

  6. Phil says:

    In response to your question: “Is this just a big-city attitude problem, or is there something special about Vancouver?”

    IMHO, this has nothing to do with Vancouver. Perhaps it has something to do with North American attitudes about vehicles having a greater right to the road than cyclists, but that’s about it. I’ve ridden in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal – you run into jerks everywhere (Toronto, however, was particularly hostile! Not as bike friendly at all).

    Personally I ignore anyone who behaves in this irrational behavior. They’re clearly flooded with emotion and it probably doesn’t even have to do with you. Reasoning with them is nigh-impossible. I pedal on.

    By the way – I found the article quite pessimistic! I’m very sorry to hear about your experience however, and I can understand how an incident like this can color one’s overall perspective (if that indeed is what has happened).

    “What’s the distance between harassing a cyclist because of a perceived slight to knocking them down or flat-out running them over?”

    Impossible to say 😐 Again, each person, driver or cyclist is bringing their own baggage to these kinds of interactions. And for the record, I’ve encountered an equal amount of douchey cyclists as drivers.

  7. Ron says:

    Just a note on Traffic Circles and Roundabouts – no comments on rude behaviour and the like…

    In Vancouver – “Traffic Circles” are treated as 4 way stops, not true Roundabouts. So if 2 cars get there together, the car on the right has right-of-way and proceeds first.

    http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/calming/circles.htm

    Contrast that with a true Roundabout, where a car that is already in the roundabout (or “upstream” (to the left)) has right-of-way.
    True Roundabouts have been installed at a number of highway interchanges around Metro Vancouver and at 16th and Wesbrook Mall at UBC. I’m not sure if the City of Vancouver has installed any.

    http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/roundabouts/index.html
    http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/tp-tp14787-menu-179.htm

    Take home message: a Traffic Circle is NOT a Roundabout.

  8. Anthony says:

    @ron Sorry, you couldn’t be more wrong. Traffic circles are *not* 4 way stops. Treating them as such is going to put you or someone else into a dangerous situation.

    You’re right about if 2 *vehicles* (I’ll overlook the car bias) get there at the same time the one to the right has right-of-way, but the very Vancouver Engineering site you linked to says:

    “A vehicle already in the intersection has the right-of-way over one entering.”

    Which means: Yield TO THE LEFT first. If there’s a vehicle to your left, they have right of way UNLESS you’ve arrived at the same time.

    This is identical to how the “grown-up” roundabouts work. There are NOT different rules for them.

    See our previous discussion: http://www.kitsilano.ca/2012/01/08/traffic-circles-know-the-rules/

    Anthony.

  9. Wayne says:

    Just seen this:

    http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/faqs/bikeways.htm
    “Vehicles entering the intersection should yield to the vehicle on the right and to vehicles already in the intersection as well as any crossing pedestrians.”

    I’m not surprised there’s still confusion about it!

  10. Ruth says:

    It’s really easy.

    1. Yield to vehicles already in the roundabout
    2. Yield to pedestrians crossing the road at the roundabout
    3. If you arrive at the roundabout at the same time as another vehicle, yield to the right.

    (4. Don’t go round the roundabout the wrong way, ever ever ever, or you are an idiot.)