How We Drive : The Phantom Menace

There’s an excellent post today over at Tom Vanderbilt’s How We Drive blog. In it, Vanderbilt addresses the widespread (and ludicrous) misconception that bicyclists somehow pose a greater threat to pedestrians than automobiles. He quotes the following from a Streetsblog interview with Manhattan D.A. candidate Leslie Crockett Snyder:

Snyder said that the biggest traffic safety complaint she hears from community leaders these days is not about reckless motorists but “bicyclists being dangerous” and “messengers running us over.” If she is elected DA, she invites livable streets advocates to educate her on the issues and “meet with me regularly and make sure I’m staying on top of it.”

To make his point, Vanderbilt cites statistics from a study conducted in London from 2001 to 2005 in which 535 pedestrians were killed by motorists and only 1 was killed by a bicyclist. He then goes on to discuss some of the possible reasons pedestrians continue to mistakenly believe bicyclists are a threat to their safety while ignoring the overwhelming dangers posed by motorists.

Read the full story

[via Cyclelicious]

5 Responses to “How We Drive : The Phantom Menace”

  • Dann says:

    You said, “the widespread (and ludicrous) misconception . . . ” Ludicrous, in your opinion. If you read one of the responses (by Peter) to the article, you may find why many pedestrians find bicylists threatening. Peter wraps up his comment with this; “p.s. bikes are not legally permitted on the SF Embarcadero, but many of us still ride there because the bike lane is completely inhospitable to humans not in a car.”

    As a constant commuter, I MUST pay attention to perception – from ALL types of infrastructure users – whether they be drivers of the biggest, scariest vehicles, or the smallest of pedestrians. If I am not perceived as a threat to any and all users, then I will receive respect and space. However, if I constantly break the law, constantly ride in a way that puts other users on edge not knowing what I’ll do next, then I will not receive respect and space.

  • Ted says:

    I wonder if perhaps part of what causes people to think of cycles as dangerous is that we can imagine being hit by a bicycle. We can imagine that it will hurt and we can imagine the pain. We can imagine the scrapes we might get from falling. We can imagine the pain of a broken bone or our head striking the sidewalk. We can imagine perhaps weeks of rehabilitation.

    On the other hand, being hit by a car is unthinkable. If we think of a car coming onto a sidewalk we don’t have anything we can imagine. We’re just dead. As a general rule we don’t imagine the pain. It’s too terrifying to think about.

  • Adrienne says:

    I think it is in part because cyclists can be interacted with directly, and so there is no depersonalization available. i can get angry at a driver, but if they are behind tinted glass with the radio on, how much interpersonal communication can be achieved? People think of cyclists as a hybrid with all of the vulnerability of a pedestrian but the speed of a machine so we get all of the reaction reserved for each,all at once. Does that make sense?

  • Alan says:


    “Does that make sense?”

    Yes, I think it does. I think the close proximity and lack of real or imaginary barriers between bicyclists and pedestrians plays a role as well. Bicyclists and pedestrians often share the same space, and consequently they may have more close calls than motorists and pedestrians, but when a real collision occurs, the outcome couldn’t be more different between the two types.

  • Ian says:

    “He then goes on to discuss some of the possible reasons pedestrians continue to mistakenly believe bicyclists are a threat to their safety”
    It might be worth asking those pedestrians that look fluorescent jacketed bikers in the eye before stepping out in front of them whether or not they expect to be injured when the inevitable happens!

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