THE BLOG

On the Road, Can't We All Just Get Along?

09/29/2011 07:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 29, 2011

"COEXIST." So says the popular bumper sticker, urging members of myriad religions to coexist in peace. But talk to some Angelenos, and you might think there's a religious war of a different sort going on, on our streets. Drivers vs. bicyclists, car lovers vs. bike activists. A multi-modal holy war. An exaggeration? Of course. But sadly, the casualties and even fatalities on our roads are all too real, when commuters fail to coexist.

Who gets the blame: reckless drivers? Reckless bicyclists? The reality is there are many good -- and bad -- commuters, four-wheel and two. Perhaps we all need to do our part a little more to coexist.

But it is also true that car drivers have a certain advantage: several tons of protective "armor" in the form of the metal car frame, crumple zone, airbags, and vehicle stability control. Bikers are relatively helpless, without so much as a seat belt, or even four wheels for stability. A bicyclist's crumble zone is her spine. And in this economy, more and more people are getting around by bike, since it's hard to afford a car if you can't find a job. Plus, biking is good exercise, and produces no smog or dependence on foreign oil. Voluntary or not, biking riding is something worth supporting.

Car drivers should take extra care to give bicyclists plenty of room, especially when making turns or when passing. Put yourself in their shoes -- bikes are not protected or stable like a sturdy SUV; even if a close call does not injure a bicyclist, it can be highly traumatic and ruin their day. This year, while biking, I myself have been hit twice by drivers who were turning; my bikes were totaled in both cases. Thankfully, my body fared better than my bikes, and my suffering was temporary. But accidents can easily be fatal to bicyclists.

In this era of gridlock-induced fatigue and cell phones, it's easy to turn at an intersection without really checking for bicyclists or pedestrians. Because we're so used to being on the road, we can all forget that our decisions can have life or death implications. Faced with gridlock, we may try to save time by trying risky last second maneuvers on the road, or try to pass the time by talking on or fiddling with an iPhone. But shaving an extra few seconds off our commute or using a smartphone is not worth killing or injuring someone.

Bicyclists have to do their part, too, and shouldn't blatantly put themselves and others at risk. While it is true that stopping and starting is harder for human-powered bikers than drivers, bikers shouldn't zoom through busy intersections when the light is red. Teens and adults alike should wear a helmet. (Forget fashion; it's hard to look cool if you're dead, or have a head gash.) Night riders should always use bright front and rear bike lights, and consider a reflective safety vest with LEDs, and side lights attached to wheels.

Coexisting on the road with buses is important, too. As a car driver on a major corridor like Wilshire Blvd., it is easy to see the extra-long Metro Rapid buses as huge hulking behemoths that get in your way. But each of these buses carries literally tons of your fellow Angelenos -- perhaps 75 people on a crowded, standing room only extended bus -- Angelenos whose needs matter just as much as you do. So, let a bus in to merge. Don't stop in a no parking zone and block a bus. You might be holding up 75 fellow human beings, jammed onto a standing-room only bus. Don't cut off or make a dangerous right turn in front of a bus; the bus driver has to lurch to a stop, causing riders to lose their balance, lean into each other, and smash toes. These are your fellow human beings -- not some strange "transit rider" sub-citizenry. Would you block or endanger 75 single occupancy cars at once? Of course not. Give a single bus that has the same number of people equal respect.

One more thing, Angelenos. Call me crazy, but when you're on the freeway and see someone with their turn signal on, that's not a signal to speed up and block them from changing lanes. Come on, be a Good Samaritan, and let them in. We live so much of our lives in Los Angeles stuck on the roads. We might as well make the experience as safe and pleasant as possible for ourselves.