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I believe passionately that honest, open, effective communication can resolve, or at the very least diminish, any conflict.

Here’s my most recent example:

There is an ongoing argument between many cyclists and motorists about who should be using roads. Cyclists want motorists to understand just how much of a threat a motorized vehicle poses to a person on a bicycle, and to give cyclists enough room on the road for everyone to travel safely. Some motorists just want cyclists off of the road: they’re a hazard to everyone, they run lights, they slow traffic, they wear spandex, they–, they–, they–.

Both arguments hold valid points.

Grist recently posted an article offering a very simple tactic for using extra caution when exiting a parallel-parked vehicle. Check it out. It’s a good article.

I got into a debate with Tara, on Grist’s Facebook page. Now, to be fair, she and I both initiated our discussion with somewhat antagonistic remarks. She’s a motorist. I’m a cyclist. We have our sides of the argument. But watch as we come together, and please note that this conversation would have gone very differently had Tara and I not followed these Rules of Effective Communication in Conflict:

  • Listen.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s opinion as valid.
  • State your argument without invalidating the other person’s argument.
  • Notice and draw attention to areas of agreement.
  • Focus on finding a solution.
  • Give up the attitude of “being right”.

TARA: Oh, yes! I’ll consider doing this when cyclists begin following the rules of the road as they are supposed to do.

ME: I’m assuming, then, that you have never broken a traffic law.

TARA: No, Meg, I have broken laws but I try not to do so. My experience with cyclists, and I live in a high bicycle riding town that is spending a shitload of money creating sharrows* for riders as streets are repaved, is that way too many of them seem to think that because they are on a bike they don’t have to stop at red lights or they assume that someone in a car won’t run them down when they pull out in front of them at a crosswalk, or when a driver is turning at a red light.

If you’re riding your bicycle anywhere other than a designated lane for bicyclists, you need to be playing by the driving rules of the road. Bottom line.

ME: I completely agree with you, Tara. But to suggest that you shouldn’t have to take precautions to do no harm unless some cyclists change their behavior is an irresponsible response.

Listen, I’m a bicycle educator and a bike commuter. Truly, I understand the frustration because I have it too! I see cyclists breaking the law and I want to yell over to correct them, but it’s not my place. But the vast majority of cyclists DO follow the laws. It’s the ones who don’t who get singled out and earn the attention of naysayers, perpetuating the belief that “cyclists are a hazard”. From a cyclist’s point of view, cars are the hazard. A car will kill me far faster than a bike will kill you or your car.

TARA: I can only say the sentiment runs both ways. I’m not going around deliberately opening my car door when I see an oncoming biker, and many times I have pulled over, veering towards another lane risking my own safety and the oncoming cars in another lane because someone insists on biking on a six lane, busy street when they could just easily pop one or two blocks over to a less busy street with a sharrow on it. 

Of course a car will injure a cyclist more, but when cars have to slam on their brakes because a cyclist is IN a lane meant for a car, or to pass said cyclist, then other drivers are endangered. It’s a lose/lose. 

I’m sorry, but it’s a pet peeve of mine because I deal with it every day on a highly commuted, dangerous road that, if I were a commuting cyclist, I would have the good sense to not ride my bike on.

Some streets are just not meant for cyclists.

ME: I think we can agree to disagree on your last point 

I have to respond to this though: “…when cars have to slam on their brakes because a cyclist is IN a lane meant for a car, or to pass said cyclist, then other drivers are endangered.”

If a car is traveling below or at the speed limit and the driver is paying sufficient attention to their task at hand, that is, driving, then the above will not happen. It just won’t. (A cyclist darting out into the road is a different story.) It is not inappropriate, irresponsible, or unreasonable, to ask drivers of cars to be patient (for all of… 30 seconds, at most?) and wait until it safe to pass the cyclist.

My pet peeve is that car drivers assume cyclists are traveling much slower than they are, and this is simply not the case. Many cyclists are capable of traveling at or near the speed of cars on residential and city streets (15-30mph). For example, my husband AVERAGES 21mph on a gravel bike path and is much faster on the road. Many drivers automatically try to pass a cyclist, or leave a stop sign before the cyclists crosses their path causing them to wait a moment longer. These lapses in judgement of distance and speed can be catastrophic. 

I crashed the other day because a woman was rolling a stop sign. She plumb just didn’t see me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. She just hadn’t taken sufficient time at the stop sign to be certain her path was clear. I was traveling at roughly 15-16mph. That crash hurt for days and under other circumstances could have been much, much worse.

Yes, there are arrogant cyclists. But I assert that cyclists who ride incorrectly are ignorant, not arrogant. Cut them some slack. Advocate for cycling education for drivers of all vehicles. 

Getting mad at each other doesn’t change anything, nor does it contribute to anything other than the ocean of misunderstanding that lies between the cyclist and the motorist.

Do I have your permission to use our conversation on my blog? I will keep you anonymous if you like. Car-Free in the Christmas City

TARA: Sure, you can use the conversation. Do please keep it anonymous, or first name only. 

I live in New Orleans, by the way. 

I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I respect your goals of educating bikers and drivers to be more responsible, proactive, and aware when sharing the roads. There is a lot of frustration on both sides of the argument. That’s why I do favor roads being converted to provide the sharrows designated for cyclists. It makes it much safer for drivers, cyclists, and people parked along the streets because the sharrow is positioned three feet out from the parked cars. It’s just going to take a while to get a good number of streets converted and for a lot of cities to catch on to the concept. 

Here is a link about what’s going on in our city:http://www.sph.tulane.edu/publichealth/pressroom/bike-lanes-included-in-road-repairs.cfm

And, I know it is inconceivable, but we do have cyclists who will ride down the middle of a lane and who are not going anywhere near 25mph or above. It really does happen!

ME: We have it too, here in the Lehigh Valley of PA, where Bicycling Magazine is published! I saw a guy creeping down on the wrong side of the road just the other day and then cross over in front of traffic. HE is a hazard. Cyclists are not. I think we actually agree on a lot and I apologize for my initial knee-jerk reaction to your comment. And thanks for your permission. I’ll keep it diplomatic and will try to remember to post the link in this thread so you can see it.

*“Sharrows” are road markings that communicate a cyclist’s right to use the lane. Sharrows_Toronto_2011