If respect for human life is not a good reason to respect cyclists, maybe caring for the planet is.
I live in California, where a large percentage of the population consider themselves “green” or “environmentalists” or “tree-huggers.” The streets here are brimming with Teslas and Priuses, and buildings are festooned with solar panels. We vote in favor of gas tax increases by large margins and try to make a mass transit system to “get people out of their cars”.
I, too, consider myself active in fighting climate change. Among other things, I ride a bike and eBike for transportation rather than driving my car when possible. I have bags and a trailer for my bike and I use them to commute and run errands. I put thousands of miles a year on my bikes that would have been put on my car. Bikes and eBikes are far more green than hybrid or even fully electric cars. And the reality is that electric cars are priced beyond the reach of most people.
With the sudden popularity of eBikes I expected to see many more people using bikes as transportation. Yet I rarely see anyone else using bikes this way. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I stop and answer questions from people about what I am doing, implying that they have never seen anyone run errands on a bike. My conclusion is that people ride bikes for recreation almost exclusively.
It should not be this way. Where I live, most roads have dedicated bike lanes with clear lane markers and labels. But most eBike riders ride on sidewalks, which is usually not legal and creates problems with pedestrians. Or they ride only on dedicated bike trails. Those are nice, but they rarely give access to the places needed for commuting or errands. I talk to people online and in-person, and the reason for all of this is clear: they are afraid of riding on the street with cars.
I ride on the street anyway, so this fear I see in others is not surprising. There are a lot of street-specific skills and techniques that I have gotten comfortable with during my 30 years of bike commuting that keep me safe. But the reality is that even on very short rides, I encounter drivers who intentionally try to run me off the road. They pass as close as possible to me on the right (California has 3-foot passing law), often driving in the bike lane after passing me. They cut me off to take a right turn in front of me so close to me that I have to hit the brakes very hard to avoid hitting them. They pull out in front of me, honk at me, yell at me, throw things at me, swerve at me, and tell me to “get off the road” even though I am riding legally, by myself, in a marked bike lane. These have been constants during all of my years as a cyclist. Learning to deal with them emotionally is an important skill.
The irony of this occurred to me recently when yet another Prius tried to bully me off the road. We have miles of bike lanes that could be used to reduce our carbon footprint, but they are not, and for one simple reason: “green” drivers go out of their way to scare cyclists off the road. They do it a lot, and it works
My message to the self-proclaimed green people of California is this: support cyclists you see on the road who are working just as hard as you are to save the planet. Give them more than the 3 feet required by law. Make eye contact. Smile. Wave. See them. Accommodate them. Protect them. Care about them.
As a footnote, I have a suggestion for law enforcement as well. Many motorists use their vehicles in such a way that it is brandishing a deadly weapon. By coordinating an officer on a bike with one in a vehicle, these motorists could be cited. It would not take a lot of this before the word got out that random cyclists were police officers, which would be an effective deterrent. I have read that this is being done in some places and I think we need more of it.