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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Are cyclists entitled to treat drivers rudely?

If I'm driving and a cyclist comes out of nowhere, in the dark, with no lights and no manners, am I allowed to be offended?

Ani Castilo

Dear Ellen,
I was driving my car the other night when a bike came out of nowhere and I nearly collided with it. The cyclist swore at me and rode off. I’m sure he was very upset, but I don’t think his behaviour was acceptable, especially since he had no bike light, and he was dressed entirely in dark clothing, and was completely invisible. Am I right to be offended by his “rude” behaviour?

A Responsible Driver

Dear Responsible Driver,

When it comes to feeling offended, there is no right or wrong. It’s how you act that matters. In the situation you describe, how the cyclist acted was both rude and dangerous.

I sometimes drive a car and often ride a bike in the city, so I’ve seen both sides in the road wars between the two factions. As a cyclist, I’ve been hit by cars twice, run off the road, doored, plus the usual quota of terrifying near misses. I’ve pedalled madly after bad drivers for blocks in order to knock on their car window and politely but firmly chastise them (no swearing) for cutting me off or suddenly, scarily blasting their horn at me for no reason.

As a driver, I’ve also seen the kind of bike behaviour that gives all of us cyclists a bad name — weaving in and out of traffic, riding on the sidewalk, hogging an entire lane when there’s no need, failing to signal before turning or coming to a sudden stop, cutting off other cyclists or startling them by passing on the inside. One of the worst offences is riding a bike at night without a light, then having the gall to become indignant when cars almost run them over.

For all the bad cyclists out there, please note that it’s not only dangerous when you break laws and ride so recklessly. It’s also the height of rudeness. Yes, cars are bigger and can kill you. That doesn’t mean you get to treat their drivers with utter disrespect. At the very least, you’re causing unnecessary stress in another human being who’s just trying to legally get through the day. You’re also contributing to a destructive dynamic between drivers and riders. At the very worst, you’re risking not only your own injury or death, but the likelihood of ruining another person’s entire life if they end up injuring or killing you through no fault of their own.

If you get caught on your bike at night without a light, take side streets with no traffic. If a car approaches, stop or ride slowly on the sidewalk if there are ZERO pedestrians around. If there’s no way to avoid traffic, get off your bike and walk it home.

Basically, do not make yourself both invisible and obnoxious whilst riding at night. It’s the polite thing to do.

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