This morning I gave up 40 seconds of my life that I'll never get back. Winding through a country road on my way to the Bicycling office I came up on a man riding his bike. The road is gorgeous and sees minimal traffic aside from the morning and after-work rush, when it is heavily traveled by automobile drivers at speeds that range from well above the 40 mile-per-hour speed limit to annoyingly below the speed limit.
On the days I've ridden into the office, I've been passed by many cars in exactly the same place I now saw a cyclist in front of me. There are two options for passing on this particular section of road: Give the cyclist plenty of room and risk a head-on collision with oncoming traffic, or improve your chance of bashing into another car by passing the cyclist within inches. There is, of course, a third option that (based on my experience while riding) seems to occur to almost no one: Slow down, stay behind the cyclist until you get to a more open and safe stretch of road, then pass.
I picked the third option. I waited. And I have to be honest: I knew I was doing the right thing—doing what I hoped drivers would do while I was riding—but it seemed like I crept along behind the rider forever. Before I was really aware it was happening, I thought about how much time I was losing and how late I was going to be getting to the office. I had already been running a little behind, and now I was caught behind a cyclist!
All told, I drove behind the rider for about 40 seconds before I could safely pass.
If we waited only 40 seconds in line to get lunch, we'd think that was quick. If the checkout queue at a grocery store took only 40 seconds to get through, we'd call ourselves lucky. I've waited at least twice that long in an aisle blocked by an oblivious shopper searching for the best carton of strawberries and, while I definitely became annoyed, I never once seriously considered physically bumping her cart (or her) with mine just to push past. I've waited minutes to use the one diesel pump at a crowded gas station without laying on the horn and revving my engine at the people holding me up.
How is it that in those common situations—when the only thing on the line is decency— people behave better than when someone's life is at stake? People who would think it's nuts to ram someone with their shopping cart find it justifiable to run a cyclist off the road.
I'm not sure what the point of all this is, except that I now am certain that how drivers treat cyclists is not really about any actual amount of time that is "lost." No one could say that saving 40 seconds is worth the risk of killing someone. No one could say that the consequences of being 40 seconds late somewhere are worse than taking another human's life.
I also realized that without flying into murderous rages, people routinely encounter other people causing delays and inconveniences that are far greater than the time it takes to wait to safely pass a cyclist—but when it comes to getting by us, they are on some level willing to kill.
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