Get out of the road!

Cartoon by John Crowther

I’m just coming down from all the love I get riding around on the Santa Cycle Rampage, it has been particularly distressing to be the victim of rage several times this week. In each incident, the angry person behind the wheel screamed for me to get out of the road and honked.

The first incident happened while riding home from work on Monday around 5 PM. I was riding north on Hawley Road, in the parking lane mind you, when a woman drove past me, slowed, honked rolled down the passenger side window and yelled: “Get on the sidewalk!” I wasn’t even in her way. With all the bike lanes, shared lane markings and the growth of bike commuting, I find it hard to believe that everyone in Milwaukee doesn’t know it is illegal for people to ride bicycles on the sidewalk.

The next two incidents occurred while I was walking in marked crosswalks. Neither driver even had to stop, just slow a few miles per hour to yield the right of way. The second time I was told to get out of the road, it happened in a crosswalk with one of those bright yellow in-street sign that says “State Law: Yield to Pedestrian In A Crosswalk.” I just pointed at the sign and stepped onto the curb, but the driver still honked again as he was driving away.

As the vintage cartoon below indicates, road rage is nothing new. People have been getting angry when they get behind the wheel for about as long as there have been motor vehicles.

You might chalk it up to seasonal affective disorder, but I always figured road ragers tend to be angry in the car or out, but a recent study published in the journal of Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psycohology and Behaviour found that instead, there might just be something about being in a car that actually makes some people angry or feel more free to express anger.

The study showed some positive connection between anger in general and road rage, but also showed that just because someone tends to flip out if they are stuck in traffic, doesn’t mean they will yell at you if you take too long in the line at the bank teller or forget something and make them wait at the grocery check out.

Other studies have indicated that people feel a certain cloak of anonymity when driving that frees them to express their anger. I think this is kind of like anonymous comments on the internet.

At the Bike Fed, we don’t get angry, we educate and encourage. Thanks to our Share & Be Aware program, we are able to go to the state Drivers Education Instructors Convention each year, provide curriculum about pedestrian and bicycle laws and encourage them to include it in their classes. The Share & Be Aware program also allows us to get billboards and PSAs out that reach millions of people.

Crash rates have been dropping for a couple decades now, and we hope our efforts play a part in that downward trend, but one has to wonder if there is just something about getting behind the wheel that turns people into rageaholics. Maybe the Bike Fed should teach people to wear Santa suits when they ride. The Santa Cycle Rampage is about the only time I know that everyone who honks at me is happy to see me on the road.


About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Get out of the road!

  1. I don’t see nothing wrong with yelling, or honking, to a certain point. Since you mention it happened around 5pm, I would be betting people are getting out of work.
    What I find interesting, bicycle advocates always finding some excuse to demonize single occupant vehicle drivers.
    When I see a a pedestrian or jogger running walking perpendicular along a street and there is a side walk available in perefect condition, I will yell out “use the side walk” there is no rage involved in that..But apparently if one is in a vehicle they are exhibiting some sort of rage.

    “Other studies have indicated that people feel a certain cloak of anonymity when driving that frees them to express their anger. I think this is kind of like anonymous comments on the internet.”

    Driving does not provide anonymity, remember those things called license plates? I do know one group that has a cloak of anonymity, which is people on bicycles. At this point I am going to leave it at that.

    • So because someone is tired from a days work (aren’t we all?) it is ok to yell at someone for no apparent reason?

      I commute down King Drive on a pretty regular basis and from time to time have to deal with honking or speeding while passing very close. I do understand they are frustrated because it’s a four lane road with no bike infrastructure and it slows them down for a second or two on their way to or from work. But as the article mentions that we would probably see less of this if more motorist were better educated and also if there were more inclusive lane markings.

      • Casey, when King Drive was last resurfaced, Milwaukee DPW considered changing it to a two lane, with center turn lane and bike lanes. I strongly advocated for that, given current traffic volumes, even during peak hours, do not warrant four lanes. Unfortunately for bike commuters, I lost that argument and it was resurfaced exactly as it was before. It could still be changed as traffic volumes still don’t warrant four lanes, but it would cost extra to eradicate the current pavement markings. That might be possible, just as Wauwatosa changed North Avenue to add green bike lanes and improve pedestrian crossings, but it would require really strong community support and support from the BID, just as they had in ‘Tosa.

    • Brian, if you see nothing wrong with yelling at or honking at people who are obeying the law, then your comments have no place in this forum. I have reviewed the 21 comments you have made on this blog to date, and I have not found any that have added value to the post being discussed. Your comments consistently ignore laws, facts and scientific studies and don’t indicate you have any interest in bicycling beyond bashing people who ride.

      You certainly have every right to your own opinion, even if you hate people who ride bicycles on streets or walk in crosswalks. While you have a right to that opinion, I require that comments here add to the discussion, recognize the current laws, or at least advocate to change them for reasonable reasons. We welcome differing opinions as long as they are accompanied by constructive suggestions, links to studies that we have not cited, etc.

      If your goal is to troll while hate reading and start arguments, please find your sport elsewhere as those comments are no longer welcome here and will not be approved or deleted as soon as I see them.

  2. Drivers and cyclists alike need to embed in their consciousness (along with “the earth is round”)
    the fact that every bicycle on the road is one less traffic-clogging car or view-blocking SUV on the
    road. To the drivers I say “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” There is very little stress, really, in urban cycling. Urban driving, on the other hand is excruciating at best and heart attack inducing at worst. Every minute I drive a car is a minute I’d much rather be on a bike. Even at 66 I can get there faster (up to 10 mi) on my road bike at rush hour than any car. The traffic on Seattle’s streets and unfreeways for 6 hours a day moves at less than bicycle speed and there is no way around it except to be on a bike.

    • Excellent points to remember W H Owen. Even people who have zero interest in bicycling should be happy every time they see a person pedaling, if only because it has a positive effect on the economy. Every mile bicycled is equal to about $.42 return to the economy, mostly because of the offsetting effects it has on healthcare costs. Every mile driven in a car has a $.20 social cost, because of the negative effects on health. So even if you can’t stand bicycling, you might be thankful for those who ride for recreation or transportation.

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