Do You Adopt a “Car” Mentality Behind the Wheel?

I had just begun my Tuesday evening ride, one I hope will now become a regular occurrence, now that daylight lasts longer (Hey, DST begins this weekend, doesn’t it?).

I was on a gentle downhill leading past a strip mall to a stoplighted intersection. I was in the bike lane here. Just before the intersection, a right turn lane allows drivers to bypass the light. The light was red, and about a dozen vehicles were stopped for it. But one guy, anticipating that he would take the right turn lane at the corner, was as far to the right as he could go. So far right, in fact, that he blocked my bike lane.

I had no bailout. Both traffic lanes were blocked by stopped vehicles. There was no choice but to stop behind the big Chevy Tahoe (It’s always one of them, right?) and wait for the light to change.

Okay, it was just another routine car vs. bike incident in suburban America. I was headed to a more bike-friendly place: the Austin Veloway.

Now, to get onto the Veloway track, you have to cross a gravel parking lot. it’s the only tricky part of the ride. Bike tires carve small ruts in the soft gravel and dirt surface, and a gate blocks the entrance to the track, so riders have to negotiate an opening between the gate and a berm, marked by a post and a large rock. My wife hates it. She considers it to be dangerous.

In this shot from two summers ago, my wife (in orange top) crosses the parking lot toward the Veloway gate. The surface at the opening is quite rutted.

My tires are skinnier than hers, and I’m always careful crossing the lot. Usually, other bikers are leaving parked cars to start their rides, or are coming off the track into the lot. There’s always a chance the dirt will grab your slow-rolling wheels and cause a fall.

Sure enough, this evening that very situation happened — a biker was coming from the left after pulling his bike off his car rack, and a lady was coming through the opening into the lot. I slowed as much as I dared. And then, a car that had been parked on the right side started backing up.

Now surely, the driver could see that there was bike traffic in the lot — even looking through the bike on his rear bike rack. But he didn’t stop to let me and the other bikes pass. He kept backing. The biker on the left sped up quickly, and shot through the opening. The woman who had just come through the opening stopped. I swerved left, to give the backing car a wide berth.

When he’d backed up as far as he needed to be able to turn his wheels and pull out toward the lot entrance, he stopped and made his turn.

Unbelievable. Just minutes ago, this guy had been on his bike riding the Veloway — presumably one of we band of brothers on two wheels. But now that he was driving a car, he was more of a mind with the Tahoe driver I had encountered earlier.

What is it about getting behind the wheel that causes some people to leave their cyclist selves behind?

Is it just me — or have you run into similar situations? Vent in comments.


  1. says

    I drive a very small car and have developed a very defensive driving philosophy which I also use while cycling…
    I assume everyone is trying to kill me; so I am pleasantly surprised when they don’t. Keep the rubber side down.

  2. johnt says

    The guy in the car leaving the the veloway is the same one who on a bike whizzes by you on the right. You know him or sometimes her. You see them at the grocercy store rushing to get in line in front of you. They double park their SUV in a crowded parking lot, they’re loudly talking on their cellphone at the restaurant or at the Dr’s office abusing the receptionist cause they have to wait 5 minutes. They are entitled and it’s all about them… always

  3. Janice in GA says

    Sounds like the guy on Twitter yesterday who was cut off by a guy w/a bike rack and a “Share the Road” tag on his car. :(

    But johnt is probably right. It’s folks who think they have the right to go in front of others no matter what mode they’re in.

    I DEFINITELY watch for cycles more now that I ride more, and try to be more courteous around them. I appreciate it when people do it for me. The least I can do is return the favor when I’m in a car.

  4. says

    Another glaring example of that is at a sporting event. Someone has just run the gauntlet of the lot to get to their car without getting hit. Once in their car many join the gauntlet and have no sense of the pedestrians around them.

  5. JBM says

    I am always sensitive to cyclists when driving. If I go past them, I make it a point to slow down and give them more than three feet of clearing. If they’re in front of my vehicle at a light or intersection, they get the right of way. With this being said, I reserve the right to call those cyclists who flout traffic laws — i.e. blast through a stop sign, or cut across multiple lanes — as patented ding-dongs.

    With regard to the Veloway, the gravel parking lot and the entry to the track has always annoyed me. The City already paved 3.1 miles of track. Did they run out of cash when it came to paving the parking lot? Don’t they know that crushed granite+narrow tires = bad time? And why is the gate always closed, and we’re left to navigate a gravel/rock/sand/metal pole obstacle course to get onto the track? If you’re lucky, there’s no noobs sitting right there doing nothing. No offense…

    • says

      None taken. I suspect the gate is closed to keep four-wheeled vehicles from invading the Veloway. I can imagine some fun-seeking high schoolers who would think a lap in their beat up old F-150 would be tons of fun. I have seen the gate opened to admit emergency vehicles, when a cyclist is injured in a crash on the track.

  6. says

    I rarely attempt to park in the Veloway lot because there is too much traffic (both bikes and cars) entering and exiting. Also, a lot of people get what I refer to as the “parking lot mentality” once reaching their destinations. Those are the ones who *have* to park as close to the store as possible, and even get in altercations over parking spaces. I’m also amazed by the number of people who blindly pull into an overly full Veloway parking lot and seem somewhat surprised that there is no place to park, let alone turn around. It seems to me they would look at the parking lot (before pulling in) and think to themselves “Oh, that looks really full. Perhaps I should just park along the street instead.”

    BTW, the Veloway parking lot used to be twice the size it currently is now. A few years ago half of the lot was “reclaimed” by whomever (developer, city, etc.,) and now there is a house sitting on the Western side of what used to be parking area.

  7. says

    Agree w/ johnt – there are people who are only thinking about themselves regardless of transportation form. These are actually worse than those who don’t drive nicely around bikes because they don’t realize what they’re doing.

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